Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes

Confused about the differences in bullsnakes and rattlesnakes?  Bryon Shipley, Denver Zoo keeper and rattlesnake researcher at the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, Colorado, can help clear up some myths and misconceptions about these two snakes.  Read his comments below:

Typically, myths about rattlesnakes vs. bullsnakes are one of the following:

  1. Bullsnakes eat rattlesnake eggs.
  2. Bullsnakes eat rattlesnakes.
  3. Bullsnakes and rattlesnakes breed together.
  4. Bullsnakes chase away rattlesnakes.

Other Myths:

  1. Bullsnakes kept in your tent keep rattlesnakes away.
  2. Bullsnakes kill rattlesnakes for sport.
  3. Bullsnake bites are worse because of the infection that results.
  4. Bullsnakes are venomous.
  5. Bullsnakes eat all of the rattlesnakes’ food.

Reasons for myth creation between these two snakes:

  1. Bullsnakes eat  rattlesnake eggs:  Since rattlesnakes do not lay eggs, this cannot be true.  Rattlesnake eggs hatch within their bodies; consequently young rattlesnakes are born live.
  2. Bullsnakes eat rattlesnakes:  A thorough search of the literature and discussions with researchers who study both snakes has revealed next to nothing that supports the idea that bullsnakes eat rattlesnakes.  Bullsnakes are primarily consumers of warm-blooded prey.  In one instance, the body of a small rattlesnake showed up in the gut of a bullsnake, but no information exists on whether the ingested rattlesnake was already deceased or even what species it was.  It is possible that a young bullsnake may eat a lizard, but no rattlesnake population could be significantly affected by bullsnakes.  The natural mortal enemy of rattlesnakes is, in fact, the kingsnake.   Additional information, Nov. 27, 2013:  An article I ran across says that it happens, but rarely and largely opportunistically.  In the particular study, looking at the guts contents of over 1000 bullsnakes, 2 rattlesnakes were found.  This is 0.5% of the entire list of prey items found.  We don’t know if the rattlers were constricted alive and eaten or scavenged, unfortunately.  The take home lesson is still that even eating one or two rattlers during its lifetime, for a bullsnake, this consumption rate is too small to exact any population control over rattlesnakes.
  3. Bullsnakes and rattlesnakes breed together:  Rattlesnakes and bullsnakes commonly hibernate together, along with other snakes and amphibians.  Rattlesnakes are live-bearers and bullsnakes are egg layers, and even within the reptile group, where breeding between species of like physiology can happen (i.e. egg layers with egg layers, live-bearers with live-bearers), successful breeding between egg layers and live-bearers could never occur due to the biology involved.
  4. Bullsnakes chase away rattlesnakes:  Bullsnakes and rattlesnakes have always coexisted in their habitat.  Their activity schedules in a season can be very different.  The sudden disappearance of rattlesnakes in mid-spring results from their switching to a nocturnal schedule, when they are not as noticeable as they were in early spring.

Differences in Ecology and Biology that Enable these two Snakes to Coexist:

  1. Rattlesnakes have a more variable diet (snakes, lizards, amphibians, and all types of warm-blooded prey).  Bullsnakes favor primarily warm-blooded prey and bird eggs.  Although bullsnakes eat many of the same prey as rattlesnakes, they eat them in different proportions.  Bullsnakes are more of an opportunistic generalist than rattlesnakes, because rattlesnakes tend to focus on one species at any one time, depending on availability and abundance.
  2. Rattlesnakes have a more efficient digestive system, requiring fewer meals per year than bullsnakes.  Bullsnakes eat smaller prey, but more of them.
  3. Prairie Rattlesnake

    Prairie Rattlesnake

    Rattlesnakes are mostly ambush hunters, preferring to wait for opportunities, once an area of active prey is found.  Bullsnakes are active foragers, investigating rodent holes, moving frequently, using more energy.

  4. Bullsnakes lay several large, calcified, shelled eggs that require lots of energy to produce.  Also, energy is required to dig a hole in which the eggs are laid and then covered up.
  5. Rattlesnakes give birth to live young after their eggs hatch internally, and these young are not encased inside a shelled egg.  The rattler does not have to expend energy digging a burrow for the eggs in a suitable environment.  The female merely carries them around, protects them, and provides them with adequate heat for embryonic development by moving her body in and out of the sun.
  6. Rattlesnakes are nocturnal most of the season, while bullsnakes remain mostly diurnal.  This difference in foraging schedules reduces competition for shared resources.
  7. Bullsnakes are constrictors, and rattlesnakes envenomate their prey.  Bullsnakes can subdue and eat an entire nest of rodents simultaneously, while rattlesnakes track down their prey after a strike, later consuming that animal after the venom has already begun to digest it.
  8. Bullsnakes breed annually in the spring, and eggs hatch in the summer.  Annual breeding requires being able to ingest lots of prey during the spring and summer to maintain high levels of energy for egg production.  A female rattlesnake will breed once every 1 1/2 – 2 years, beginning at about age 3, and deliver babies in the fall.  The energy requirement for rattlesnake baby production is still a factor, but spread over longer time span.

Harmless snakes are frequently depicted as being kindly and timid, while rattlesnakes are described as being vicious and aggressive.  It is easy to see why an aggressively responding bullsnake, who has a flattened head, can be easily mistaken for a rattlesnake.  You can see that these two snakes are very different in almost all respects. Food gathering, energy maintenance, and reproduction in time and space are differences that allow resources to be shared so that both snakes can coexist.

Primarily we are referring to the Prairie rattlesnake or the Western rattlesnakes, as taxonomy stands now, where they occur with bullsnakes in grassland ecosystems, but could include other rattlesnake species.  Rattlesnakes in rocky and/or montane habitats may not fully address these same issues as with Prairie rattlesnakes.


70 Responses to Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes

  1. shawna October 11, 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    In Wyoming, there have been some sightings of bullsnakes with rattlesnake heads which is showing that bullsnakes and rattlesnakes are breeding with each other.

    • Chuck October 13, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

      Well, Shawna, I recommend that you read again the article written by Bryon Shipley, senior herpetologist at the Denver Zoo that directly addresses your comment. Bullsnakes in their attempt to repel predators will frequently imitate the behavior and appearance of rattlesnakes by rattling their tail, hissing, and inflating their heads to a triangular shape. This reshaping of the head appears visually to be the profile of the venomous rattler. In the heat of the moment, to the inexperienced observer, all signs say “Rattlesnake!” The bullsnake has succeded in pulling off the deception. Once again….bullsnakes lay eggs, rattlesnakes give live birth, making reproduction between the two species impossible.

      • Ty September 3, 2013 at 12:29 am #

        right on Chuck!!!

      • Chuck September 3, 2013 at 9:50 am #

        Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Lynn November 4, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you for verifying that bull snakes DO NOT eat rattlesnakes! I’ve been trying in vane to educate people on this very topic. I’m going to print and post this article for all to read, hopefully dismissing this myth once and for all. I’ve rescued many injured snakes from the roads and have observed them countless times in the wild. To my surprize, I did witness and photograph a very large (54″)western ribbon snake eating a young Hopi rattlesnake.

