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Snake
Snake  
QUESTION: Hi Chris,

I found this snake next to my office building by where I work. I work in the hillside, and notice snakes that look very similar to this often. Can you please identify it for me in case it is a poisonous snake I should try and avoid trying to walking in the areas where I typically see these snakes? It was at least 3 feet long.

Thanks,
Arthur

ANSWER: Hi Arthur,

I can tell you that this snake is non-venomous, but where is the location that this photo was taken (county, state?)  I ask because it makes a difference in giving an exact answer for this one.  Just let me know, and I will get right back with you with more information, and why I am particularly interested in the location.

Thanks,

-Chris

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: This snake is in the hills of Palo Alto, California (Santa Clara County). Let me know why you are interested - it's always fun to learn new things!

Answer
Hi Arthur,

Ok, I don't know why, but it said you are in Pennsylvania, where another somewhat similar species might be present, but now I can be certain of the ID of this snake.

The snake in your photo is a Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer), and a beautiful one at that (they aren't always so orange).  This species is fairly common throughout much of the western United States, and the form found a bit further east is also known as the Bullsnake, and in the southeastern US, there is another closely related species known as a Pine Snake.  The Gopher Snake can be found in a variety of habitats, including suburbs, but prefers country areas with prairie, scrub, or desert-like habitat.  The Pacific Gopher Snake is a constrictor, and feeds on a variety of reptile, bird, and especially mammalian prey items...they act as great rodent control!

The Pacific Gopher Snake is a relatively large snake and can be mature at 3 feet, but can grow as large as 8 feet in length.  During the summer, females lay clutches of 3 to 25 large eggs, which hatch in the late summer and early autumn at about 16 to 20 inches in length.  

The Gopher Snake may hiss loudly when disturbed, and in fact they and their close relatives have cartilage in the throat specially adapted to allow them to hiss very loudly.  They may also shake the tail, particularly in dry vegetation, where it may makes a sound similar to that of a rattlesnake, which Gopher Snakes are sometimes mistaken for, since the blotched pattern is somewhat similar, and they behave in this way.  

The Gopher Snake is Non-Venomous, and is relatively safe to handle, but a large specimen may inflict a nasty bite (but there are no fangs and there is no venom, so a bite is no problem as long as it is kept clean to prevent infection).  If not handled, these snakes will usually just try to flee unless cornered.

Hope this helps.  Please feel free to write again.

Thanks,

-Chris

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Chris

Expertise

I can answer a wide variety of questions about general evolution or ecology. I can identify wild reptiles and amphibians based on moderate to high quality descriptions or photos, and I can provide information about species' habitats, behaviors, ranges, etc.

Experience

I am an academic, and have published on paleontology, evolution and ecology; and have professionally studied nearly all major vertebrate groups; sharks and other fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. I have conducted professional field research on reptiles and amphibians, as well as many other animals. "Herping" and nature photography have always been some of my favorite hobbies.

Education/Credentials
B.S. General Biology, William Paterson University. Currently working towards a Ph.D. at University of North Texas.

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