Have you encountered a large, yellow and brown snake with a banding pattern on its back in the village? Maybe on the Highline Canal Trail in the sun? If the answer is yes, it was probably a bullsnake. These large, slow-moving scaly reptiles have earned the nickname “farmer’s friend” by eating many species of small mammals (mainly rodents) and the occasional lizard or ground-dwelling bird. While a big snake will be intrinsically scary to many people, these rodent-gobbling, legless wonders are really important predators in our ecosystems here and we want them to stick around.
What’s the first rule if you find a snake?
Don’t touch it! For those of us who grew up watching Steve Irwin, there is an almost irresistible urge to pick up any snake by the tail and imitate his accent. However, Steve Irwin was a professional who knew how to handle snakes and most of us are not. To be on the safe side and avoid injury to yourself (even nonvenomous snakes can have some nasty bites) and the snake, appreciate it from a short distance and let it do its thing.
How do I know I’m looking at a bullsnake?
- Coloration: they’re yellow with brown or black patches that form a banding pattern down their backs
- Head shape: if the snake is calm, the head should be an oval shape that is not much wider than its neck and the pupils will be round; rattlers have triangular heads on a narrow neck and elliptical pupils that will look like a thin vertical line in daylight
- Tail: if you see a rattle, it’s a rattlesnake – leave it well alone!
- Size: adults are 4-6 feet long, and there are definitely some 6-footers in CHV
Bullsnakes have a unique defense mechanism that means makes them often confused with rattlesnakes. When they encounter something that may be a predator (i.e. a person or dog) they first try to run away, but since they’re not exactly speedy, this doesn’t often work. Their next trick is to imitate a rattler by:
- Coiling, rearing their head and hissing
- Widening their jaws to make it appear more triangular
- Waving their tail to imitate a rattling motion while hissing a certain way that sounds similar to a real rattle
Some fun bullsnake facts:
- Bullsnakes’ (Pituophis catenifer sayi) are a subspecies of gopher snake
- Bullsnakes are one of the largest snakes in Colorado, averaging 4 to 6 feet long as adults, but recorded up to 8 feet elsewhere
- They are excellent climbers and burrowers, allowing them to thrive in the wide variety of habitats they are found in
- Contrary to myth, bullsnakes do not eat rattlesnakes. King snakes eat rattlesnakes
For pictures and more information: