Gopher Snake Vs Rattlesnake: 15 Key Differences Explained
As snakes become more popular this time of year, people have started sharing photos and videos of snakes they have seen.
According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, snakes are cold-blooded animals that sleep through the winter. They wake up in late February or early March.
There are two snakes that look the same but are actually different. During snake season, people often mix up poisonous rattlesnakes with harmless gopher snakes.
Read on to find out how they are different and which ones you should avoid.
Comparing Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes
|Location North America||North America, Mexico, Argentina|
|Color Yellow, brown, orange, splotches||Shades of brown, diamond/striped pattern|
|Lifespan 10-25 years||10-20 years|
|Size 4-8 feet long||3-5 feet long|
|Special Features An excellent mimic||Has a rattle and pits for sensing|
|Method of Killing Constriction||Venom|
The 15 Key Differences Between Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: The Rattle
Gopher snakes don’t have the rattle that rattlesnakes have at the end of their bodies. On the other hand, adult rattlesnakes have a big rattle near the blunt end of their tails.
But some rattlesnakes lose their rattles because of things in the environment. So, don’t think it’s a gopher snake just because it doesn’t have a rattle.
Check the tip of the tail to be sure. A gopher snake’s tail narrows and points at the end, but a rattlesnake’s scales change into a cluster that ends in a blunt, round shape.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Overall Size
When a full-grown gopher snake and an adult rattlesnake are put next to each other, the rattlesnake is bigger.
The average length of an adult gopher snake is between 6 and 9 feet, but most of them are 8 feet long. Depending on the species, rattlesnakes can grow to be between 3 and 6 feet long.
Gopher snakes are almost twice as long as rattlesnakes, but they are much thinner. Gopher snakes have tails that look like whips, while rattlesnakes have big bodies.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Head
The size of the head is another way to tell the two types of snakes apart. The rattlesnake’s head looks more like an arrow or a triangle, like that of a pit viper. The head stands out more than the narrow neck because of this.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Shape of the Pupils
All viper species, including rattlesnakes, have vertical pupils. On the other hand, the pupils of a gopher snake are round.
You’d have to get a little too close to tell the difference. This might be possible if the snake is kept in a cage. But you could see why this would be a problem if you just found it in your yard.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Venom
Rattlesnakes and gopher snakes have very different poisons. Gopher snakes don’t have poison, so when they bite, they don’t inject poison. Rattlesnakes are very dangerous because their poison is so deadly that it can kill grown adults if they are not treated.
This is not to say that rattlesnakes are always more aggressive than gopher snakes; in fact, the opposite is true. People think that gopher snakes are much more aggressive than rattlesnakes and can chase animals or people much more aggressively.
Gopher snakes have been known to chase people when they are scared. Talk about scary! Even though rattlesnakes are usually more dangerous, they tend to stay out of trouble.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: How they kill
Since they are both snakes that eat meat, gopher snakes and rattlesnakes eat almost the same things.
But they have very different ways of killing their prey. Rattlesnakes like to use their poison before they eat, but gopher snakes prefer to squeeze their food before swallowing it whole.
Gopher snakes will definitely need to eat more than rattlesnakes, especially since some gopher snakes can grow to be twice as big as rattlesnakes. They are very strong constrictors, and dying this way can change their bodies more than rattlesnakes can.
Most of the time, they are thicker and wider all the way down, and their tails come to a point instead of having knobs.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Dorsal Pattern
People who don’t know much about snakes might think that a gopher snake and a rattlesnake look the same. But if you look closely, you can see that the snakes’ bodies are different in colour and pattern.
The colours of gopher snakes and rattlesnakes are very different, but the patterns on their backs are also very different.
The gopher’s dark, striped pattern looks like a grid of squares or rectangles. But the majority of rattlesnake species have a diamond-shaped pattern on their backs.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Location
The gopher snake lives in a big area. They live in places like coniferous forests, brushlands, woodlands, prairies, deserts, and fields that have been farmed.
According to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, gopher snakes live from the north of Mexico to western and southern Canada (ADW).
From the Pacific coast west to West Texas, Missouri, and Illinois, and north to Wisconsin, Saskatchewan, and the southern part of British Columbia, you can find them.
Rattlesnakes live in deserts, wetlands, plains, forests, and on slopes. They live in the deserts of the southwestern United States, but you can also find them from southern Canada to central Argentina.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Breeding and Reproduction
When it comes to having babies, one of these snakes lays eggs, while the other gives birth to live young.
When gopher snakes come out of hibernation in the spring, they mate right away. After about 8 weeks, a pregnant female lays eggs, which take another 8 weeks to hatch. One of the few snakes with living babies is the rattlesnake.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Defensive Behavior
From here, the mystery starts. If the tail of a snake shakes, it must be a rattlesnake. Not always, no. The gopher snake is very good at being like other animals.
The heads of gophers change so they look like rattlesnakes. Their jawbones don’t fit together tightly, so they can flatten their heads into a triangle shape. When they are upset, they hiss and move their tails like a real rattlesnake.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Color
These two snake species can be told apart by their looks, especially their colours.
Gopher snakes are brown or brownish-brown in colour, and their backs have dark spots. They can get pretty big, reaching up to six feet in length.
On the other hand, rattlesnakes usually have darker colours and a diamond or square pattern on their backs. They also use a rattle at the end of their tail to warn predators that they are there.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Diet
One big difference between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake is what kind of food they eat. Most of the time, gopher snakes eat small mammals like rodents and rabbits. On the other hand, birds and lizards are what rattlesnakes like to eat most.
Different snake species eat different things because they live in different places. Rattlesnakes are more common in rocky desert areas, while gopher snakes are more common in grasslands and prairies.
