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.

138 thoughts on “Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes”

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

    • 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.

  2. 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.

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

      • 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!

      • 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.

      • 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.

      • Maureen,

        Bullsnakes can be a very capable climber of trees and basically any other structure, man made or natural. One of their favorite prey items are birds, both hatchlings, adults and eggs often found in trees and other above ground locations. There are other snake species that are not good climbers, but the agile bullsnake has evolved to finding food regardless of the difficulty factor involved.
        Thanks for your question.

  3. 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….

    • 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. 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.

    • 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. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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 –

      • 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. 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 .

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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. 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.

    • 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!

      • 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?

      • 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. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

  10. 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.

    • 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!

    • I feel horrible I had to kill a bull today, it bit me as I walked by my garbage area it was super pissed off and actually was aggressive enough to come at me again. I normally like snakes especially bulls but this one had a seriously bad day with the attitude to go with it. Still sad

      • Kevin,
        I share your feelings about having to kill the bullsnake. They can be aggressive, even more so than a rattlesnake. And, sometimes, we have no choice than to eliminate an animal that exhibits such behavior. Hard to figure out why the snake took that approach, but it could have been a number of factors. Could have been in a pre-shedding phase where their vision could be compromised, or it could have been confronted earlier by a predator and as a result, still in a hyper defensive attitude. At any rate, what’s done is done and I appreciate your sharing of the event. Hopefully a new bullsnake will move into the area to continue their important job of controlling rodents. Thanks for writing.

  11. 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?

    • 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.


    • 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.

  12. 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!

    • 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!

  13. 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.

    • 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!

  14. 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

    • 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.

      • 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”.

      • 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!


  15. 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?

    • 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

  16. 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?


    • 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.

  17. 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!

    • 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


  18. 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?

    • 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.


  19. 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!

    • 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!

      • 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)

      • 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.

      • 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.

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

  21. 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!

    • 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!

  22. 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

    • Maggie,
      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!

  23. 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!

    • 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!

  24. 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.

    • 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.

  25. 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. 🙂

    • 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!

  26. Hello Chuck,

    I have read your article and responses and find them to be very informative. I have just recently had two negative experiences with my dogs and rattlesnakes in a 3.5 month period of time. I have recently moved to the central tx area as of sept 2015 and just 10 days after moving into my home which is located in the center of a subdivision that is located in a prairie area, my large hound dog was bitten by what the veterinarian presumed to be a 3 foot rattlesnake. Rusty was bitten at night but i hadn’t discovered such until I noticed his very swollen leg and chest the next morning. As recently as last monday, on a day that had warmed up to about the 60s and after having left my four dogs in the backyard during the day, I had returned home to discover my 6.5 lb maltese had been in a fight, presumably with her dachshund housemate. I treated her obvious dog bite wounds and separated her from the other dogs that Monday afternoon. That following Saturday I discovered my little dog’s hindquarter was suffering from severe cellulosis though she had well healing dog bite wounds on her back. During the course of treating her infection, I found myself in complete disbelief to be looking at two very distinctive and necrotic fang holes. Rattlesnakes are a very common nuisance for the home owners whose house backs up to the open lots but not for the home owners located in center of the development. Additionally, I am the only known home owner in the development to have had a pet, make that pets, struck by a venomous snake. My concern is that with the close proximity of time and the sheer fact that both incidents have happened in my fenced in backyard that I may have a den somewhere on my property? What are your thoughts on this? Additionally, I keep my yard very well groomed.I do not have bushes, piles of woood or garbage, or holes in the backyard. The previous owners confirmed that they had seen small garden, type snakes in the yard but never rattlers. All of the neighbors we share a fence line with and informed about the first snake bite were also shocked to hear of what had happened and assured me that the neighborhood was safe. My house did sit vacant for one week prior to us moving in but a house next to me that I share a fence line with has sat vacant for six months now. The yard in the vacant house does appear to be groomed well and there weren’t any wood piles or debris on the ground. Is it possible a snake has made a den on my property on the property next door, do rattlesnakes have territories they protect, and do rattlesnakes emerge from their dens during winter? I have a toddler that I am very concerned for and simply cannot continue to incur emergency vet bills…they really add up! I will state this, I read your response detailing the price of antivenom per vial for human use and find it repulsive that pharmaceutical companies would charge so much when antivenom for dogs is but a mere fraction of the price.

    Thank you kindly,

    • I have read your article and responses and find them to be very informative. I have just recently had two negative experiences with my dogs and rattlesnakes in a 3.5 month period of time. I have recently moved to the central tx area as of sept 2015 and just 10 days after moving into my home which is located in the center of a subdivision that is located in a prairie area, my large hound dog was bitten by what the veterinarian presumed to be a 3 foot rattlesnake. Rusty was bitten at night but i hadn’t discovered such until I noticed his very swollen leg and chest the next morning. As recently as last monday, on a day that had warmed up to about the 60s and after having left my four dogs in the backyard during the day, I had returned home to discover my 6.5 lb maltese had been in a fight, presumably with her dachshund housemate. I treated her obvious dog bite wounds and separated her from the other dogs that Monday afternoon. That following Saturday I discovered my little dog’s hindquarter was suffering from severe cellulosis though she had well healing dog bite wounds on her back. During the course of treating her infection, I found myself in complete disbelief to be looking at two very distinctive and necrotic fang holes. Rattlesnakes are a very common nuisance for the home owners whose house backs up to the open lots but not for the home owners located in center of the development. Additionally, I am the only known home owner in the development to have had a pet, make that pets, struck by a venomous snake. My concern is that with the close proximity of time and the sheer fact that both incidents have happened in my fenced in backyard that I may have a den somewhere on my property? What are your thoughts on this? Additionally, I keep my yard very well groomed.I do not have bushes, piles of woood or garbage, or holes in the backyard. The previous owners confirmed that they had seen small garden, type snakes in the yard but never rattlers. All of the neighbors we share a fence line with and informed about the first snake bite were also shocked to hear of what had happened and assured me that the neighborhood was safe. My house did sit vacant for one week prior to us moving in but a house next to me that I share a fence line with has sat vacant for six months now. The yard in the vacant house does appear to be groomed well and there weren’t any wood piles or debris on the ground. Is it possible a snake has made a den on my property on the property next door, do rattlesnakes have territories they protect, and do rattlesnakes emerge from their dens during winter? I have a toddler that I am very concerned for and simply cannot continue to incur emergency vet bills…they really add up! I will state this, I read your response detailing the price of antivenom per vial for human use and find it repulsive that pharmaceutical companies would charge so much when antivenom for dogs is but a mere fraction of the price.

