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Gopher snakes: This is what they look like

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 5:21 am in Gopher snake, Snakes.

Gopher snake in backyard. Photo by Ling Lavezzoli, Walnut Creek, CA.
gopher john lavezzoli wc

The other day on a warm afternoon my wife came across about a foot long snake on our concrete patio.  She is very curious as to what type of snake it is, how big it will get and if it is dangerous (see attached photos).  Thanks for your help as I am snake dumb. Appreciate your time and informative column.
John Lavezzoli, Walnut Creek, CA

The snake is a beautiful and harmless gopher snake. It might gain another foot or two in length over the years, but that’s about the average size we see around here. Great to have in the yard as they eat insects and small rodents. Definitely not dangerous. When frightened, they will coil up, buzz their tails to make them look a little like a rattlesnake so you’ll go away and leave them alone. (Note the pointy tail; no rattles.) They will also flatten their heads and hiss and strike (harmlessly) at you. Rattlesnake do not hiss loudly like that. /Gary

Gopher snake in backyard. Photo by Ling Lavezzoli, Walnut Creek, CA.
gopher2 john lavezzoli wc

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3 Responses to “Gopher snakes: This is what they look like”

  1. gayle Says:


    I’ve had two rattlers, both adults, in my yard in Antioch, not far from the hills near Black Diamond Reserve, over the years. Both were found in either June or July. I am always very careful in the spring and summer months, but I never realized I had to worry in the fall!

    Yesterday, in my garage, just a few feet from the steps leading into my house, was 12″-13″ snake, a bit wider in diameter than a pencil. I know the brown/beige markings of a gopher snake are hard to tell from the markings of a rattler, so I concentrated on looking at the head shape. The head was not rounded like that of a gopher snake, tending a bit more toward a triangular shape so naturally I was thinking baby rattler.

    In the end, I and the neighbor kid killed it with a shovel (hard to do!). Then, I called a naturalist at Black Diamond. I am still not sure if it was a rattler or a gopher snake. (It lies now in the gutter, everyone not wanting to go near it, but I have examined it many times.)

    It’s tail is a tapered-to-a-tip tail which, I now have learned, is characteristic of a gopher snake. However, while its belly, a creamy white with small brown dashes along the sides, is shiny and pretty, the back of the reptile, it seems to me, is not glossy at all. I know mature gophers have glossy skin–what about the very, very young gopher? Would its skin be glossy? It’s impossible to tell about its eyes as they aren’t open any more.

    Here’s another surprising thing. It was about 3 in the afternoon, not cold nor hot, when I found it. I had to run into the house to get my eyeglasses when I first spotted it, and I was fearful it would be gone and hidden from me, lurking in my garage, when I got backm, yet all it had done was moved about 5 inches toward the wall of the garage, seeking to get into a very wide crevice formed by the concrete floor and the wall. It had at least 10-15 minutes from when I first saw it to when I finally killed it, to wedge itself fully into the crevice or to try to get away as we stood about 5-6 feet from it talking and trying to determine what to do, yet it only managed to hide its head and the first few inches of itself in the crevice, and never slinked away nor tried to. It certainly had its chance to get out of the garage completely when I ran into the house, yet it didn’t.

    I googled a bit–I never realized rattlers hatched in Sept-Oct. I guess I had assumed that because they became really active around June that they were born then, but I guess they grow active then to mate. What about gopher snakes? Are they born around the same time?

    At first I thought this was a rattler. Now, I am not sure. Any comments?

  2. gayle Says:

    Follow up, Gary, on my question about the baby gopher or rattler. I just looked at it again: there is a definite narrowing of the area behind the head,which is what makes me think rattler. However, I am confused by the two pics of gopher snakes above–it’s hard to tell since the pic is taken from a distance, but in the first pic, the gopher snake’s head looks wider than the area right behind the head; however, in the second pic, the there is no “neck”- like area.

    Would a baby gopher snake have a slight, yet perceptible narrowing behind the head? If not, I guess I killed a rattler, although the tapering tail is still confusing.

  3. gayle Says:

    Sorry, one more thing–the belly is a pretty cream color and the brown dashes I referred to (more like hyphens) are actually on the cream belly.

    Do baby snakes go their own way, or am I likely to find more in my garage, which is actually a very clean and neat garage!!!!!

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