General Description: The Gophersnake is South Dakota’s largest species of snake. Gophersnakes are a large, heavy-bodied snake, with adults ranging from 36–72 inches (91.4–182.9 cm) in length. The background coloration is white, tan, or light yellow with pronounced patterning of brown, reddish brown, or black blotches running the length of the body. This patterning is variable along the length of the body. Large blotches run along the back and are interspersed with numerous small flocks of dark coloration along the upper two-thirds of the body, with these small markings fading away along the tail and lower one-third of the body. Juvenile coloration is similar to adult coloration. The belly is off white or light yellow and covered in black markings. Scales on this species are heavily keeled, giving individuals a rough texture, and the anal scale is not divided. Gophersnakes may be confused with Western Foxsnakes, but can be easily differentiated by their variable patterning running the length of the body (Western Foxsnakes have uniform patterning along the length of the body) and by the presence of vertical black bars on the upper lip (Western Foxsnakes lack these markings).
Behavior: Gophersnakes feed primarily on rodents, birds, and eggs. Large prey items will often be constricted. When disturbed, Gophersnakes will often rattle their tail. This process alone does not produce sound, but if the tail is next to dry leaves, sticks, or other items, it can produce a sound that to many sounds like a rattlesnake. Additionally, this species is known to produce loud hissing sounds that are created when individuals exhale air across a membrane in the back of the mouth. Like many snakes, this species is likely to bite and release a foul-smelling musk if captured.
Reproduction: Mating often takes place in late April shortly after individuals have emerged from hibernation. Females then lay up to 24 eggs (average of 13) in nests constructed in sandy soils or in decaying organic material. Eggs typically hatch two months later to juveniles that are large enough to begin eating small rodents.
Habitat: Gophersnakes can be found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, riparian woodlands, agricultural fields, and farms.
Species Range: This species can be found across much of the central and western United States, including southern Canada and northern Mexico.
South Dakota Range: Gophersnakes are abundant and frequently encountered throughout western South Dakota (west of the Missouri River). Scattered records of individuals also occur along the Missouri and James rivers in southeastern South Dakota.
South Dakota Status: This species is not listed by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
Account written by Drew R. Davis and Zachary A. Lukes