      Thank you kindly,

    • Hello RB,

      I’m sorry that you’ve had a couple incidents regarding your dogs being bitten by a rattlesnake. We strive to reply with factual information on such a confusing subject. Central TX is certainly a hotbed of reptile activity, including two or three species of rattlesnakes as well as other pit vipers.
      The presence of rattlesnakes does not necessarily indicate that a den is nearby however. It sounds like you’ve done a fine job keeping your area clear with no real places where a snake could set up housekeeping. It is possible though, that rodents or rabbits could be in the area which could definitely draw predators. You might look around your property to see if there are any sign of rodent/rabbit activity. If there’s soft soil or sand, look for small tracks for the rodents and the larger elongated tracks of some sort of rabbit. Both of those species reproduce and give birth for a greater part of the year and the offspring provide a source of food for snakes and other predators. In the case of rabbits, their droppings are easily spotted in clear areas of vegetation, round in shape about 1/4 of an inch in diameter….”bunny berries”. I think that being unoccupied for only a week shouldn’t be an invitation for any increase in snake activity. But if a neighbor’s yard has had little or no human or domestic animal activity, it could be a haven for the above mentioned food sources. Snakes will find the easiest way to get a meal and will stay in an area as long as the food source exists. You mentioned a fence surrounding your property…..not sure what kind of fence, but a slender slithering animal needs an incredibly small opening to pass thru almost any type of barrier. Snakes don’t really make their dens, rather they share or evict from, dens made by mammals like prairie dogs or other rodents. And, they do move about somewhat thru most winters. Most likely, they will bask in the necessary sunlight at the entrance of their burrow on a sunny winter day, but rarely feed during the colder months. That doesn’t mean, however, that if they sense a predator or other threat that they won’t hesitate to bite. There are usually only two reasons why a snake will bite: to acquire food and to defend itself. You mentioned that your neighbors have seen various species of snakes but not rattlers. During much of their lives, rattlesnakes work the “night shift” lying in wait for a food item to pass within striking range. Many other species do operate during daytime hours, but not so much the rattlers.
      I share your concern about having youngsters playing in the yard with a venomous animal potentially present. You may have already seen it, but recently we published an article on just that subject. In mid-December, the title “Snakes on Their Property” was published on this blog and may offer some insight as well. It was the article just preceding the one on snake venom.
      I don’t have an answer regarding the price differential on antivenom for animals vs humans, but there could possibly be stricter standards for the human antivenom. If I can find a clearer reason, I will post the outcome. It’s a great question and you’re right, antivenom is extremely expensive. I heard some untrained snake handler mention one time that it was OK if he were to be bitten by a venomous snake, because there’s the antivenom to save his life. Well, he should have great health insurance to cover what could easily surpass $200,000 in treatment!

      You posed some great questions RB, all of which should be of great interest to many readers. Thanks for your comments and good luck!

  27. Hi Chuck,
    Thank you for all your valuable information here!
    We just moved to central Wa. On our property, we have found two dead bull snakes and one live. Not real large but not too small. No physical damage was observed on the deceased snakes. What might be getting them? What’s the best way to dispose of them? We have a bold eagle nest right above the area were they were found. They would not eat them.
    Also, we have 3 young kids that play outside all the time. Since both rattlers and bulls live in the same territory, what do you suggest we do to keep the Rattlers away? We haven’t seen any & the previous owner of 17 yrs on the property had never seen one either. I’ve heard a goose will keep them off the property. Have you heard of that? I’m thinking this would be a wise investment considering a rattle snake bite!
    The fact that we have seen this many bulls already this season, has me conserned that rattlers are here as well, just hiding put until night shift feedings.
    Any advise would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hello Ariel,
      It’s hard to say what the cause of death was on the bullsnakes you found. Snakes and other reptiles frequently have internal parasites which can and does kill the animal. That is one theory since there was no visible damage to the snake. I apologize for the delay in getting back to you, but if you still have the dead snakes nearby, the best solution would be to bury them at least a foot deep in order to keep a scavenger or domestic pet from eating them and getting the possible parasite infection themselves. As for the rattlesnakes that share the area with the bullsnakes, it’s normal *not* to see the rattlers as frequently since they most often move about and wait for a food item during the overnight hours. Bullsnakes work the “day shift” and as a result are most often seen by humans. Although geese have been used for centuries as feathered alarm systems, there’s no real proof that they can deter the presence of rattlesnakes or any other snakes as well. They can’t tell the difference between one species of snake from another and would possibly defend the goose eggs from any snake, or even humans for that matter…..It’s important to educate your kids of the possibility of encountering snakes on your property. Never put your hands or feet where you can’t see what is underneath and never try to pick up or hurt the snake since that’s the time most humans are bitten. I’m sure you will encounter snakes until winter approaches later this year, so please keep an eye out for them and try to give them some room to avoid conflicts with humans. Good luck with the situation and thanks for your kind comments!