    • Tracy Naviaux July 29, 2010 at 11:48 am #

      Bullsnakes DO eat Rattlesnakes. I live in Littleton with both and yesterday I video taped and took pictures of a Bullsnake eating a rattlesnake.

      • Chuck July 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

        Tracy, interesting observations. If you have the capability, please upload the video to youtube. As has been mentioned early-on in this blog, bullsnakes don’t make a habit out of eating rattlesnakes, preferring warmblooded prey, primarily rodents. However, what you describe, would appear under the heading of “if the bullsnake is hungry enough and it’s moving……I’m going to eat it!” Studies of the stomach contents of thousands of bullsnakes have indeed shown some remants of rattlesnakes as well as other reptile prey, but not enough to establish a valid predator-prey relationship between the two species. The main predator of many species of rattlesnakes is actually a kingsnake. But in science we never say absolutely always or never…….So, what you observed is most likely an isolated incident and we’d love to see the video.
        Thanks for your comments!

      • Kevin April 1, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

        I lived near Sierra Vista in the late seventies. Five acre lots. In the five years I lived there I only saw one rattlesnake near the house. It was a rather small one with three or four buttons. It was about halfway down the throat of a larger bull snake. The rattlesnake was rattling for all he was worth. The bull snake didn’t seem to mind and was working the meal on down. Facinating to watch.

      • Chuck April 2, 2014 at 8:28 am #

        Nov. 27, 2013: An article I ran across says that it happens, but rarely and largely opportunistically. In the particular study, looking at the guts contents of over 1000 bullsnakes, 2 rattlesnakes were found. This is 0.5% of the entire list of prey items found. We don’t know if the rattlers were constricted alive and eaten or scavenged, unfortunately. The take home lesson is still that even eating one or two rattlers during its lifetime, for a bullsnake, this consumption rate is too small to exact any population control over rattlesnakes.

  3. Zach June 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Thank you so much! I run the Cherry Creek trail in Parker every morning and have seen 3 rattlesnakes and 8 Bulls. Since April. The Bulls have been pretty much the same size, sluggeshly moving across the path. I usually run somewhere between 8:30-10 AM. The Rattle snakes have varied in size. I’ve seen 2 small ones. Including one that was so small i that it was some other snake until I saw the rattle. The other was the biggest sucker I’ve seen in my 27 years in Colorado. Half my family lives in Arizona and I work for the University of Phoenix. So I’ve seen my fair share of rattlers. This sucker was Arizona big. Not diamondback big but still. I went the other direction! :) He gave me a nice warning, whereas the other two did not. All snakes I’ve seen within a 1-3 foot distance on or around the Cement trail. I avoid the dirt trail and the high weeds now….

    • Chuck June 5, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

      Depending on the Colorado weather, snakes will start to emerge as early as March, so the activity you’ve observed in Apr, fits the timetable. Bullsnakes and the Prairie Rattler are usually found in the same locations and eat the same food items. And, since they’re cold blooded, they frequently use paved areas to bask in the sun in order to warm up as well as to digest a recent meal. That species of rattler is the only one you’ll see in all but a very small part of southeast Colorado. A large one could reach almost 4 ft in length, but that would be a very old and lucky animal. As you mentioned, the Arizona species are commonly 4 ft or larger for the Western Diamondback variety. Where Colorado only has one species in most of the state, AZ has a dozen or so. Not all rattlers will rattle as you approach, and not all will rattle before striking, so you made the right decision in moving away from that guy. As summer finally arrives, most snakes will do their basking in the early morning sun and after sunset on the other end of the day. During the heat of the day (upper 80s into mid 90s) they will usually find a cooler, shady place to rest. Bullsnakes prefer to actively hunt for prey, while the rattlers are more of an ambush predator, waiting by a rodent trail and snagging a meal as it goes by. That’s a good reason to avoid the high weeds that you mentioned. Caution is advised in your area into late summer/early fall, so keep an eye peeled.
      Thanks for your comments!

  4. Todd July 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    I knew that bulls don’t generally eat rattlers and I knew that oviparous and ovoviviparous species can’t interbreed.

    I’ve also seen baby bulls try to imitate a rattler to the point where I had to stop and get a second look.

    I was, however, under the impression that they competed more directly for food and that visible bulls in the neighborhood meant fewer rattlers. I try not to kill any snake, but prairie rattlers under my porch and under my hen house make me nervous. I’ve lost a rooster to a bite, and my horse was struck at but missed.

    • Chuck July 14, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

      Todd, you are very observant in regard to bullsnakes and their lookalike relatives, the rattlers. Bullsnakes have surprised me more often than rattlers as well. They are ready to “go to war” at a greater distance and generally appear more agressive/defensive (depending on your perception). Rattlers, on the other hand, will usually try to rely on their camouflage, hoping to be missed, and going defensive as a last resort. You’re right, they both compete for the same meal items and where the rattler will hide in vegetation or rocks, picking off prey as it comes by, the bullsnake actually patrols its territory poking into rodent burrows, birds’ nests and shorelines for its meal. And, depending on time of year and geographic location, bullsnakes are diurnal in activity, hunting during the day. On the other hand, rattlers will frequently work the night shift, especially during hotter weather. This behavior oftens gives rise to the misconception that bullsnakes eat the rattlers……..Stomach content examinations of thousands of bullsnakes has indeed revealed some rattler parts, but in extremely low numbers. I feel that the small number of rattlers eaten by bullsnakes comes under the heading of “if it’s moving, and I’m hungry….I’m eating it!” They’re not picky eaters!

      Todd, you’ve brought up some great comments and observations! I hope I’ve answered the questions. Thanks for writing.

  5. Tracy Naviaux July 29, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Yesterday 7/29/10, I watched and took pictures of a bullsnake eating a rattlesnake. Our house backs up to open space and so I am very familiar with both. On July 5th my 1 year old Boxer was bitten by a rattlesnake. He is okay $1,200 later. So yes Bullsnakes will eat rattlesnakes.

    • Sindy February 9, 2011 at 1:41 am #

      i would love to see that pic !!last summer my boyfriend (who work’s for the school out here in north east colorado )came across a snake in the school and broght it home it was a baby bull snake and we have been takeing cear of it for the wintter time it is now a lot bigger then it was. it can be mean at time’s but other then it’s short temper it is realy not a bad snake it has a nice side as well i am a snake lover:) but i am not a rattler fan at all :( we plan on leting it go this spring.

      • Chuck February 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

        Young bullsnakes grow quickly if fed the proper diet, so it appears that you’ve been able to keep the snake healthy. It’s a good idea to release it this spring, probably on a warm day in mid April. I’m not sure what town you live in, but it would be important to release the snake in an area where other snakes have been seen and away from any houses or schools. You have put a lot of effort into raising the snake to its current size and I’d hate to see someone who doesn’t like snakes do something unpleasant to it. If the school is near some open space, it would be good to release it in that area since that is its home area. Sometimes, when a snake is relocated too far from its home area, it could actually starve to death by not being familar with the surroundings. Good luck and thanks for writing!

