While walking with friends along Lower Hat Creek (Shasta County CA), our foursome came upon four entwined western bullsnakes (Pitophis catenifer). The snakes were each about three feet long. When the snakes became aware of our presence they disengaged and slithered off in different directions.
Western bullsnakes reach sexual maturity at about two years of age. In our area they usually mate in May or June after emerging from their winter dormancy. Eggs, usually about twelve, are laid in June or July and after 2 to 2.5 months the baby bullsnakes emerge in late August or September. Although they are only about 18 inches in length at birth, western bullsnakes can grow to six feet or more, one of the largest North American snakes. Very likely the bullsnakes along the trail were mating.
Superficially western bullsnakes resemble rattlesnakes with their brown and black markings on a yellowish background. Like many other snake species, these non-venomous reptiles will mimic rattlesnakes as a defense mechanism. When threatened a western bullsnake will adopt a body posture as though to strike, hiss, flatten its head to look like a triangular rattlesnake head and vibrate its tail in the ground cover to produce a “rattle”. Unlike a rattlesnake, the bullsnake does not raise its tail to rattle, but rather moves the tail in the leaves and bushes to produce a pseudo-rattle sound.
There are at least nine subspecies of Pituophis catenifer snakes. The western bullsnake subspecies designation is sayi. Pine snake and gopher snake are two other common names for this constrictor that eats small mammals, ground nesting birds, eggs and lizards.
Another of my posts about the western bullsnake can be found here.