  28. hi i keep catching bullsnakes around my place with my free ranging chickens. i have caught them in the chicken coup eating eggs. i sadly have killed a few after giving them chances to hunt elsewhere on my property. i have tried to pick up the eggs right after the hens lay the eggs, but the snakes i killed, sadly where getting into attack position on my hens, one hen was sitting on her nesting box, that bull was about 5 ft, the other one was coming right up on my hen as she was walking and it was just a foot away. that one was about 3 feet. i do not want to kill them, but im very afraid for my birds, they are full size. but these snakes are big and strong. can you please give me some advice? thank you

    • Hello Jennifer,

      Thanks for dropping me the note on the bullsnake vs chickens. My best bet is that even though you don’t see them, the chicken feed is drawing rats and mice, especially at night. The scent of the rodents will definitely draw their biggest predator, snakes. Rodents leave a scent that is like a breadcrumb trail guiding the snake to that intruder. If you can control the rodent invasion, you could minimize the visitation of the snakes that are actually looking for a mouse or rat rather than the eggs. But since snakes can be what is called an opportunistic feeder, if they smell or see something that is more available than a rodent (egg) they will take advantage of that source of food. I appreciate your concerns and not wanting to kill the snakes, which are very useful in controlling rodents. The free range chickens are probably not in any danger from the snakes although there are other predators of concern. You could fence off the coop with a finer mesh wire, but as long as you have an entrance that the chickens use, snakes will use that opening to enter the coop searching for rodents or too often, eggs. If you can control the rodent situation by trapping or other means, it might reduce but never totally eliminate the snake presence.

      Good luck with your challenges and thanks for your comments.

  29. Chuck,
    I really appreciate your quick response! I do have some of the small mesh wire you are talking about along with the snake netting type of fencing. I have cut the bull snakes out of the fencing several times. I started to think it was kinda cruel to use as the snakes can’t back out, and if I was not there to get them out they would of had a horrible death. I live in Weldon Ca . So yes I guess there could be bears, Cougars, coyotes , Hawks and stray dogs I might have to worry about with my chickens be free range. But so far I have been lucky.
    I have read on allot of other forums that Bulls will try to eat adult chickens, do you think that is true? I have Rhode Island Reds, so normal size. I also have geese. I like them to free range to eat the bugs.
    I will take your advice and try feeding the birds away from their coop. I’m ok if the snakes get a egg here or there! I really don’t want to run off the Bulls, and end up with rattlers! Oh one last question will the Bulls help eat ground squirrels? I have them too! I’m afraid they are going to make big holes and my horses are going to step in them and break a leg! Thank you again for your help and knowledge:)

    • Jennifer,
      Glad to have answered some of your questions. The wire mesh I was thinking of would be only a quarter inch in size which shouldn’t allow any snakes to get irreversibly stuck. I have seen snakes as you mentioned, having a painful death, caught in other types of mesh. It would take an extremely large bullsnake to eat an adult chicken buy not impossible. Most snakes can take a surprisingly large food item thanks to the expandable ligaments in their upper and lower jaw. Being a constrictor, they could easily kill a chicken-sized bird, but I’m not sure if they could eat it. Ground squirrels are a different question. They are often one of the favorite food sources for bullsnakes and rattlers, too. The rattler will set up an ambush spot and grab the squirrel as it goes by. The bull will actively go hunting for those, and other rodents, often going underground into the maternity den and cleaning out a whole family of damaging rodents. But, the snakes are outnumbered due to the massive birth rate of most rodents. Snakes can help keeping the rodents from getting too numerous, but there will never be enough snakes to eliminate enough rodents so there’s no holes to step into. Some of the larger holes could actually be from coyotes, foxes and badgers, all of which eat the squirrels too, as well as an occasional chicken .

  30. CHUCK. Very interesting site here. You do a great job. I have one comment and a question.

    A poster named “Betty” said that she has been seeing a green / brown rattlesnake. When I read her comment, I was new here and did not know you are a snake expert. I told her the snake is most probably a Mojave Rattler that is extremely toxic. I came across one while hiking Boynton Canyon, Az. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    My question is that I read there are no rattlesnakes west of the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State. Is that true?



    • As you suggested, field guides that I’ve consulted show no populations of rattlesnakes west of the Cascades. And, while the Mojave does have a combination of venoms (neuro, and hemotoxic) it doesn’t kill as many people as the Western diamondback which is much more common. Also, if you re-read the comments from Peggy, notice that she does not live in an area inhabited by the Mojave rattlesnake. She was referring to the Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) “viridis” meaning green as some of them appear. Dan, thanks for your comments.

      • Chuck, I apologize. I kind of wondered onto your site without doing any research. After I sent my question to you, I re-read your comments to Peggy.

        This week we had two kids in California who got bit by rattlesnakes in two different areas. One kid was 2 years old and has survived. It seems that some rattlesnakes toxicity are more potent than others. For example, A few years ago, a fellow was jogging through Saguaro National Park when he felt something on his foot. While he was running, he looked down and saw a rattlesnake caught by his fangs on his tennis shoe laces. He reached down, pulled the snake off and threw it aside. He checked and was not bitten by the snake but the snake had released its venom onto his shoe. The the venom soaked through his sock onto this foot. His skin absorbed enough of the venom where he suffered from snake bite. He almost lost his foot.

        Also, are dry bites common? Does the dry bite have to do with feeding cycles?

        I appreciate your expert guidance. Thank you.

      • Hello, Dan,

        It does appear that the toxicity does vary in many rattlesnakes with more studies revealing more data frequently. Some venoms are area-specific within the same species of snake. For instance, the Mojave rattlesnake, found in AZ has quite a different potency/chemistry in Phoenix than it does in the Tucson area. When bitten in that state, one of the questions asked of the victim will be “what area were you in when bitten?” As for the jogger, I’ve never heard of venom causing issues unless it has been injected into the prey/victim. Perhaps the jogger had a blister on the foot which allowed entrance to the bloodstream. There are people who’ve drunk snake venom without any issues which is definitely not recommended. If the fool who drinks the venom has a mouth sore or tooth cavity, it could be “lights out!” A good percentage of venomous snake bites are called dry bites where the snake does not want to waste the food gathering venom on a subject that it can’t eat. The bite is more a “get out of my face” type of bite. But, you can never be sure whether the injection carried the venom or not and should get immediate medical help. It’s unlikely that a dry bite is related to the feeding cycle which could be very erratic.