Because of this, the kind of food each snake can eat depends on where it lives. The way they look for food is another difference between these two snakes’ diets.
On the other hand, rattlesnakes are poisonous. They kill their prey by injecting a poison through their teeth. The different ecosystems where these snakes live may be why their hunting methods are so different.
Most constrictor snakes live in places with lots of trees, where they can wrap their long bodies around their prey and crush it to death.
Poisonous snakes, on the other hand, prefer to live in deserts with few places to hide.So, they have learned to hunt by injecting their prey with poison, which kills it quickly.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Snout
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake is to look at the nose. Rattlesnakes have noses that are much more round and blunt than gopher snakes.
On the other hand, rattlesnakes have much more pointed and triangular-looking noses. This difference is most obvious when you look at the snakes from above.
Another way to tell these two types of snakes apart is to look at their eyes. The pupils of rattlesnakes are elliptical, while the pupils of gopher snakes are round.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: General Behavior
Even though they are both snakes, rattlesnakes and gopher snakes are very different in how they act. When they feel threatened, gopher snakes tend to be wary and try to get away.
On the other hand, rattlesnakes are aggressive and often attack when they feel threatened. This difference in behaviour is probably due to the different places where these two types of snakes live.
Gopher snakes usually live in burrows underground, while rattlesnakes like to live in open areas like deserts. The different places these two kinds of snakes live may explain why they act differently.
Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Care
- Pick out the right kind of cage. A rattlesnake needs a strong cage that it can’t get out of and has room to move around in. The lid of the cage should be strong enough to keep the snake inside.
- Make sure there are a lot of places to hide. Rattlesnakes like to hide, so make sure the cage has a lot of places for them to hide. This can be done by placing boulders, logs, or other things that the snake can crawl under or into.
- Keep the cage as clean as possible. Rattlesnakes, like all other animals, need a clean place to live in order to be healthy. Make sure to clean the cage often and get rid of any waste as soon as you can.
- Don’t handle your snake too much. Even though you can handle your rattlesnake sometimes, it is not a good idea. This can make the snake upset and more likely to bite.
- Care should be taken when feeding. When you feed your rattlesnake, use tongs or gloves so you don’t get bit. It is also important to feed the snake only small, live animals that it can easily eat.
By following these rules, you can help keep your pet rattlesnake healthy and happy.
For gopher snakes, you need big cages with lots of places to hide, like branches and rocks. Keep the temperature and humidity in the cage at a steady level.
Gopher Snake Vs. Rattlesnake: Similarities
- The Crotalinae subfamily is made up of all pit vipers, like gopher snakes and rattlesnakes.
- Pit vipers get their name from the pits on each side of their heads, between the eye and the nose, that can detect heat. Even in total darkness, they can find warm-blooded prey thanks to these organs that let them “see” in infrared.
- The heads of all pit vipers are triangular and wider than the necks.
- Rattlesnakes and gopher snakes both have long, hinged fangs that they use to inject poison into their prey.
- Both gopher snake and rattlesnake venom is mostly made up of enzymes that start to break down tissue, causing swelling, pain, and necrosis.
- Both gopher snakes and rattlesnakes live in North and Central America.
- Both gopher snakes and rattlesnakes are ambush predators, which means they wait for their prey to come to them instead of going after it.
- When they strike, pit vipers can stretch out up to two-thirds of their body length.
- Pit vipers don’t use their poison to protect themselves; instead, they use it to kill and control their prey. If they feel like they are in danger, they will bite right away.
- Most snake bites happen when someone accidentally steps on or otherwise wakes up a snake sleeping in tall grass or underbrush.
- Before biting, both gopher snakes and rattlesnakes will curl up and show their fangs. If you don’t pay attention to these warnings, the snake will strike.
- Both types of snakes can bite very painfully, and if the bite isn’t treated quickly, it can cause serious harm or even death.
Do Gopher Snakes Eat Rattlesnakes?
Rattlesnakes are sometimes on the gopher’s menu, along with insects, lizards, small mammals, birds, and their eggs.
They rarely live together with rattlesnakes because they fight over food and territory. Gopher snakes will help keep rattlers away because of this. But they will only chase a rattler if it is dangerous or hungry.
When the prey is a rattlesnake, the way to hunt changes. The gopher snake waits for the right moment to strike. Instead of squeezing the rattlesnake, the gopher grabs it by the head and suffocates it. Then it eats the rattlesnake from head to tail.
What to Do When You See a Rattlesnake
If the snake you’re looking at is a rattlesnake, you need to be careful so you don’t have to go to the emergency room. If you see a rattlesnake, do the following:
- Don’t freak out, scream, or run away. Instead, stay calm.
- Make sure the snake is at least 5 feet away from you.
- Coiled, trembling, and looking up?Step back if you can to make it harder to hit you. It’s best to stay at least 15 feet away from the snake.
- Stay put and don’t move for a few minutes. Rattlesnakes aren’t mean, and if they don’t think you’re a threat, they’ll probably just slide away.
- If someone bites you, stay calm and call 911 for help.
How to Avoid Venomous Snakes This Season?
St. George News says that hikers should always stay on the trail to avoid dangerous snakes. They should also teach their kids or pets to do the same. If you see a rattlesnake moving, stay away and don’t try to move it. Instead, go around the snake, even if that means leaving the path.
Rattlesnakes are a protected species in Utah, so anyone who bothers or kills one without being threatened or acting in self-defense could get in trouble with the law. Even though rattlesnakes and gopher snakes are different, they are both important to the environment.
Experts say that anyone who finds a snake in their home should call wildlife experts right away to get rid of the snake.
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