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The bull snake, sometimes called a gopher snake, is one of the most ubiquitous animals in North America, inhabiting almost every available biome. His color and pattern resemble a rattlesnake, and when frightened, he'll hiss and shake his tail tip like a rattler, but he's really more of a ratter.
Purple Mountain Majesty
Bull snakes will live as high up in mountains as 9,000 feet, and the conifer forests of fir, pine, spruce and other evergreens at that altitude make a perfectly acceptable habitat that contains lots of rodents, the bull snake's primary prey. Like the rats, mice, pika and ground squirrels, in the cold, snowy winters the bull snake retreats to a rocky den below the frost line and hibernates, cheerfully bunking in with rattlers and garter snakes. The trick to this is that each species leaves the den at a different time, the bull snake before the rattler.
The Lone Prairie
The wide sweep of the open plains is another habitat that contains everything a bull snake needs. Prairie dogs and other burrowing rodents provide food, and their underground tunnels offer a cool retreat from the hot summer sun or a swift-moving prairie fire. In milder reaches of the grasslands these can even offer enough shelter that the bull snakes don't need to den up, but can come out to bask in the sun during the day and warm up enough to hunt and feed.
Amber Waves of Grain
As a predator of rodents, the bull snake is one of the farmer's best friends and should be treated as such. Many bull snakes and other animals are killed or injured by harvesting machinery in croplands and because the bull snake is an egg eater, his occasional forays into the hen house are a source of conflict with humans. Given the chance, though, the bull snake is likely to eat more rats than eggs. His appearance and his bluffing behavior when frightened are against him, and this mild-mannered and even friendly fellow is frequently mistaken for his dangerous cousin, the rattler, and killed.
The warm deserts of North America are populous with well-adapted rodents, such as the spiny mouse and the kangaroo rat, and where there are rats and mice, there will be bull snakes. Their prey eats water-storing plants, such as cacti and succulents, and the bull snake mostly gets his water from them -- he does not need to drink often, but a captive bull snake that cannot hunt freely does need a water dish and will drink.
- Northern State University: Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Gopher Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus)
- Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo: Bull Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi)
- Texas Parks & Wildlife Department: Bullsnake (Pituophis catinefer sayi)
- Blue Planet Biomes: Grasslands
- Earth Observatory: Coniferous Forest
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images