        Good questions. Thanks for your comments.

  31. I live in Palomino Park in Highlands Ranch. I just helped rescue a beauty of a Bull Snake…she coiled, hissed and struck at me and the maintenance man I flagged down to help me move her to the ditch where she could escape the cars on the street. She was sunning herself on the sidewalk where we all walk in the morning. Several ladies was worried about her harming the children in the park. I was more concerned with the children clubbing her to death. While I love snakes, she was not in a good mood and she was very big…well I have seen bigger, but I didn’t want to get mauled…ha! We moved her carefully with a long ‘grabber’ and she slithered off toward the golf course. Hopefully she will avoid the golf carts. Do bull snakes spray when caught…?

    • Hi Carol,
      Wow! Big bull! I applaud your care in assuring the snake didn’t get harmed or killed. Being that large, it most likely has spent a lifetime helping to control an abundance of rodents in your part of Colorado. That part of the metro area is home to some large bullsnakes but with habitat loss, the numbers could drop. They have an important job to do and hopefully will be in your area for years to come. The bullsnakes I’ve encountered along the Front Range as well as in eastern CO have run the gamut of behavior, from being very docile to “wanting to go to war.” The very defensive ones would certainly puff up, hiss and try to appear tough (and they did a good job doing all of the above). When they hissed, most of the sound is generated from the entrance of air *into* the snake not expelling the air. The intake of air helps to inflate their head to mimic the shape of a venomous snakes, but when they do exhale, if it’s done with any intensity, there could be some saliva mixed with the air, causing what appears to be spray. There’s no danger in that spray, but it is startling.

      Thanks very much for your concerns! I wish there were more folks out there who would share your important feelings!


  32. i live in the southern high plains of texas, 30 miles from the new mexico border at the very bottom west of the panhandle. there are alot of prarie rattlers here. i hunt arrowheads and other artifacts so i run into several snakes on each hunt. i killed a pregnant snake today. i threw it in the back of my pickup cause i skin them and take the rattles. four babies were born. i openex up the snake to find fourteen more babies that unfortuatly were dead. my question is how do i get into the snake venom business. is prarie rattlers venom worth enough to raise them for that purpose. i have four babies now and am confident i can raise them, i just need info on where to sell the venom. i know that i will have to get a commercial license. i guess i am asking is worth the effort to raise them or should i just return them to the area where i killed the mother?9

    • Hello Walter,
      You posed a couple questions and I will try to answer them from my personal experience. As for getting into the venom business, that’s not an easy venture. There are only about six companies in the U.S. that produce anti-venom so the market would be a small one. Some requirements of extracting, processing and marketing anti-venom are quite stringent and require an extremely high degree of training, education and a reliable source of the product. A venom lab is held to the standards of most reputable biological companies. That means the venom has to be kept in a sterile environment, temperature controlled and labeled by quantity, species and date collected. I would leave the venom extraction and marketing to the professionals. There are many programs on TV, showing “experts” milking venomous snakes, supposedly for scientific research. My bet is that the venom is not saved and the video production is nothing more than cheap showmanship. And that publicity encourages folks not trained in that field to attempt to imitate the video personality. Statistics show that most people who get bitten by a snake are trying to kill, hurt, or improperly handle the reptile.
      As for the four newborn rattlers, you state that you’re confident that you can raise them. Since you may be in a rural area, there could be no laws broken by keeping venomous snakes. Larger cities have rigid rules prohibiting such an activity however. I’ve been working with snakes for over 40 years and although qualified, would not keep anything venomous. People have told me that if they get bitten, there are hospitals and anti-venom, so they won’t die. What they don’t realize is that the medical treatment is extremely expensive, easily exceeding $200,000.
      You ask if the baby snakes should be returned to the wild…..If you can get them to as close to the capture spot as possible, they may survive providing they’re aren’t picked off by predators. Not all snakes that are born or hatched will survive to the age of reproduction and that is one reason that there are so many offspring. But since you killed the female, who was obviously getting ready to give birth, the whole family was probably wiped out. When a pregnant rattlesnake is killed, the population is set back approximately seven years. It takes a lot of nutrition for a female to reach the reproductive stage and doesn’t happen every year. Then the offspring need to mature to get to that stage years down the road. Certainly, rattlesnakes in your part of the country aren’t endangered, but needless killing and “roundups” go a long way to reducing the population of a valuable predator. Like rats? So do rattlers. Take them out of the equation and the rodent population explodes and increases the likelihood of diseases like Hantavirus.
      I must admit that I’m at a loss as to why you felt it necessary to kill an animal in its own neighborhood. If it was in your yard and you had children present, killing may be warranted. I realize that at times that’s the only solution.
      A good suggestion would be to learn about the natural history of the prairie rattler, how it makes a living and the benefits of keeping it alive rather than needlessly killing it and, as in this case,its new and unborn offspring. I hope you take those suggestions to heart. Thanks for writing.

  33. I found a baby Bull snake in my house by the back door heater. It is December and the outside temperature is 9 degrees right now. I have the snake in a glass jar and need to know what I could feed it. We live in a very rural area and do not have baby mice or even a pet store near by. I know if I put it outside it will freeze can you make any suggestions how to keep this creature alive until spring. Thanks for your help.

