After a Thanksgiving break, we’re back with this week’s Meet the Critters! The star of this week’s show is the bullsnake, also known as the gopher snake. We’ve got a beautiful bullsnake here at the KWEC, she was caught as a very young snake right when the Center opened in 2009. She’s about 3 years old, and bullsnakes in captivity can live to over 30 years! Today, our bullsnake is over 6 feet long and is a big hit with kids visiting the center.
Bullsnakes are the largest snakes around Cheyenne Bottoms, averaging about 6 feet. The largest bullsnake ever recorded in Kansas was almost 7 1/2 feet long, however, a shed skin was recently found on Nature Conservancy land which topped 11 feet! Bullsnakes are beautiful animals, with bold patterning in brown, black, and yellow. Unfortunately, this non-venemous snake is often mistaken for a rattlesnake, particularly the Western diamondback rattlesnake. Their coloration is superficially similar to a rattlesnake’s, and when startled, bullsnakes will shake their tail against leaves and grass to produce a rattle like sound intended to scare away predators.
The bullsnake feeds mainly on small mammals such as rats, mice, rabbits, gophers, and prairie dogs; it will happily consume birds and their eggs as well. Bullsnakes kill their prey by constriction, and eat so many rodents that they are considered the most economically beneficial snake to farmers in Kansas.
Bullsnakes are not very good parents. In April and June, the females will lay about a dozen eggs in soft soil, then leave the eggs to incubate and hatch on their own. If the nest survives predators like small mammals and other snakes, the babies hatch in August and the 8-18 inch young snakes head out on their own. Young bullsnakes must avoid raptors, mammals, and other snakes as they grow, adult bullsnakes have significantly fewer predators.
The next time you’re headed out K-156, stop in at the KWEC and say hello to our bullsnake!