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A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: Bull Snakes

Bullsnake - Psyon (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Bullsnake - Psyon (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Pituophis catenifer sayi... The Bull Snake

Also refereed to as the gopher snake, bull snakes are a common snake in the United States. They are large, act tough, and are often mistaken for rattlesnakes.


The bull snake has a base color of yellow with an overlay of spots that are usually brown but can be reddish or black. This coloring pattern along with their color scheme often gets them mistaken for rattlesnakes... Which of course often causes them to be killed by humans.

They are one of the largest snakes in the United States with an average length of around 6 feet, but it's not completely uncommon for them to get above 8 feet. It's not just their length though, these snakes have impressive girth as well and can weigh several pounds.

What kind of snake am I?

What kind of snake am I?

Question 1


When you consider the appearance of the bull snake it makes sense that they prefer to live in grasslands where they can blend in easily with their surroundings. This makes them common to find on farms, where farmers either mistake them as rattlesnakes and kill them or recognize them and love having them around to help control rodent populations. They can also be found in woodlands as well of course.

Bull snakes are common throughout most of the United States, and some parts of Mexico and Canada.

Bull Snake

Bull Snake


As mentioned bull snakes eat rodents, and with such a large size they can put a down a lot. This makes them very popular farmers and other people that don't want large rats around. They also will eat small mammals, birds, eggs, etc.. In fact, they've actually come under scrutiny before for their ability to find wild duck eggs. At their size even mammals as large as rabbits or squirrels can become victim to the large snakes.

Bull snakes are constrictors which means that they wrap themselves around their prey and choke them to death. Bull snakes are not venomous.

Bull Snake

Bull Snake

Interactions with humans

It's not just looks that causes the bull snake to mistaken as a rattlesnake, but somewhere along the line they seemed to some how realize that they looked liked rattlesnakes and learned to behave similarly. When approached in the wild a bull snake has a tendency to act tough and whack it's tail on the ground to make predators think that it is in fact a deadly venomous rattlesnake.

To tell them apart there are the first obvious differences between a venomous viper (Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins) and nonvenomous snakes. This is of course with the exception of the coral snake which carries the features of the nonvenomous snakes. First of all the vipers all have large triangular shaped heads. This is because of the giant venom glands that run beside the mouth and kind of puff their cheeks. The nonvenomous snakes have small round heads. The venomous snakes also have an extra set of nostrils called pits. The nonvenomous snakes do not have these. The venomous snakes have slit cat like eyes while the nonvenomous snakes have round eyes more similar to humans.

If you happened to see either a bull snake or rattlesnake out in the wild it might be hard to tell these differences from a safe distance. Fortunately, they have a give away. The rattlesnake makes the well known rattle sound by sticking their rattles up in the air and shaking them. The bull snake on the other hand is only emulating this sound and has to smack their tail against something. So if you are following my logic... The rattlesnake will have it's tail up in the air, while the bull snake will have it's tail down on the ground.

As far as how aggressive the bull snake is once in human hands I've heard different things. Some people say they are pretty aggressive and have a lot of attitude while others say that they become pretty docile when handled. Grab on to a wild one at your own risk! Seriously though, it's better for both you and the snake to leave them alone if you stumble across one in the wild.

What kind of snake am I?

What kind of snake am I?

Question 2

A large Bull Snake

A large Bull Snake


Question 1: Bull Snake... The roundness of the eyes and shape of the head are a dead giveaway that this can't be a venomous pit viper such as a rattlesnake.

Question 2: Rattlesnake... You can't get a good look at the eyes, but the large venom glands puffing up his cheeks give it away.


Phillip Drayer Duncan (author) from The Ozarks on September 16, 2014:

Lesley, I think I understand where that theory is coming from, but I don't think it's a good method. As far as I know, all snakes shed their skins periodically. When a snake is getting close to to shedding, their skin will be very dull. After they shed their skin will be very shiny. This is true of venomous and nonvenomous snakes.

Thanks DMSimonds! I appreciate it!

DMSimonds on July 14, 2014:

I am a Full Time RV'er base camped in S.E. New Mexico slap dab in the desert snake country. Here we have bull snakes and rattlesnakes and often campers have difficulty telling the difference between the two. This is the best article I have seen as of yet on subject with great real world photos to boot.

Your work will be listed in ScribeCavePress.com.

ScribeCave.com.....The Choice Is Yours.

Lesley on July 09, 2014:

What about shiny vs. dull scales...have always been told that is a distinguishing feature with venomous snakes for the most part being quite dull.

Phillip Drayer Duncan (author) from The Ozarks on May 01, 2014:

Thanks for commenting Sandi. I may not be the best expert to ask, but I will say most species have common characteristics. The big thing is to make sure the snake crawling across your feet doesn't have a big triangle shaped head or slit eyes like a cat as that indicates venomous snakes.

Despite what many would think, snakes do have a bit of personality. In another article I wrote about snakes, I talked about this large snake that used to hang out in my yard when I was a small child. I played with it all the time. We joke that it was my first babysitter.

Sandi on April 30, 2014:

a couple of things. First we have a number of Bull snakes on our farm. I would like to know if you can identify individual snakes by the markings on their heads? They all seem to have different markings, but don't know if the markings change or remain the same throughout its life.

Second there is one snake that seems to like me. I have had it come up to me, lay across my feet, stretch out behind my heels, and hang around when I am outside working. It doesn't seem to care about my husband and will stay away from him. My question is this a known thing about snakes?? I would love to know more about these amazing critters!

Phillip Drayer Duncan (author) from The Ozarks on July 18, 2012:

That's alright. I've watched a full grown man attempt to crawl out the driver side window of a vehicle (Which he was driving) moving 70 mph down the highway because of a tiny little spider on the dashboard. I was holding him by the legs, while another passenger tried to hold the wheel straight. The upper half of the driver's body was out the window screaming bloody murder. We were all really lucky not to die!

Cat R from North Carolina, U.S. on July 18, 2012:

About as embarrassing as my encounters with spiders that I turned into a hub called 'Ridiculous' after the scene in one of the Harry Potter movies when Ron encounters the spider Boggart.

I can make a great fool out of myself with such things. But I live to entertain! grin

Phillip Drayer Duncan (author) from The Ozarks on July 18, 2012:

Hahaha Those are great stories Cat R! Thank you for sharing them!

Cat R from North Carolina, U.S. on July 18, 2012:

The first encounter I had with a real snake was during K9 Search & Rescue training in Texas. I was playing 'victim' and laying in an area that is predominant Mesquite and life-size Cactus (with a CAPITAL C!). It awoke within a few feet of me and let me know quite noisily that I was intruding. While it may have been the wrong reaction, I broke my record in jumping up and running; while jumping a several feet wide cactus field. My fellow 'team members' continued to tell the story for a long time how this old lady could jump that high, fast and far at the sight of a rattler. lol

My daughter encountered a rat snake by our pond last year. She jumped across a small ditch and landed on the sun-bathing snake. She jumped up and the nsake fled. The picture of the soon napping snake on FB soon revealed its harmless identity and we were releaved.

The look on her face, tough... Sorry, Baby..., was to die for!

Phillip Drayer Duncan (author) from The Ozarks on July 17, 2012:

Thanks Gerogie! I hope that works for you if you ever find yourself face to face with snake! Puffy cheeks = bad!

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on July 17, 2012:

This is interesting. I live in the woods in Western NY, and I never could find a quick way to tell a bad snake from a good one. I will remember the puffy cheeks, the eyes and the extra nostrils, but I hope I never have to get close enough to any of them to look!

Great Hub!

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