    • Hello, Gisele,
      I have to agree, it’s a strange time of year to encounter a bullsnake, or any other if its relatives. My guess is that since you appear to be in central WA that you can’t expect any warming for a few months or so. My guess is that the snake has been in your house for at least a month, seeking warmth. If left outside in the Fall, it would most likely have found a den underground by now, awaiting the warming of Spring. But since it’s now your guest, there’s a few things that I’d try. A glass jar wouldn’t really provide much living space, so I’d recommend a larger, rectangular type of container, similar to the design of an aquarium. Whatever it ends up being, be sure that it is escape-proof. If you have a cooler part of the house, like a basement or any area that may not be heated, that would be a good place for it to spend the next few months. This time of year, some snakes will come to the opening of their dens to bask in the sun although they will not eat. With that in mind, you don’t need to provide any food for the little guy, but a dish with water would help to keep the humidity higher. Since this is their time of dormancy, you could cover the container with a blanket or something similar to keep the snake in a dark restful environment. Very few snakes starve to death, so don’t worry about feeding. A great container would also include a lid to prevent escape but be sure to have some air holes so it doesn’t suffocate. Snakes have dealt with severe weather for millions of years, so my guess is that when the weather warms somewhat, release the snake in a sunny spot and it should be able to re-locate to a den to finish out the season. I hope it works out for BOTH of you. Thanks very much for writing and good luck. And, have a Happy New Year as well!

  34. Reading Gisele’s message and your reply brought to mind a similar scenario I went through back in 2009 or 2010 – a co-worker of my sister’s boyfriend had ‘rescued’ (removed from the road) a medium-sized bullsnake near Canon City, CO during a warm stretch in September; instead of releasing it, he brought it back to the auto shop they worked at in Colorado Springs where it was kept in a large glass container. When the shop’s proprietor caught onto this, he demanded the snake be removed. My sister’s boyfriend knew I had a soft spot for animals, and asked if I was interested in taking it; I went and collected the bullsnake, but wondered what to do since the weather had turned decidedly cold by this time – I decided to play it by ear and try to keep the snake in captivity over the winter.

    This was all done by guesswork – the snake had not experienced weather changes and was not acting dormant in any way, so I arranged a 20-gallon aquarium as a terrarium (straw bedding, a large stick, a bowl of water and a hiding box) and kept it in a spare bedrooom all through that winter at house temperature with a weighted grate on top..

    While preparing the aquarium, I temporarily tranferred the bullsnake to a large cardboard box and introduced a live mouse which was IMMEDIATELY taken – the snake apparently hadn’t eaten in some time, although it was physically in great shape. This set the stage for our new routine – once a week, I purchased a ‘feeder’ mouse, transferred the snake to the large, dark box, and gave it an hour to feed and work its food down a bit before returning it to its temporary home.

    Long story short, the snake flourished – it stayed active all winter, and actually grew and became more vigorous; I suspect the ‘diet’ I was providing was pretty luxurious. I also got the chance to see the snake drink on a couple of occasions, something I’d never before witnessed. It never grew tolerant of being handled, which I took as a good sign, and was simple to maintain: clean out its waste, provide fresh water and mice.

    It was sometime in May when we had a stretch of nice weather that I took the snake to an area near my home (Peyton) about 100 yards from the nearest road, and laid it out among the yucca and sagebrush – it soaked up the sun for a full five minutes before slowly moving off. I had no way of effectively measuring the animal, but I am adamant that it had grown appreciably in only a matter of months – it had reached adult size.

    A fond memory for me – it may not mean much to anyone else, but I got a deep feeling of satisfaction from the experience. I don’t plan on ever repeating the exercise, but I thought the situation warranted it, and I learned a few things as well. 🙂

    • Hello Marc,

      Thanks for adding some valuable insight to Gisele’s dilemma! This is a situation that doesn’t happen all that often where both the snake and human benefit and we wish more of the human side of the equation shared both of your concerns. Having lived most of my life in eastern CO, I can recall many large, healthy bullsnakes that obviously have been dining on tons of intrusive rodents over the years, so your efforts really help to continue that process. I’m sure that Gisele will appreciate your note and hopefully that will give her some guidelines on caring for her guest til the weather warms. We wish more humans shared your feelings. But, that’s part of the educational effort. We all keep trying!
      Many thanks!

  35. Thanks, Chuck! Just to be clear, your advice to Gisele was great – I don’t think my experience will help her much, as the snake I described was already sizeable and still active, even going through a full shedding mid-winter.

    In the case of a small, dormant or semi-dormant snake, I would follow your suggestions to the letter.

      • HEY CHUCK i just returned from mountain biking in n dakota were i was bitten by abull snake(i think) iwas riding on a narrow trail late in the afternoon when i heard a loud hiss. thougt at first it was a rattler.went back to camp and discovered what apeard to be a bite on my ankle just above my shoe line,never felt the bite. it turned black &blue with no other symtoms. went and showed the ranger on duty and he confirmed that i had been bitten by a bull snake. he said with the butte on one side and a drop off on the other the snake probably felt threatened. i had been riding hard for a few hours and was pretty pumped, i still cant beleive that i never felt anything.

      • Hi Eric,
        Many snakebites are not necessarily painful unless the biter is venomous. It is possible to get bitten as you did and not really notice until later. But as you mentioned, you had discoloration around the bite area. My guess is that as you were bitten, you continued on your bike ride, pulling your ankle out of the snake’s mouth before it was ready to release it’s grip. The trauma could certainly cause a black and blue area. Also, there’s a possibility that some of the snake’so teeth could have broken off in your skin, so check out the area carefully since that could cause an infection.
        Thanks for your comments!