  6. Jack August 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Will a bullsnake rattle its tail and hiss like a rattlesnake? The tail had no visible rattles but it was shaking it. It is Aug. and I heard they may be shedding & covering them up.

    If it was mimicking a rattler it was doing a good job.

    • Chuck August 1, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

      The tail vibrating, coupled with hissing and also inflating of the head to a triangular shape are all part of the defensive activities that a bullsnake will display to deter a predator. They rely on those sudden behaviors very effectively. I’ve been startled more often by bullsnakes than the rattlers while working in the field. Many other snakes also vibrate(rattle) their tails, mainly due to a nervous reaction. Hatch, our 6 yr old bullsnake will often vibrate her tail at feeding time. As you observed, bullsnakes do a convincing job of rattler imitation! That helps them to stay alive.

      • arcadia June 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

        hi. thanks for the great info. i am fond of all animals – including snakes and glad that you are too.

        and i too was told, after an encounter with a gopher snake that flattened its head, ‘rattled’ its tail and performed a decent strike at me, that it might have been a rattle-less rattler due to breeding with gopher snakes. glad to hear it’s not so.

        a question, though – what other live-bearing snakes can rattlers breed with?

        thanks so much –

      • Chuck June 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

        Hello Arcadia

        Thanks for your note and great question. Rattlesnakes are going to breed only with another rattlesnake, and most usually, with a rattlesnake of the same species. They will occasionally interbreed with rattlesnakes of other species resulting in some interesting colors and patterns. They will not breed with another live-bearing snake such as the garter snakes at all any more than horses would breed with a deer. Both give live birth, but they are not capable of interbreeding.
        Thanks again for asking a question that relates to one of the many misunderstood questions about snakes!

  7. Peggy August 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    We’ve been seeing this greenish snake, large but not interested in us, goes the other way. the markings are like green-brownish blotchs on green body. today I saw it and it has a rattle on the tail end. can it be a green rattler in Colo? For over 50 years I’ve always seen brown rattlers .

    • Chuck August 3, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

      My guess is that it is one of the Prairie rattlesnakes that are common in CO, primarily on the Eastern slope. Not sure which part of the state you are in, but the scientific name of that snake is Crotalus viridis. Crotalus is the generic name with the viridis being the name of the species. The name “viridis” indicates that it is green in color. As in humans, many animals go through different color phases and this is certainly the case in your observation. Some of the Prairie rattlesnakes carry this greenish tinge, but most seem to favor more of a brown or tan shade. And, the snake you saw could have possibly just shed its skin, leaving the new skin looking very well defined with brilliant colors. Many other snakes also exhibit a variety of color phases including a relative to the Prairie rattler, the Mohave rattler, frequently called the “Mohave Green”. This species is common in the desert southwest and does not make its home in Colorado. One of my favorite parts of the country is the Colorado plains and the Prairie rattler is one reason for my interest. Great question, I hope I’ve answered it to your satisfaction.

      • Peggy August 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

        Thank you that makes sense. the area where we are is the south side of N Table Mt in Golden. Last sumer I saw a whipsnake up there so another type of prarie snake makes sense. just seems so high up for them. Also there is more than 1 green one, there are several.

      • Chuck August 4, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

        When we lived in Denver, we’d visit a friend who lives in your neighborhood, on Peery Pkwy, and have observed a fair number of the rattlers. She backs up to N. Table at the end of Peery, so it’s a good area for wildlife. About 6 yrs ago she was bitten on the ankle in her front yard by the Prairie rattler. She survived quite well although the anti-venom (9 vials @ $9000 per) and hospital stay got expensive….Always good to watch your step in that area.

        Take Care

  8. Jerry August 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Have had enough prairie rattlers in my yard that I bought snake tongs. The tongs cut down the adrenaline rush one gets trying to
    pick them up with a 4 iron and relocate the snake to the field. Recommended for those folks who don’t want to kill the critters. Beating them to death is the prevailing way of dealing with rattlers in the Rapid City area.

    • Chuck August 18, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      Jerry, I’m very pleased that you took the time and effort to properly and safely control your rattler neighbors! I’m also happy that you took the time to share that info with other blog members! Unfortunately, too many people take lethal steps to remove/control animals with whom they share space. Hopefully, residents of any rattlesnake prone area will understand that in many cases a non-lethal approach is most suitable. However, I am the first to realize that in some instances the only recourse is to permanently eliminate the animal. It’s a difficult decision but one which needs to be made. Often in the case of small children who can come into contact with dangerous wildlife drastic measures need to be employed. However, in many other cases, your technique illustrates a procedure where both human and animal can co-exist. Many thanks for your outstanding comments!

      • Steven May 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

        Hello. I just relocated a bull snake (he was in my back yard for about a week and made his way to the back porch. He and my dog had words.) to a field about a mile away. I also crossed a major road and a creek. Was this far enough?

      • Chuck May 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

        Relocating snakes is a tricky business. Usually, a mile from where they were found would be the maximum distance where they could survive. This is due to their familarity of the home territory and the ability to locate food….If the snake is taken too far (more than a mile or so) they could actually starve to death by not being familiar with the location in order to secure food. Bullsnakes frequently patrol their home territory for food items such as rodents. If there are an abundance of prey, the home range is smaller than it would be if the prey situation was more spread out. So, taken to a new “neighborhood” the bullsnake would have to search in unfamiliar locales to find food. If there were already other snakes in the area, that could further complicate being successful in the search for food. On the other hand, the bullsnake being a very mobile snake, could actually show up at your doorstep in the future, all in the need to find food in a known area. Bottom line: relocating a snake too far from home turf could be a death sentence. I’m not sure what area of the country you live in, but hopefully there’ll be a sufficient food source in the new area to keep a valuable predator in business. Thanks for writing, I hope I’ve shed some light on your situation. Also, many thanks for thinking about the welfare of the bullsnake and not automatically killing it. That’s one of the objectives of this blog……people don’t have to like snakes, but, hopefully, they can appreciate a very unique life form that is overlooked and underfoot!

  9. maxine September 9, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    yesterday, my son found a nest of baby snakes under a small cedar root next to the horse watering trough. he said they were rattlesnake and eliminated them. we live in taos, new mexico and the horses are kept in a field about 100 feet from the house. my grand babies play barefoot in the yard next to the field and this totally freaked me out! I have found rattlers close to the house in previous seasons and am afraid the mama may be around.

    • Chuck September 9, 2010 at 11:25 am #

      It’s a possibility the snakes by the cedar root could have been rattlers……or their lookalike neighbors, bullsnakes. Both live in the Taos area. The female snake (mama), if rattler, is no more/less dangerous than the young snakes. Both should be given a wide berth. In fact, when possible, all wild animals should be given their “space”. They’re not out there to bite us, but if threatened, that’s one of their defenses. And, there’s only two reasons a snake will bite…..to eat, and to defend itself. Nothing personal……they just react as any wild animal. It’s always a risk allowing small children to play barefoot. Too many opportunities exist for injury due to rusty nails, broken glass, cactus and, of course, snakes, spiders and scorpions. In about a month or less, the snakes will be underground for the winter, so in the meantime, watch where you place your hands and feet. Good luck and thanks for the observation.

