Reptiles - Snakes
GOPHER SNAKE - subspecies deserticola (Pituophis melanoleucus deserticola)
The gopher snake - deserticola subspecies is BLUE-listed in B.C. Habitats occupied by this species are being lost to agriculture and housing developments. Increased road development in these areas may lead to greater road mortality. Populations may also be seasonally concentrated at communal den sites. These aggregations may represent the entire snake population for the surrounding area and are particularly vulnerable to disturbance. Furthermore, the superficial resemblance of this non-venomous species to the venomous western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) has placed it at risk of persecution.
The deserticola subspecies of the gopher snake is found in a variety of semi-arid habitats throughout its range in the western United States. In B.C., it is restricted to the grassland and shrub steppe habitats of the southern interior. This species hibernates in dens, that may be communal, for a large part of the year (November to March). Snakes emerge from hibernation in late March or early April. They promptly leave den locations for summer foraging and nesting habitats. Migrations from den to summer habitats may be several kilometres, yet the majority of movements during the summer feeding period are usually less than 200 m. Summer habitat often consists of dry open or brushy areas adjacent to riparian areas. Foraging, mating and egg-laying occur on the summer range.
This species primarily feeds on rodents which it kills by constriction. Nest sites are often located in abandoned rodent burrows or in talus and may be used in successive years. Nest sites are also often communal, containing the eggs of several females, and may include eggs of other species such as the yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor). Mating occurs in May and gravid females may travel substantial distances to locate suitable nesting sites (>1 km). Eggs are laid at the end of June or early July and young hatch in late August or early September. The snakes return to den sites in October.
In B.C., this subspecies has a patchy distribution throughout the dry interior and is only locally abundant in low elevation areas of the Thompson, Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.
SOI: PAR, SOB, SOH, OKR, NOB, NOH, STU, THB
BG: BGxh, BGxw
IDF: IDFxh, IDFxw, IDFxm
PP: PPxh, PPdh
AB, AC, BS, CL, CR, DP, ME, MR, PP, RM, RO, SS, TA
Den sites are often located within rock outcrops or talus habitat. These sites provide specific thermal and moisture regimes that protect snakes from freezing and dehydration. Most den sites are located on south facing slopes.
Nest sites also tend to be on south facing slopes, but are more likely to be found in abandoned rodent burrows than in talus or rock outcrops. Several nests in the south Okanagan have been found near the crest of large sand banks. These sites contained minimal vegetation with loose soils enabling partial excavation. The sites also appeared to be well-drained.
Nelson, K.J. and P.T. Gregory. [in press]. Status of the Great Basin Gopher Snake in
British Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, B.C. Wildl. Work. Rep.
Parker, W.S. and W.S. Brown. 1980. Comparative ecology of two colubrid snakes in
northern Utah. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, WI. Publ. Biol. and Geol. No. 7.
Shewchuk, C.H. and H.L Waye. 1995. Status Report for the Gopher Snake in British
Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, B.C. Draft Report.
Shewchuk, C.H. and P.T. Gregory. . Methods for sampling snakes in British
Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, B.C. (In press.)