  36. We have had a snake hanging around our yard for about three years that I have not been able to identify. It’s about 6 feet long now, was about 4 feet when we first saw it. Looking at the pictures of gopher snakes, it very strongly resembles them, but rather than having patches of the darker color, this one looks more like it has freckles. It’s not aggressive at all. If it sees one of us coming across the yard, it will just head in the other direction. If it is in the way, like sunning itself on the door step, a gentle prod with stick will send it off in another direction. We have found it in the house several times and again, a gentle prod with a stick or broom will send it slithering out the door. We have some trouble with rats around the bins where we keep livestock feed and when Bubba (yes, we have named him!) is around there is a noticeable decrease in the rodent population. We have also noticed that when he is around we see a lot fewer rattlesnakes. So you can see we have a vested interest in keeping him around, not to mention the fun it is when visitors see him for the first time and run shrieking in the other direction! Do you think what we have is a gopher snake? I wish I could send a picture of it.

    • I’m glad you appreciate having a snake around the house! And, I’m sure that he/she is responsible for the disappearance of many rodents. But, without a photo, it’s difficult to identify Bubba. My best guess is that it could be a gopher snake or even a desert kingsnake, both of which are found in your area. I think you’re in central TX although you didn’t say. Gophersnakes are voracious feeders and probably out-eat any other snake in the country, pound for pound. The kingsnake guess is also a possibility. They usually have a mellower disposition than most gophersnakes and that seems to fit your description of it. And, kingsnakes regularly eat rattlers as well as other snakes,rodents, birds, etc,where gopher snakes eat mostly rodents and RARELY a snake or two. Both of these species are very valuable animals to have in your area to control a variety of pests, so I’m glad you are willing to share your part of the planet with them. Keep in mind that this time of the year and into the summer heat, many rattlesnakes will be out at night rather than the day, so watch where you walk after dark.

      Thanks for your great comments!

  37. Hi Chuck, I’ve read this entire post and found it extremely informative. Thank you!

    We live about a mile from the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, Colorado in a house that backs to a lengthy utility easement that doubles as open space. The utilities have been kind enough to allow us to garden on the easement behind the fence. I generally keep the surrounding wild grass mowed about twenty feet back from the garden in order to deter rabbits, and because I have been scared by garden snakes while pulling weeds in the garden many times. We stored large heavy gauge tomato cages in a tidy stack in the grass over winter and the area under the cages did not get mowed. The easement (or “prairie” as my neighbor calls it) is home to rabbits, pocket gophers, field mice, coyotes, and notably, prairie dogs that are encroaching uncomfortably close to my area this year. Yesterday, my boyfriend picked up one of the tomato cages to place in the garden and let out a startled yell. I was standing just a few feet away and immediately saw the two, very large, snakes he had disrupted. We both backed away slowly while we tried to figure out what to do. The snakes were very active and my first instinct was that they were chasing after us, although after a few minutes of slithering around they each found separate holes and disappeared. I was interested that they moved around so much – as though they weren’t sure where to go – before disappearing into separate 1″ diameter holes in the ground right at the perimeter of my garden. My boyfriend was able to see them from much closer than I was (I had climbed the cedar fence while the snakes made up their minds regarding us). We both observed that they were brown and yellow-gold, about 4 – 5 feet in length with one being slightly larger than the other, apparently identical, had a diamond-like pattern on their backs that was more geometric than it was splotchy, and a striped tail. I did not see a rattle from where I was, and my boyfriend is certain that they did NOT have rattles on their tails. Given the behavior of the snakes (specifically that they did not rattle or hiss at us, seemed as afraid of us as we were of them, and their searching through the grass for somewhere to hide) and the absence of a rattle, I feel that we can rule out that they were rattle snakes. Do you think that is reasonable?

    My questions are these:

    1) What risk do very large non-rattle types of snakes pose to people who are working in close proximity to native grassland?
    2) Do you think the snakes were a breeding pair?
    3) What species do you think we saw? (I’m assuming they were bull snakes).
    4) Do bull snakes eat prairie dogs?
    5) What precautions should I take while working in my garden right next to the holes these snakes disappeared into?
    6) In the event that I (or one of my children or neighbors or dog) get bitten by a non-venomous snake, what action should I take?

    Thank you for your time!

    • Hi Kristi,
      Thanks for such a complete description of your neighboring snakes! For 40 years, my wife and I have lived very close to what became the Plains Conservation Center, so we’re familiar with the area. I’ll try to answer your questions in the order you asked.

      1. The risk factor will always be with you when you’re in an area where there’s an ample food supply for the snakes. Consequently, when outdoors you just need to be vigilant, watching where you step and where you may put your hands. Snakes aren’t as likely to be in an area if there’s no food, so by their presence, I’m sure that they are eating well. And, that’s a good thing! Just keep an eye out when working in the garden.

      2. It is quite possible that the snakes were a breeding pair; bullsnakes (in answer to your next question) have been documented breeding in late May along the Front Range and the hatchlings could appear around September, so keep an eye out in late summer for them. Most hatchlings will be picked off by predators, but some will survive to reproduce in a couple years.

      3. As I mentioned previously, I’m pretty sure that they are bullsnakes. The rattlesnakes (Prairie Rattlesnakes) that live in your area do not often exceed three feet in length, where the bullsnakes are most likely the longest snakes in CO, often reaching six feet or so. Their color patterns will frequently mimic a rattler but of course, will not have the rattles, vertical pupils in the eyes, or the triangle-like shaped head.

      4. Bullsnakes are voracious predators and eat a wide variety of rodents as well as birds and their eggs as well. They will patrol the prairie dog town, entering the burrows and eating newborn prairie dogs. It’s unlikely that a bullsnake would eat a much larger adult prairie dog.

      5. As mentioned earlier, keep your eyes open when working in brushy areas, don’t put your hands where you can’t see where they’re going. If you have a garden tool, it would be a good idea to push the brush around to urge the reptile to move out of the area. The snake will be as surprised to see you as you are to see them, and if given an escape route, will choose that option rather than attempting to bite.