  10. Suzen Yarborough May 29, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    I absolutely love BullSnakes. They are my absolute, most favorite snake. So beautiful!!! Thank you Chuck and Betty for all you do.

    • Chuck May 29, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

      Many thanks for your kind comments. You’re right, bullsnakes as well as their other relatives need and deserve recognition and appreciation. We’re really glad that you are doing what you are doing to further provide a valuable service for this very mis-understood animal!

  11. Morgan August 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    We had to kill a bull snake that was killing our chickens the other night. My husband had to take it off a railing to get a good shot and not kill our other animals and when he did so the snake spit liquid at us. I have heard that they cannot do this so wondering if there is another explanation.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Chuck August 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

      From all I’ve learned, snakes really can’t spit in the “conventional” way. A snake called the spitting cobra will eject venom from small holes near the top of its fangs with enough force to strike the eyes of an aggressor, but it is certainly not spitting as the name implies. Bullsnakes, being non-venomous do not possess fangs with which to inject venom. My guess is that when shot, the bullet may have hit an area of the snake’s body that held moisture (organs, stomach, etc) with enough force to cause a pressure reaction which propelled some bodily fluid outward. Also, snakes, when stressed, can eject through their cloaca, fecal material and/or musk, either of which smells bad and often prompts a predator to drop the snake and leave it alone. When instructing school kids, we often mention that although a snake may not bite us when picked up, it will often “poop” on us as a defensive measure. That usually convinces them to leave snake handling to the experts!
      Morgan, I hope that sheds some light on your question. Thanks for writing!

  12. Mandi Tribble September 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    We would like to move some bullsnakes away from their den, under our patio. How far would we need to take them so they won’t return home?

    • Chuck September 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

      Hi Mandi,

      I’m not sure if the bullsnakes you have as neighbors are adults or newly hatched, but this is the time of year when many folks throughout the west start seeing hatchlings. It’s hard to say exactly how far to take them to prevent their returning since the area you take them to may not have enough food (rodents) to keep the snakes in that area. In that case, the snakes will increase their territory in order to find the required food source. That area could include coming back to your property. Studies have shown that up to 50% of snakes relocated more than a mile from the original location will not survive. Another thought, if “your” snakes are adults, there must be an ample food source under that patio (mice/rats). Snakes don’t work any harder than necessary to acquire food, which would suggest that if they were removed, you could have a substantial rodent problem with no predator present to control the vermin. Winter is approaching and the snakes will usually go into the den for the balance of the season, emerge in spring and disperse into nearby fields in their search for food. Most of the bullsnakes that I’ve encountered in CO seem to go underground on Oct and pop back up around Apr. Being non-venomous, they would not pose a danger to you and your family. They still have the power to surprise us, but would prefer to stay out of our way. So, as the weather cools, you would likely see fewer and fewer of them til things warm up by Apr.
      It has to be your decision to move them or not, but keep in mind if you’re moving adults that they are capable of delivering a bite. Most people who get bitten are trying to harm or improperly handle that snake. And most people, like you, who ask questions about nearby snakes and how to safely move them rather than just blindly killing them are to be commended for their wisdom of living respectfully with a variety of non-human neighbors. It it were me………..and I think you’re seeking my opinion……..I would try to let them spend the winter under that patio, wait for spring, and see it they are still as numerous as they may be in late summer. If they are hatchlings, some may not survive the cold weather and cease to be a presence in that manner. By spring they would most certainly disperse in searching for food, leaving the patio and your home far behind. And, since they are pretty much in the middle of the food chain, many would be taken by their predators: hawks, owls, coyotes, etc, which will further reduce the population that you are now seeing. If you absolutely have to relocate the snakes, try to find a place where they will have adequate shelter. Some areas could contain rock outcroppings, areas with trees and ample vegetation, maybe an area of prairie dog or other rodent holes…….a habitat that can provide shelter and a food source as well would give them the best possible chance of survival.

      Thanks very much for your questions and concerns. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


  13. james riley November 8, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I was told rattle snakes lose their rattle by breeding with bullsnakes. More rattle-less rattle snakes are appearing. Is this true?

    • Chuck November 8, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

      James, go ahead and check an article specifically on the subject of rattlesnakes and bullsnakes. The article was published in this blog in Jul 2009. Read the section on reasons for myths, etc and note line #3 for the exact answer. As for more rattle-less snakes appearing, it’s possibly caused by an abundance of food in your part of Kansas. They could be the largest snake in your area, the bullsnake. Predators will rise and fall on a delayed schedule dependent on prey available. Coyotes also change population in direct proportion with the rabbit population. Lots of rabbits means a growing population of coyotes to capitalize on the food source. Rabbits diminish, coyotes don’t reproduce as well, rabbits increase, coyotes increase in numbers and rabbits drop off again. It goes on and on…….Snakes aren’t any different.
      Bottom line: rattlesnakes and bullsnakes can’t, won’t, never have, and never will breed.

  14. Misty May 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    I found your site very educational…thank you! My 5 yr old son had an encounter with a bullsnake yesterday in our front lawn in new development of south aurora. I wish I would’ve read your article sooner. I demanded my husband relocate the snake to another area, which was out of his normal territory. I didn’t realize this could decrease his chances of survival. However, this evening there was a dead bullsnake of same size close to our house. Could this be the same snake who attempted to travel back to his home territory 24 hrs later? He was probably relocated 2-4 miles from us. Thanks for all your helpful information!

    • Chuck May 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks for a very popular question! Hopefully, your son won’t harbor any adverse feelings about his snake encounter. Bullsnakes do put on a convincing show of defense, but would still rather stay out of harm’s way or make, if possible, a rapid retreat.

      While you’re right about the survival rate in relationship to distance affecting the success of the snake’s living or not, I personally feel that that factor is more specifically directed toward a rattlesnake rather than the bullsnake. Reason is, that while the bullsnake is an “active” predator, hunting a circuit for food, the rattlesnake usually stakes out a productive spot near a rodent trail and picks off the mouse or rat as it travels by. So, if you take a rattlesnake out of its home territory and move it to a “new” neighborhood, it will have difficulty locating a new food source location and could actually starve to death. The bullsnake is much more successful in patrolling a larger area and actually eats more destructive rodents than its venomous relative.

      As for the dead bullsnake being “your” snake…..I don’t think so. They can’t travel that far in such a short period of time and also probably couldn’t locate previous hunting areas that easily. We are presently at Cherry Creek State Park campground and we see many bullsnakes of pretty much the same size. Fortunately they’ve all been alive!

      Thanks again for your great question. And, thanks for genuine concern for our scaly neighbors! Good luck!

