Bull Snakes

On the Trail with Museum Scientist Michael W. Nickell

Published Jul 20th 2016 in Wildlife, snake

The bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi = Pituophis melanoleucus sayi) is a large nonvenomous colubrid snake.Most herpetologists consider the bullsnake to be a subspecies of the gopher snake.Bullsnakes have a wide distribution throughout the central United States in the plains and prairies extending into the arid regions of southern Canada down into northern Mexico.Adults average 4-6 feet in length.They usually have a yellowish ground color with brown, black, or reddish blotches.The larger blotches are dorsally located and smaller spots are on the sides with black bands on the tail; however, there are numerous color variations.

They are powerful, beneficial diurnal constrictors consuming numerous small mammals like mice, rats, gophers, squirrels, and rabbits as well as ground nesting birds and their eggs and lizards.Their commonly held reputation of eating rattlesnakes has been greatly exaggerated, though.The temperament of a bullsnake is individualized, some being very docile while others are rapidly defensive.

Bullsnakes are sometimes confused with other species of snakes.They have similar markings as the Kansas glossy snake, but bullsnakes have keeled scales and four prefrontal scales on the head whereas glossy snakes have smooth scales and two prefrontal scales.Unfortunately, bullsnakes are frequently mistaken for rattlesnakes due to their color and dorsal pattern.Since bullsnakes are not fast moving, when threatened, they employ other defensive actions.They adopt an “S-curve” body posture while simultaneously lunging and retreating.They also hiss forcibly and flatten their heads and rapidly vibrate their tails---all to scare away a perceived threat---not to sound an attack.