      6. For a non venomous bite, it should be treated like any puncture wound. Wash the area with warm soapy water and bandage the area if needed. It’s hard to do, but if bitten, try to NOT jerk your hand out of the snake’s mouth. Most snakes will bite and then release as a type of warning. Jerking your hand away while still in the grasp of the snake could break off some of the many teeth still embedded in your skin, increasing the possibility of infection. In the event of a venomous bite, it’s important to call 911 immediately, keep the victim calm, remove any jewelry in the area of the bite since there will be rapid swelling and keep the bite area below the heart. In the event of a pet getting bitten, get to a veterinarian quickly. It seems like dogs get bitten in the nose more frequently due to their sniffing the reptile, and cats seem to get bitten in the front leg due to wanting to swat the snake.

      I’m pleased that you are willing to co-exist with the native wildlife in your area! Your attitude is definitely what we strive to impress upon folks. Thanks!

  38. Those concerned about rattlesnakes biting their dogs may want to check out one of the several rattlesnake clinics offered in Colorado that train dogs to avoid rattlesnakes. A clinic can be observed each year in January or February at the Sportsmen’s Exposition held in the Colorado Convention Center. Taking your dog to a clinic is cheap (about $60) insurance. Vaccination shots (annual) are also available from local vets.

    • Bill, thanks for the heads-up on an important part of dog ownership, especially in much of the country with rattlesnake populations. Although Colorado only has two species of rattlers, Arizona has, depending on who you listen to, 12 to 16 species. It’s always a good precaution to plan for the worst and hope for the best. This program has proven to be a good preventative to an unpleasant occurrence. A good friend, who is news director of a TV station in Yuma, AZ had her dog go thru the course with good results, so it’s a good idea to consider that option. With Fall approaching, snakes will start returning to their dens for the winter which makes an encounter more likely since they’re moving over greater distances than during the summer’s heat. Thanks for your comments!

  39. Thank you Chuck:
    I have read every word on this page and I can not fault your logic or advice in any way. I found confirmation to much of the general knowledge we ranchers have had passed down to us from our elders. We ranch south of Havre, Montana and have what we call prairie rattlers, bull snakes, garter or water snakes, and that super fast blue racer. Thank you for the effort you put forth with this page.

    • Bob,
      Thanks for those kind words. It’s folks like you that keep us going and spreading the understanding ofa misunderstood and useful animal. We hope that there’s no blizzards in your coming winter!

  40. Hi Chuck, my friend Juliana and I are working on a project for math class where we need the reproductive rate for a bull snake. Do you happen to have any information or a percentage? Thank you! Found your article very interesting.

    • Hello Annie and Juliana,

      Thanks for one of the most challenging questions we’ve had the pleasure of responding to! To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a great deal of study on this subject. As with many animals in the wild, not all offspring will go full term to birth or in this case, hatching. And, once the newborns/hatchlings emerge, the likelihood of reaching reproductive age is also diminished. With bullsnakes and other egg-laying reptiles (oviparous), a clutch of eggs rarely hatches at 100%. A multitude of factors affects the hatching success including predation, nutrition and climate variances. Our bullsnake, Hatch, which I incubated, and in about 60 days, hatched, was one of a clutch of 13 eggs. His egg from that clutch was the only one to hatch which helped to name him what we did. The eggs were stuck together in a water dish in a Colorado State Parks office and as a result, it’s possible that some of the embryos did not survive being submerged before the event was noticed. Since snakes are pretty much in the middle of the food chain, it’s reasonable to assume that some of those eggs, in the wild, and successfully hatched offspring as well, will be taken by predators. And, to be sure, that method has been happening for millions of years and is to be expected. One only has to remember some of the studies on sea turtles which estimate just a very small percent of hatchlings which will survive to reproduce. There appears to be more conclusive data on the success rate with endangered turtles and it all boils down to the odds being stacked against even reaching the water safely and then avoiding becoming a meal for numerous predators. Much of the same challenges certainly apply to the bullsnake and its relatives. Bullsnakes could lay as many as 20 or more eggs yearly. Of that number, perhaps 15 would not survive to maturity…..it all depends on the conditions that I mentioned earlier. And, another factor in preventing their reaching reproduction age is the human factor. Looking and behaving like a rattlesnake often brings persecution from too many humans who don’t realize the benefit that comes from a snake’s rodent control.
      I hope my comments weren’t too long winded, but there are many ways to approach the subject. Hopefully, some of the information will be of help to you and your project. Good luck with it as well as future endeavors.

  41. Hello,

    I recently took a picture of a snake that really resembled a rattlesnake, while in the Bitterroot Valley in MT. It rattled it’s tail and hissed and did not have a skinny gophersnake head but a wider head, although not as wide as the rattlers in California where I am from. I have a photo if you would please consider identifying it? As I said it rattled its tail but I didn’t see a rattle. Let me know how to send you the picture. Many thanks!

    • Hello Kristen,

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. There’s supposed to be an automated alert when a question comes in, but I didn’t notice your question until looking at another section of this blog. I’m banking on the snake in question will be the gopher snake you suggested. I don’t think many rattlesnakes live in your area of MT. But your good description of the snake’s behavior really sounds like a bull snake to me.Typical bull snake behavior includes rattling of the tail, lots of hissing, which sounds like a rattle and finally, inflating its head to mimic the triangular head of the rattlesnake. They are good actors and what they do helps keep a predator at bay! Unnerving to humans, as well…

      Thanks again for the good question. Sorry again for the delay. And best of luck on all your wildfires in your area!