  15. Bob June 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    How do you get rid of a possible nest of snakes down in a hole around our juniper tree next to our house? I have seen a desert/gopher snake go in there last season, and a small rattler sunning outside of the juniper yesterday. I live in the high desert about 10 minutes south of the southern Colorado border, in N-NW New Mexico, and 6000′ elevation. Thanks.

    • Chuck June 6, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      Hi Bob

      What you may have is not necessarily a nest of snakes, but possibly an area of rodent nesting. If the gophersnake enters the hole, it’s probably hunting for any food (adult, or newborn rodents)that may be in the hole. Gophersnakes usually hunt differently than the rattlers and actually “work” a circuit searching for a meal. Rattlesnakes prefer to sit and wait and then pick off their prey when in range. Both, however, will not refuse any opportunity to seize that prey whenever and however the conditions permit. I don’t know exactly where you are living, but in the San Juan county area, at your elevation, it’s not unusual for snakes to emerge from their wintering dens in late spring and disperse in the region, looking for both food and mates. The rattler you observed sunning by the hole recently is typical of that behavior. The will also appear at the den entrance in mid-winter, basking in the sun in a wind-free area. They won’t feed at those times, but do take advantage of the ultraviolet health benefits from the sun. My feeling is that the rattler you saw was getting ready to begin its summer activity of controlling the rodents in your area and it is likely that you will not see it again, possibly til fall or even this time next year, if it survives the natural predators in your area of NM. I’m not sure that there’s a nest of snakes by the juniper, but more likely a food source that will be often visited by the local reptile population. As with most wild animals that may live in your area, it’s always a good idea to be vigilant and cautious while moving around the area, especially during the hours of darkness.

      Thanks for a very timely question. I hope my answer helps. Good luck!

  16. Kevin June 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Bullsnakes seem pretty laid back, I have moved several away form where I work so poeple will not kill them. I work in a gas plant and you can not hear anything from a rattler or bullsnake and people freak and kill all snakes. I used to let them wrap around my arm as I carried them out of the plant fence to the fields where they prolly came from, but one time one got spooked by some one that walked by me and I wasn’t sure if he was trying to strike at me or just trying to turn to get away. Either way I had flung my arm to get him away. Then I picked him back up as he did not seem very upset but this time just carried him by him dangling so he couldn’t get in a strike formation. I feel bad to carry them that way, but I just have been nervous since then. I have carried them wrapped on me for a long time, but have never delt with that, and was wondering if I really had anything to worry about? Are there any tale tale signs that I should watch for to not carry them wrapped around my arm? Since I’ve been just letting them dangle they try to get up to prolly feel more comfotable not for aggression, I can tell that, but just want to be sure if there are any signs of aggression I should be aware of. Thank you

    • Chuck June 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      Hello Kevin,

      Thanks for your concern for the welfare of your neighboring bullsnakes. As with most wild animals, there’s always a chance that they will react defensively and bite the human who is actually trying to help them. They instinctively feel that anyone, or thing, larger than they are, are a danger. But, like people, there’s snakes who are laid back and some that will react quickly and violently to protect themselves. Picking up a snake by the tail can provide that animal leverage to swing up and nail you with a mouth of over 100 teeth. And, in the case of a larger snake, can actually harm the snake by stretching the spine. And, it’s not a good idea to attempt to nab the snake from the head end, either. When I’m studying snakes in the field, I always use a specialized reptile hook or pair of tongs to safely control the animal. Snake doesn’t get hurt, I don’t get hurt…..everybody’s happy. I’d really minimize any contact with the snake with my hands. Just keep in mind, some snakes are more tolerant of your presence than others. Always know the “strike distance” of the snake and stay outside of that range. That means as much as 60% or more of its length for safety’s sake. And, by dangling the snake by its tail, you may prevent receiving a bite on the hand, but the legs are certainly within range of those teeth.

      Good luck and thanks again for writing as well as your concerns.

      • Kathleen Spicer February 23, 2013 at 2:52 am #

        Chuck: I have been reading the questions about bull snakes and rattlesnakes, and my question regards bull snakes.
        I grew up in western ND, and there are some big, generally slow-moving Bull snakes there who never harm anyone. I Now live in the Napa Valley of CA, and am so happy to report a fairly large number of Bull Snakes in and around our yard and vineyard, The patriarch is Ed, whom I have seen for the last 8 or 9 years around the house and the buildings, in the vineyards, and checking out water sources. Last spring (2012) I was disturbed to see how thin Ed was.after coming out of hibernation. He wanted to stick around the house for a week at least. Can I find something to feed him while he is shedding his skin and trying to get back to the usual summer routine.
        Ed has become really quite a good pal. If a workers see Ed, they call me, then avoid the area. I like to sit down on the ground and have a friendly one-sided conversation with Ed. He isn’t scared of me, and He and his family appear to winter under a cement slab in our barn, or in the stacks of covered baled hay.
        My question is what kind of food could I give him just after Ed awakens, but before he is up to returning to his role as “King of the Vineyard”.

      • Chuck February 24, 2013 at 10:23 am #

        Hello, Kathleen,

        Thanks for the note! The relationship between bullsnakes, rattlesnakes and humans is a complex one, and sometimes even controversial.
        And, I’ve seen some of your ND bullsnakes and even your prairie rattlers in the TR Natl Park, north and south unit near your home turf. Pretty area that you grew up in with great folks in the region as well.

        I’m glad that you are concerned about the welfare of Ed. He (or she) has survived longer than most of the wild snakes manage. It’s a tough neighborhood with predators of all kinds, including birds of prey, coyotes and of course, humans. Not all folks appreciate or respect the job that bullsnakes as well as other snakes conduct on a daily basis. This is the time of year that snakes and other reptiles start to emerge as the weather warms. Usually, in the fall, snakes will get that final meal before heading underground for the season. Often, those which don’t fail to eat before their off-season, will not survive to see another spring. My guess is that Ed was successful in obtaining food at the desired time. Very few snakes starve to death and can go several months without eating. Obviously, there’s a good food source in your vineyard most likely a variety of rodents, so if the snake hasn’t eaten by now, it will soon. I am glad that your workers call you when a snake is spotted. Too many people will just automatically kill the snake, sadly. And, in answer to your feeding question, you probably wouldn’t have any luck in offering Ed any food. Being a wild snake, it would only eat live food such as some rodent or even some other warm blooded prey. Ed is a lucky snake to share your vineyard with you!

        Thanks, and continued good luck with Ed and family!


  17. Sherry November 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Two things Chuck:
    #1: My uncle actually watched a bull snake and a rattlesnake fight one time. He said that they had become intertwined, and tho the rattlesnake kept striking at the bull snake, the bull snake was always faster and kept from getting bitten. At one point the bull snake then got his head behind that of the rattler, chomped the rattler’s neck just below the head, and killed it.
    #2: I gave away 2 large bull snakes last year to someone with a mouse problem in their barn. Needless to say, this year
    we saw our first 2 rattlesnakes, and our neighbor saw one in his garage, the first he’s seen in his 16 years away out here on the Bennett, CO prairie. We would like to ‘re-stock’ our properties with bull snakes (I’ve become a believer that they ward off the rattlers). I put a ‘WANTED’ ad on Craig’s List and received no responses. What would be our best option in order to acquire them?

