When most people think of a bull snake they think of a large, intimidating snake with a big, orange head. This is not entirely accurate. Bull snake, (Pituaophis pituophila), also known as common bull snake, North American garter snake, or common bull snake of the genera Vipers and Capparis, is frequently mistaken for a rattlesnake because of its cobra-like mouth, though it has no venom glands. Bull snakes are commonly found in dry, sandy open countryside and in thick, pine barrens of central North America, from southern Oregon, British Columbia, to central Texas.

Characteristics of a Bull Snake

Characteristics of a Bull Snake
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While it looks similar to a rattlesnake, bull snake shares many characteristics with other non-venomous snakes such as the common gopher snake. Most of them lack venom glands, though they can produce small, delayed bites that cause pain and muscle weakness, much like a rattlesnake. Snakes are generally harmless animals, with little dangerousness to their bodies. However, many snakes share a common trait: they prey upon animals with which they come into contact. Their name comes from the bull snake, which was a common predator in the old Mississippi river and surrounding areas. 

Size and Weight of Bull Snake

Bull snakes vary significantly in size and weight, depending upon the species. The largest bull snake (Pituophis Anacardium) weighs up to thirty pounds. The average length of a specimen is around five feet. The average head circumference is nearly two feet. Typically, the pituitary gland or suprachiasmatic nucleus contained within the middle area of a bull snake’s neck is absent, making this snake a nocturnal creature.

Bull snakes have one or two distinguishing characteristics, such as the presence of distinctive black blotches on their tails. These are pituitary gland deposits, surrounded by a thin veneer of skin. The snakes typically travel through a burrow or hole in the ground, selecting a den or hole which has enough temperature and moisture to remain warm while at the same time cool enough to avoid freezing. This den may be found in the brush along riverbanks, in old logs, and on the sides of cliffs.

Length of Bull Snake

A medium-sized bull snake has a body length of between four and five feet, with a tail length of between three and four feet. This snake usually has grayish colorations on its dorsolateral band and has black-colored spots on its ventral surface. Its lower jaw may drop forward to permit the mouth to close, and it also features a long narrow incisor. Its two pairs of limbs look like that of a gopher snake. They are also armed with a pair of strong, curved claws for climbing and defending themselves.

Length of Bull Snake
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Smaller bull snakes have bodies approximately half as long as their tail, and a tail nearly half as wide. The front limbs have distinct ridges along their entire length, although they lack the strong claws typical of all bull snakes. These snakes usually have gray-colored or brownish-colored eyes and have black pupils. They are also easy to mistake for other insectivore species such as mice or rabbits.

Subspecies of Gopher Snake

In addition to the widely known red-eared slider snake, there are two other common subspecies in the Philippines. These include the bull snake or simply the Philippine gopher snake which is also known as the common bull snake; and the copperhead or bottle weed, which is sometimes referred to simply as the white-tailed boobie. All these subspecies are considered endangered by the government due to their reduction in numbers. However, some of them can still be found living in remote forests in coastal areas.

Like most reptiles, bull snakes are oviparous, which means that they lay eggs. Their usual habitat is damp woodlands and swamps where they hunt prey such as moths, spiders, lizards, chameleons, and crabs. Their natural prey is small fishes such as fishes that feed on algae and corals. Sometimes eggs hatch from these eggs in baskets of water clutched in their mouth, called hatching bodies.

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