  42. Hi Chuck,
    Do snakes travel for water ? We live on a large ranch in North East Oregon and have been aware of the large volume of rattle snakes on the property since moving here four years ago; we always see a few out riding or gathering cattle on the mountain but they have not been agressive or close to my house…. Until, this year. We have encountered about 10 Rattlers very close to my house and two of them were extremely agressive! We have several small children who live on the ranch so we really have no choice but to permenatly elminate them once they are to close; little ones have a real risk of being bitten. The only reason I can think of that we are seeing so many this year is that they are traveling from the mountain past my house to the river for water due to the extremely dry summer we are having? We a very good at keeping rodent population down and we are not seeing them in barns or outbuildings really, just out in the open. I am terrified that these snakes are going to stay down here and not go back up the mountain?

    • Hi Mindy,
      Most snakes do need to have a water supply nearby but there are some desert varieties that get almost all their moisture from the food that they eat. Rattlesnakes for the most part are not exclusive desert dwellers and are often found near a water source. I think that your area of Oregon has been termed “high desert” and the snakes that inhabit that area will drink if the water is nearby, but still get much of the needed hydration from their food source. And, whether the snake needs a reliable source of water, much of the food that it hunts does need to be near the water. So, indirectly, that snake you encountered may be moving to an area with an adequate food supply which may be near some sort of water. In fact, some desert snakes can suffer poor health consequences if placed in a moist area. And, I understand your reluctance and need to eliminate venomous snakes because of your children. Sometimes, it’s the only course of action. But if the food supply is abundant, the snakes removed will often be replaced by others.

      Thanks for a great question. I hope I answered it to your satisfaction.

  43. Hi Chuck,

    There is a debate on our local nextdoor if a certain snake is a Rattlesnake or Bull Snake. It has all the characteristics of a prairie King Snake though. Is it possible all these Bull Snakes being seen eating Rattlesnakes are actually Prairie King Snakes? I know they are not suppose to live in Colorado but they do live 200 miles to the east and north and south. The snake in question was found in Reunion Colorado close to prairie open space.

    • Hi DJ,
      You’re correct in mentioning that Prairie Kingsnakes are not usually found in CO. I’m familiar with Reunion, roughly between Brighton and Barr Lake and have never seen the kingsnake. Most likely, the snake in question is the largest, and one of the most common snakes in the state, the Bullsnake. They have been known to eat rattlesnakes, but since they’re not choosy eaters, they’re more likely dining on rodents, birds, eggs and whatever else they can find. They don’t make a habit, however, of eating the Prairie rattler. Bullsnakes tend to do their hunting and eating during the day, while most rattlesnakes prefer to work the “night shift” and the two species don’t frequently encounter each other. Kingsnakes, on the other hand, are not choosy eaters, and will easily hunt down and eat other snakes, including rattlers. In fact, if a rattler is aware of the Kingsnake in the area, it will flee for its life.

      Thanks for an interesting question and scenario.

  44. gee Dad had us bring them home to the dairy barn and just around the building and i do not recall ever seeing a rattle snake down at our home ever. you have some really great reading here Chuck and thank you sir

  45. Is there anything that can keep away the rattle snakes? We have a kennel in Colorado and last year my mother dog put her nose in a prairie dog hole and got bit in the face by a rattler. She had 8 three week old pups we had to pull her off as the vet said her milk was tainted. Now I am leery about the snakes especially coming in on our pups. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks for your question about rattlesnakes. It’s difficult to eliminate rattlesnakes, especially when they have set up housekeeping in a prairie dog hole. I know that many veterinarians have a vaccine which will lessen the effects of snake bite on dogs as well as perhaps a training through conditioning that teaches a dog that smells a rattler to actually avoid getting too close. Of course, if possible, the safest method would be to keep the dogs fenced in with no prairie dog holes present. That wouldn’t keep the rattlesnakes out of the fenced area, but would certainly limit the occurrence where the pups are present. I think the best option would be to have the rattlesnake conditioning training however. I’m betting your veterinarian would have the information on that training. Thanks for writing and we wish you the best of luck in keeping the dogs safe!

  46. How in the world can I tell the difference between a bull snake and a rattle? I don’t want to get close enough to look at eyes/tail etc. We live on a cattle ranch, and we’ve had both bull snakes and prairie rattlers, from what I’ve been told

    • Hello Randi,

      Not sure what part of the country you live in, but I’m thinking, maybe, Kansas? You’re right, you don’t want to get close enough to be able to see a rattlesnake’s eyes or tail, but there’s a couple ways that works for me. Bull snakes are some of the longest snakes you’re likely to see on the ranch, often reaching 6 feet or a bit more. On the other hand, most prairie rattlers average out to about half that length. So, if it’s really long, the odds are that it’s NOT a rattler. Further south of you, there could be Western Diamondbacks which can reach 5-6 feet but would be a lot fatter than the bull snake. Bull snakes are drama queens/kings. They inflate their heads to imitate a rattlesnake, hiss and vibrate their rattleless tail to prevent harm from another predator. Many rattlesnakes will remain still and silent, relying on their camouflage to prevent detection. Bull snakes will go on the alert much more quickly and appear more defensive. It’s a scam. It’s best to keep your eyes and ears open when in the outdoors. Snakes aren’t waiting to bite us, but they have no sense of humor and will take it personally if you step on them or try to harm them. Most people who are bitten by snakes are trying to either kill or harm the reptile or improperly handle it. And, in many cases, bullsnakes are moving about during the day and the rattlers seem to prefer the night shift. But both can be seen at all hours of the clock. Be careful! And, thanks for your good question.

  47. Chuck,
    Just had my first bull snake experience, just got stung by a wasp in the eyebrow, sprayed the wasp nest and was walking back into the house. My question is could and would a 4″+ foot bull snake eat a 10 pound yorkie dog? My grandmother whose house this happened at is now adamant about litter training the dog. Thanks.

    • You are more likely to be stung by a wasp rather than bitten by a bull snake. Not sure what part of the country you live in, but in most places a bullsnake can handle a one pound rodent. I think the Yorkie is safe from a reptile of that size. Dogs can receive snake avoidance training….not sure about litter training. Check with your veterinarian for the training.


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