    • Chuck November 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

      Two things Chuck:
      #1: My uncle actually watched a bull snake and a rattlesnake fight one time. He said that they had become intertwined, and tho the rattlesnake kept striking at the bull snake, the bull snake was always faster and kept from getting bitten. At one point the bull snake then got his head behind that of the rattler, chomped the rattler’s neck just below the head, and killed it.

      Not to dispute your uncle’s description on the “fight” between the rattler and bullsnake, but I’ve never heard of such an incident before and really think that the activity was actually a breeding ritual, or what is often called combat between two male rattlesnakes. One tries to force its opponent to the ground allowing the victor breeding rights to a receptive female. Snakes rarely kill another snake unless in the case of the family of kingsnakes, which actually eat other snakes including rattlers. Snakes usually don’t possess enough jaw strength to fatally bite any animal. Bullsnakes are constrictors and could easily constrict and kill many animals from small rodents to larger mammals. But to kill by biting, I seriously doubt that’d happen. I’d love to see pictures of the incident if they exist.

      #2: I gave away 2 large bull snakes last year to someone with a mouse problem in their barn. Needless to say, this year
      we saw our first 2 rattlesnakes, and our neighbor saw one in his garage, the first he’s seen in his 16 years away out here on the Bennett, CO prairie. We would like to ‘re-stock’ our properties with bull snakes (I’ve become a believer that they ward off the rattlers). I put a ‘WANTED’ ad on Craig’s List and received no responses. What would be our best option in order to acquire them?
      Bullsnakes are excellent “mousers” and my thought is that they will return naturally as long as there’s a food supply present like rodents. In fact, that’s probably why the rattlesnakes have shown up. There was nobody there to capitalize on a food source and it was easy pickings for the rattlers. Bullsnakes eat much more than the rattlers do, so when a major predator was taken out of the food chain, that opened the door for another animal to move in. Most likely, if you were to catch a bullsnake or two, that they would probably not be inclined to stick around unfamiliar territory and disappear. I’m familiar with Bennett and the whole Adams/Arapahoe county region, having lived in eastern CO for most of my life and know that there’s a large population of bullsnakes in the area. As winter approaches, you’re less likely to see any snakes in quantity but on warmer days they will bask in the sun, but usually won’t eat. Come spring, as early as March, they may move out of their dens and could likely set up housekeeping once again on your property. It’s best to take a “wait and see” method rather than relocating from another area. Good luck

  18. Patrick Porter May 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    HI Chuck,
    I have recently encountered three bull snakes in my tack barn and on my porch. I picked up another about a quarter mile down the road. I have always loved bull snakes but not having seen any for a few years I was anxious to bring the one down the road home; I have him/her in a snake cage I built years ago with a shallow water trey, and I have fed it and another I put in the same cage
    A third one, smaller and apparently younger I found on top of the cage with the other two. It has returned several times to cage – what’s go9ing on – why?
    I can catch a mouse every night ( almost ); can I over feed these two snakes?
    How much space do they need in captivity? Do they need to be able to stretch out fully?
    Is there a way for a novice to “sex” them ?
    The first one I found down the road appeared large and fat – could she – if it is a female be about to lay eggs? or is it too late in the season.
    I would like to keep one – or two – for pets because I have always loved snakes, and greew up with them in my childhood – we had them around often.
    I gather from what you say that it would not be remarkable to have them ‘hang around’ if food is plentiful.

    Lots of questions mixed up with observations; can you offer me any advice about these questions and observations?


    • Chuck May 29, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      Hi Pat,

      Bullsnakes have a big appetite and will often eat multiple mice or other food items within a short period of time. But then, they may go for several days without eating anything. That applies to snakes in the wild. In captivity it certainly is possible to overfeed a snake, causing a fatal condition called fatty liver disease. I feed my 5 ft bullsnake one, occasionally two adult mice every 7 to 10 days. This diet has kept her healthy since she hatched out 9 years ago this August. Since most snakes are solitary hunters and don’t usually seek out the company of other members of their species except for mating, I feel that it’s not a good idea to keep two snakes together in the same cage. Also, being in a captive environment prevents their main purpose in life of controlling rodents around your property. If you really need to keep a snake in your cage, I recommend that its a single snake. The other snake, as well as the one you may keep have an important job to do in the wild. Also, it’s not out of the question that one snake could injure or even kill the other one. This is especially likely during feeding time. While the luxury of being able to stretch out completely is desirable, most snakes rarely extend themselves fully. I’ve seen snakes that were 5ft long in a cage twice that length and most of the time they were coiled up in the corner. As for the snake you found being large and fat…..it could have just had a substantial meal or could be ready to lay eggs. If you suspect that it is approaching egg laying time, I would strongly recommend that you release it so she can deposit the eggs properly and keep the population of bullsnakes in your area at a useful level. Believe me, you don’t want to get into caring for as many as 20 baby bullsnakes if all the eggs hatch. I have a feeling that you’re in NM and as summer arrives the heat is going to be dangerous for a snake in an outdoor cage. They definitely need water as you have provided, but also need a “hide box”, something that gives them a place to lurk out of the sun and where they feel secure.. I keep my snakes between 65 and 85 degrees by the use of lights on timers. As the temperature increases, if the snake can not get out of the heat, they will quickly die. Tests at the U of Colorado have shown that a rattlesnake left in 93 degree heat with no way to cool down, will die in 20 minutes. If you can’t provide protection from your heat, you must consider releasing that gal. And, late spring (now) is when many eggs are laid. Hatching occurs in a couple months after. As for sexing them, it’s a tough and risky procedure. With many years working with snakes, I still will not attempt that test. I have a zookeeper friend/mentor who probes the cloaca (the opening where eggs and feces come out at the beginning of the tail) with a slender probe. It is too easy to injure or kill the snake if it’s done improperly. As for the snake “visitor” that hangs around the cage…..my guess is that it’s smelling the mice that you have been feeding the captives. But, that is just an educated guess.

      Bottom line is that personally, I’d rather see the snakes returned to the wild where they can help control the rodent population as well as allowing the suspected eggs to be laid in an area where the hatchlings would have a chance at survival.

      At any rate, I’m glad that you are concerned for the well-being of a misunderstood animal. I wish more folks out there shared your interests and concerns. Do what you think is best and I wish you the best of luck with the wildlife in your area. Any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  19. Rhonda June 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Hi Chuck,
    This evening a snake about 3 feet in length, attacked my dog, who clumsily stumbled across it. It lunged at my dog and sprayed two streams of venom, which may have gotten on my dogs face. My dog wimpered, pawed at his face several times and generally seemed irritated by whatever landed on him. Can you please let me know if the venom of the bull snake is harmful. I watched the snake in full light and did not see any rattles. The snake was bright and shiny, light tan with brown diamonds on its back.
    Thank you!

