Species Profile

Pacific Gophersnake

Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer catenifer
Other/Previous Names: Pacific Gopher Snake
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
Range: British Columbia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2012
Last COSEWIC Designation: Extirpated
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Extirpated


Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Reasons for extirpation | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Pacific Gophersnake

Pacific Gophersnake Photo 1

Top

Taxonomy

There are three subspecies of Pituophis catenifer recognized in Canada: the Bullsnake P.c. sayi; the Great Basin Gophersnake P.c. deserticola; and the Pacific Gophersnake P.c. catenifer.

Top

Description

This species of snake (P. catenifer) is relatively large, with a moderately long tail; adults in the northwestern part of the range are smaller than those in the south, but can still reach 1.8 m. The background colour is yellowish, with black, brown, or red-brown dorsal blotches, usually more widely spaced on the tail than the body. A dark line runs across the head in front of the eyes. The dorsal scales are ridged, while those on the sides and undersurface are smooth. The blotches on the back of the Pacific Gophersnake are separated from each other toward the front of the body (connected in the Great Basin Pacific Gophersnake). The belly and the spots on the sides of the body are grey. Males and females are not significantly different in size, and the young resemble the adults in coloration.

Top

Distribution and Population

The Pacific Gophersnake is found in western Oregon and California in the United States, and has been collected from two locations in extreme southwestern British Columbia. There have been no Canadian sightings of the Pacific Gophersnake in almost 50 years.

Top

Habitat

Both sightings of the Pacific Gophersnake in British Columbia were in grasslands, but the habitat varies for the subspecies throughout its range in the United States. It is most common in semi-arid, brushy areas and adjacent to farms, and is usually absent from dense forests and high elevations.

Top

Biology

There is no biological information available on the Pacific Gophersnake in Canada. Because the closely related Great Basin Gophersnake occurs in an ecologically similar area, it is likely more biologically similar than the same subspecies that occurs in Oregon and California. Great Basin Gophersnakes are typically active during the day. However, when it is very hot, they switch to being active at night. They are constrictors, squeezing prey with their coils until it suffocates. They feed mostly on small mammals, birds, birds’ eggs, and other snakes. Mating takes place after the snakes emerge from hibernation. The eggs are laid in mid-July and have smooth shells. Their number is related to the female’s size, and ranges from two to eight in British Columbia. Nesting sites are often shared with other snakes of the same or different species. Roughly equal numbers of males and females hatch in the fall. The young shed their skin soon after hatching, but probably do not feed until spring. Hibernation in British Columbia is apparently from late September/mid-October until late March/mid-April. Hibernation sites may be a considerable distance from the habitat where the snakes spend the summer (an average of 933 m in one British Columbia study), and this distance is usually traveled in a relatively short time (typically a few days). Males begin returning to the hibernacula at the end of July, while females appear in September. When agitated, Gophersnakes will hiss loudly and may flatten their heads and vibrate their tails. This behaviour sometimes results in these snakes being mistaken for rattlesnakes and killed.

Top

Reasons for extirpation

The loss of native grasslands to urbanization in the lower Fraser Valley and the Gulf Islands, and the stresses resulting from existing at the edge of the range for the species, likely both contributed to the extirpation of this species from Canada.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Pacific Gophersnake is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Pacific Gophersnake (Pituophuis catenifer catenifer) in Canada [Proposed]
Status First posting on SAR registry

Top

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

12 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Gophersnake Pituophis catenifer in Canada (2014)

    The Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer) is a large (up to 2 meters total length), yellow or cream snake, with dark spots and a dark line across the face, from the eye to the jaw. Three subspecies are recognized in Canada, the Bullsnake (P.c. sayi), the Great Basin Gophersnake (P.c. deserticola), and the Pacific Gophersnake (P.c. catenifer).

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Pacific Gopher Snake (2013)

    This large snake, found in extreme southwestern British Columbia, has not been observed in the Canadian wild in more than 50 years.
  • Response Statements - Pacific Gophersnake (2004)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 17, 2017