Gopher Snake

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Yesterday, our search for birds to photograph was almost a complete bust.  That sometimes happens.  My friend Ned Harris and I decided to drive into some areas that neither of us had explored in any depth previously.  What we’d hoped would be active simply wasn’t.

But, the day wasn’t a total loss. While driving along a rural road we saw a fair-sized snake basking on the asphalt.  We stopped to take a closer look.  It was a Gopher Snake.

Gopher Snakes are among the more common snakes in southern Arizona.  Like all snakes they are predators.  Gopher Snakes specialize in hunting small rodents like mice, rats, and ground squirrels.  This time of the year they are diurnal.  When the weather really heats up in another month or so they will switch to a nocturnal lifestyle along with pretty much every other reptile and small mammal in our desert.

Gopher Snakes are non-venomous.  They are constrictors, dispatching their prey via suffocation.  They are utterly harmless to humans.  Indeed, they are known for their amiable dispositions.  People keep these snakes as pets.

They are the largest of our local snakes.  An adult Gopher Snake can reach a length of eight feet or more, although that’s pretty rare.  More typically, they grow to a length of between five and six feet.  The snake that we saw was about four or four and one-half feet long, medium size for one of these snakes.

Gopher Snakes are preyed on by numerous predators.  Bobcats, coyotes, Red-tailed Hawks, roadrunners, all of them hunt these snakes.  The snakes don’t have much going for them as defensive weapons but they are fairly adept mimics.  When cornered a Gopher Snake will do its best to imitate a rattlesnake.  It will coil up in a defensive posture, it will vibrate its tail, it will flatten its head into a triangular shape, and it will emit a hissing noise that sort of sounds like a rattlesnake’s rattles.

These snakes can be strikingly beautiful.  The one that we photographed yesterday certainly was.  The snake’s color-coordinated eyes and scales should win a prize for best snake costume.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400,  f5.6 @ 1/3200.

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