    • Chuck June 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

      Hello Rhonda,

      I hope your dog is better today. The bullsnake actually has no venom and what you observed coming out of the snake’s mouth may have been just saliva. Actually, saliva in its modified form, is what venom is made of. But there are no snakes in North America that’ll spray/spit venom. I have a couple of theories on the spray: If the snake had just recently eaten, and then encountered a predator (dog) under the right circumstances could regurgitate the food item. Snakes do that as an escape plan since they are most vulnerable with a mouth full of mouse or other food item. Eating always produces a high amount of saliva, so theory #2 is that if the snake has recently eaten, lots of saliva would still be present and could be “flung out” as the snake reacts to your dog by moving its head rapidly to assume a defensive posture. Snakes in this country can’t expel any fluids from their mouth. There is a snake called a spitting cobra which, through modified fangs, is able to accurately spit venom into the eyes of a predator, but once again, that snake is not found here. I think you’re in central Kansas where bullsnakes are very common, but if you’re near water, that snake may have been one of the large variety of water snakes. Some have similar patterns on their back, but I think your identification of a bullsnake is more likely. In the worst case scenario, if your dog or you or me were to be bitten by a bullsnake all that would happen would be some bleeding at the bite area. And, as with any type of skin puncturing, you should wash with warm soapy water and use a bandage if needed. Bullsnakes as well as their relatives usually bite as a last resort. They put on a good show, hissing, puffing up, rattling the rattle-less tail and even striking out. Those actions usually cause a predator to think twice. Basically, a snake bites for two reasons: to protect itself and get something to eat. If we even accidentally step on a snake, they react in the same manner as if our intentions were to harm it. Pretty much a reflex action on their part.

      I hope this somewhat answers your question. Nope, no venom from a bullsnake.

      Thanks for your question!

      Take care


  20. Annie June 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    We were fortunate this morning to be visited by a beautiful gopher snake on our property here in AZ. In the last few weeks we have been visited by a black & white striped king snake and several rosy boa’s. I think this gopher snake was the same one I saw several months ago in the same area. I have read the article posted above that gopher snakes don’t kill rattlers, but I must say, we have not seen a single rattlesnake yet this year, where-as we normally have been visited by at least 1/2 dozen by this time of year. Could it be due to the King Snake or the Rosy boa’s we’ve seen?

    • Chuck June 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      Hi Annie,

      It sounds like you are getting a wide variety of snakes on your property. I’m envious since right now we’re in western WY, not a hotbed of snake or other reptile activity. The thought that gopher snakes reduce the likelyhood of seeing rattlers is not an uncommon one. However, both species are most likely on your property. How can that be so? Gophersnakes and their northern cousins, bullsnakes usually work during the day, actively hunting down and eating rodents, birds and other food items. Rattlesnakes, especially in this time of year, will usually do their feeding at night due to the summer heat. Also, rattlers will often stay out of sight in the shade of a creosote bush or other vegetation or even in rock outcroppings waiting for a rat to come by. Then, they will bite and eat the rodent. They will locate an active rodent trail and have been recorded as having stayed in one location for a week or more, waiting for food to come within striking range. So, it’s a matter of metabolism which differs between each snake. Rattlers have a lower metabolism and as a result, eat less than the more active gopher snakes. Since they work at opposite times of the clock, you don’t always see them at the same time in the same place.

      The presence of a kingsnake, however will definitely affect the rattler’s behavior. Kingsnakes are a major predator of rattlers and if the rattler smells the kingsnake in the vicinity, it will flee for its life. Kingsnakes are usually immune to the venom and the rattler comes out the loser (and dinner!) Rosy Boas prefer rodents and birds so I don’t think their presence will be responsible for the scarcity of rattlers. As for the rattlers, they may become much more visible during and just after the monsoon season while they’re out looking for a mate.

      Thanks for asking a popular question.


  21. Nadine July 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    hello there!
    I need to know how to repel bullsnakes. I don’t mind them but today I saw a huge one and then a smaller one in my yard. The second one hid under the wood steps of my doggie door (could it actually figure out the way in through the doggie door?!) I most definitely don’t want to kill them, but im wondering if there might be a nest a little too close for my comfort level….

    thanks for your help!

    • Chuck July 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

      Hello Nadine,

      Probably no way to repel bullsnakes or any other snakes, but it is possible to make the area where you’ve seen them less desirable. You mentioned a doggie door which makes me think that there possibly could be a dish of dog food nearby. Any uneaten or spilled food is an attractant to a variety of rodents. Rodents are a favorite food of bull snakes, so those reptiles could be hanging around a place where the living is easy. Snakes won’t work any harder than necessary and if a good, reliable food source is nearby, they will stay very close. I doubt that they would be able to get into the house by way of the doggie door unless they were very persistent. I’m glad that you prefer not to kill them since they are an important part of the food chain and are a major predator of rats and mice, both of which can carry serious diseases. And, it’s unlikely that there’s a “nest” nearby, especially this time of year in SE WY where I think you live. Once snakes emerge in the spring from their hibernation dens, they pretty much disperse and don’t usually travel with other snakes except during mating season which could explain your seeing two snakes nearby. I hope that answer helps, and once again, many thanks for your concerns!

      • Nadine July 8, 2013 at 6:01 am #

        thank you Chuck for the quick response! for sure there is no dog or cat food left in dishes for many reasons (raccons etc) . I guess I was “lucky” to see 2 a few feet apart within an hour :-/ . The first one was at least 3.5 feet long, was BIG and 2nd much smaller so that’s why I thought of a “nest”. I will work at making my territory ;-) less welcoming…. they fascinate me but startle me too!
        (ans yes I do live in SE Wyoming)

      • Nadine July 16, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

        I sadly heard that my neighbor killed a big (at least 5 feet) bullsnake the other day ;( im afraid it might’ve been “my” visitor :((((
        he says he is sick of them stealing his eggs…. very sad.

      • Chuck July 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

        Yes, really a shame to lose an older snake that way. It was probably 5-6 yrs old and most likely had eaten over a thousand rodents in its lifetime. It couldn’t have eaten that many eggs, and you’d think an occasional egg loss would have been justified by the elimination of disease-ridden rodents. Thanks for letting me know, though.

  22. Nadine July 8, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    lol actually I just measured where I saw the big one was at least 5 feet long and not totally stretched…. uuhhh

  23. Marilyn July 13, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    We have just moved to the country–North Texas. One evening a bull snake crawled across my son’s foot while we were moving furniture stored in the shed. We have seen it since going under the house–much bigger this time. Someone told me they travel in pairs? Do we have two on the property or just one growing fat with mice? I would really be OK with it staying UNDER the house. Do they normally stay underground? Do I need to be worried that I could find it indoors some day? Thanks!!! This has been the most informative site I have found about bull snakes!

