Bullsnake Bravado

On my visit to Waterton Canyon yesterday, I took a side trail down to the South Platte, hoping to spot a dipper.  My effort was in vain but, as I returned to the graveled roadway, I was startled by a loud hissing sound near the path.  Looking down, I saw the front half of a large bullsnake, protruding from a burrow.  After a threatening twist of its thick body, the snake disappeared beneath the ground.

Bullsnakes, often called gopher snakes in the Western U.S., range from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast and from southern Canada to northern Mexico.  These heavy-bodied, non-poisonous constrictors may reach six feet or more in length and are identified by brown markings on a yellowish background.  After emerging from their winter dens in April, bullsnakes begin to feed on small mammals, birds and lizards while also searching for a mate.  Once impregnated, females lay an average of 12 eggs in sun-exposed sand where they will hatch by late summer.

Often mistaken for rattlesnakes, which they attempt to mimic, bullsnakes are of no danger to humans (unless carelessly handled) and serve an important role in the control of rodents.  When threatened by humans or other large mammals, loud hissing or snorting (hence the name bullsnake) is often followed by "rattling" of their tail in gravel or leaf litter; the snake may also flatten its head and assume a threatening posture and, in some cases, lunge toward the "intruder."  Needless to say, most humans are responsive to such bravado.