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What Is a Bullsnake?

Rabbits are part of the bullsnake's diet.
The coyote is a natural enemy of the bull snake.
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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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A bullsnake, or Pituophis catenifer sayi, is a large, non-venomous constrictor snake. It ranges from roughly 48-100 inches (1.2-2.5 m) in length, which makes it one of the biggest snakes in North America. Bullsnakes range in weight from 4-20 pounds (1.8-3.6 kg), with the average weight thought to be about 8 pounds (3.6 kg). In color, the bullsnake is creamy to a yellowish brown and has black, brown or sometimes reddish splotches on its back. Distinctively, bullsnakes have an enlarged nose shield that is useful for digging and a small ridge between their eyes, which has given them their name.

Geographically, the bullsnake is one of the most common and widely distributed snakes in North America. Its east-to-west range extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. This snake is found as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico and Baja California.

Bullsnakes are comfortable in a lot of different types of habitats. They are most often found in brushy areas that are semi-arid and close to farms. This species also is comfortable, though, in prairies, open forests, sandy areas and rocky deserts and canyons. Almost all of the activity of the bullsnake takes place either on the ground or below it in burrows, but this snake also is a very good climber and is sometimes found high in trees looking for food. These snakes are able to live at elevations as high as 9,000 feet (2,743 m) above sea level.

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The bullsnake eats only meat. It will hunt mammals that live in burrows, such as squirrels, mice and rabbits, as well as birds that nest on the ground. Lizards and insects also are a food source. Depending on the size of the prey, the bullsnake will either swallow it whole or kill it by constriction. If it eats a large animal, the bullsnake will rest for weeks, because it won’t need to feed again for some time.

Bullsnakes have natural enemies in coyotes, owls and hawks. When cornered or frightened, a bullsnake imitates a rattlesnake. It will flatten its head and produce a hissing sound that comes from shaking its tail in dry grass.

Mating season is in mid-spring to late spring after the snakes emerge from hibernation. Females lay three to 20 eggs in the early to mid-summer, with incubation lasting about 64 to 80 days. The eggs hatch in late summer or early fall. Newly-hatched bullsnakes are about 12-18 inches (30-46 cm) long. Neither parent provides care for the hatchlings.

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