    • Chuck July 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

      Hello, Marilyn,

      Thanks for some great questions! Bullsnakes are very common in north TX and provide a great service in controlling the rodent population. Generally, the more you see those snakes, the higher the rodent population in your immediate area. They will follow the food source and actually make a big reduction in those rats and mice. They don’t usually travel in pairs, though. About the only time you see them together will be during mating season which is usually in late spring. But once again, they will be found near their food source and could definitely hang out under your house if there’s rodents there. They are primarily a surface snake but will easily enter rodent burrows looking for the inhabitants underground. They will also climb trees in search of birds and/or eggs in the nest. Really unlikely that they would venture into the house, but I’d keep all doors closed to prevent unauthorized entry. Keep an eye out in the house, especially under the sink and in come floor level cabinets for telltale rodent droppings. Got droppings……you got mice. Control them with traps or Decon and that will eliminate any snake visitation.

      Thanks for your kind comments about the bullsnakes! We always try to answer questions in advance on a very mis-understood animal. I really appreciate your dropping me the note!

  24. Margaret Mitchell August 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Hi! I do educational shows for resorts in Az.My goal is to inform tourists about our native creatures.After finding your site I have a lot of ?s.I have 2 Sonoran gopher snakes, One found by a fellow who tracks snakes for Az.He found her in

    the painted desert in the road with a broken jaw.She was about two days old. I have had her for six years.Two years ago she laid 8 slugs.Last year I found a beautiful male,he’s so cool,as he has diamonds on his back!A perfect example of a mimic.They are in the same cage and have been very happy together.I have not observed them copulating, and no eggs laid.Could it be possible he is a bull

    snake?If so do they cross breed?Or am I only hopeful?After much reaserch I can’t tell the difference between the 2. Does it have to do with scale pattern?They really look so different but I have seen so many variables over the years .So how do I get them to be romantic in captivity. Candel llght ,some mood music?Thank you, Maggie

    • Chuck August 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Identifying gopher snakes and bullsnakes is not always easy. In areas where they overlap, they will interbreed making the identification all the more difficult. Those snakes are all in the genera of Pituophis, which includes the Pine snakes that live in the southeast part of the company. I don’t have any specifics on what breeding requirements are necessary to produce fertile eggs however. My 9 yr old female has laid two clutches of eggs in the past 4 years which turned out to be slugs. She’s never been around any males of her species, so I didn’t expect any results from the clutch obviously. Are you sure that the new snake is definitely a male? Difficult to tell the gender without probing the snake which is a procedure to be taken very carefully. And, just like any animal, not all animals will even be able to produce offspring. A challenge with breeding and then raising neonate snakes is getting them to eat and then placing them into the care of an experienced reptile enthusiast. Personally, I’d rather not get into raising what could be a dozen to 15 newly hatched bullsnakes. Turning them loose in the surrounding wilderness would most likely result in them not surviving for long. A critical factor in getting snakes to be “romantic” would be tied to both temperature and light. There’s not a lot of info regarding their breeding, but in the wild, most eggs are laid in mid-summer, hatching in Sept. For identification, the gopher snake has a scale on the snout that’s not too narrow or raised above the surrounding scales. The bullsnake has a narrow, raised scale that is usually noticeably higher than surrounding scales. It also could have black blotches on the neck that forms what looks like a dark band on the side of the neck. If the snake is an “intergrade” animal, exact identification is extremely difficult.
      Thanks for a great series of questions on a mis-understood snake! We need more people like you to help educate the public!

  25. Marc Mercer September 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Hello – I’m gratified to see that someone has taken the time and effort to compile factual data to dispel the common fallacies about these two common snakes; I’ve been catching and observing Colorado’s eastern plains snake species since childhood, and have long been baffled by otherwise educated and intelligent adults that dispense ‘Old Wives’ Tales’ as facts without basis. I’m pleased to live in an area (Peyton) with natural populations of prairie rattlers, bullsnakes, hog-nosed snakes, garter snakes and the occasional racer; I always move snakes off of road surfaces when I encounter them (I carry a snake hook in my car specifically for rattlesnakes) – Thanks for the great web page!

    • Chuck September 12, 2013 at 7:17 am #

      Thanks for your kind comments! We, and the reptiles, need more intelligent and interested supporters such as you in a part of the country with such a diverse scaly population. It’s truly a rewarding opportunity to appreciate and share the sight of such misunderstood neighbors. I wish more people had your attitude. Keep spreading the word!

  26. john May 22, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Great site how can we deture both rattle and bull snakes from our plzce? We do not want to harm them but, need way to keep them away.

    • Chuck June 1, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Hi John,
      Thanks for your nice comments about our website. The presence of both rattlesnakes as well as the bull snakes in your area indicates that there’s an abundant supply of their favorite food, mainly rodents. As summer arrives, the snakes will disperse and due to heat, the rattlesnakes will be less active during the heat of day and pretty much work during early morning and later afternoon into the night. Bull snakes, which are non-venomous should most likely be the ones most often seen during the day since they actually patrol the area looking for a meal. Rattlers prefer to sit tight, often in a partially shaded area and wait for “food” to come by within their striking range, so be careful when walking in brushy areas. As long as there is a food supply that’s easy to obtain, the snakes will stay in the area. If someone was to capture and relocate any snake from its home range with a good food supply, they eventually would return or some other snake would move into that area. If at all possible, I’d recommend trying to co-exist with both species as well as any others as well. Your part of KS has a wide variety of snakes and they all serve as an important link in the food chain. Of course, if you have young children or animals nearby, that there are concerns for their safety. Keep in mind that most snake bites occur when trying to kill or mishandle the animal. I hope this helps. Thanks again for your comments.

  27. Rory White July 28, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    This article has been very helpful, thank you. Here in Vernon, British Columbia, we have both types although I have primarily seen the Rattlesnakes out at night and will see bull/gopher snakes out day or night. I always stop to encourage them off the roads at night to try and save their unfortunate and potential fate from other vehicles. I am not always successful however will continue. The gopher snakes interestingly enough I have found to be more reactive at night when trying to encourage them to keep moving to get off the pavement. The hiss up a storm and go through all the motions including striking. Any advice on the best and quickest way to speed them along and get them off the pavement? Thanks. :-)

    • Chuck July 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      Hello Rory,

      Thanks for your comments regarding your efforts to persuade the gopher snakes off the roadway! Even though your actions are very likely responsible for saving their lives, snakes will still perceive you as a threat or predator. Trying to encourage them to move in the direction you feel is best for them can often be counter to what they are thinking….If snakes actually think, that is! From my experiences with gopher snakes, I’ve learned that in most cases they are more eager to defend themselves than their distant cousins, the rattlesnakes. They are experts at going thru a whole course of behaviors which can be very effective in deterring a predator from attacking. Rattlesnakes often will rely on their camouflage to hide from predators (or humans as well) and will bite as a last resort. I’ve seen many rattlers which would actually flee from humans if they have a safe route of escape. Trying to herd a gopher snake out of harm’s way can be almost as difficult as putting toothpaste back into the tube! They just don’t get the message that we’re trying to help them. You might try urging them to depart using a long stick or a broom, keeping in mind that it could strike out to two thirds of its length. Like humans, gopher and other snakes all have differing behaviors. Some are laid back and mellow, and some are ready to go to war! Thanks for your interest in preserving an important part of the food chain! I wish there were more people with your great attitude. Keep up the good work!

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