Pituophis catenifer sayi : Bullsnake
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13 Surprising Facts About Bullsnakes

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The bullsnake is a large non-venomous colubrid snake found in the central and western parts of North America. They are powerful constrictors that can grow up to 2.4 m (8 ft) long. Bullsnakes are excellent climbers and burrowers that play an important role in controlling rodent populations.

Though bullsnakes are common snakes, many people don’t know much about them. Here are 13 fascinating bullsnake facts that may surprise you:

1. Bullsnakes Get Their Name from Their Defensive Behavior

When threatened, bullsnakes will often coil up and vibrate their tails rapidly. This creates a loud, raspy “buzz” that sounds similar to a rattlesnake. The name “bullsnake” comes from the way they seem to “bell” when they feel in danger.

2. They Mimic Rattlesnakes to Scare off Predators

Bullsnakes have evolved to imitate rattlesnakes to ward off potential predators. By mimicking a venomous rattlesnake, bullsnakes avoid becoming prey themselves. They match rattlers in appearance, sound, and even defensive behaviors.

3. Bullsnakes Are Constrictors, Not Venomous

While bullsnakes pretend to be rattlesnakes, they do not actually have venom. Instead, they kill prey by constriction. Bullsnakes grab rodents and other small animals in their jaws and squeeze them with their muscular bodies. This suffocates the prey by not allowing it to breathe.

4. They Have Heat-Sensing Pits to Locate Prey

Bullsnakes have specialized heat-sensing pits located on their faces between their eyes and nostrils. These allow bullsnakes to accurately strike and capture warm-blooded prey – even in total darkness! The pits detect infrared radiation given off by the body heat of small animals such as mice and rats.

5. Bullsnakes Can Live up to 30 Years

Gopher Snake, Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer)
Gopher Snake, Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer) by J. N. Stuart is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

In captivity, bullsnakes typically live to around 20 – 25 years old. However, some exceptional bullsnakes have been recorded living over 30 years. In the wild, they tend to have shorter lifespans of 10 – 15 years. Their long lives are thanks to low rates of predation once they reach adulthood.

6. They Have Hinged Jaws That Allow Them to Swallow Prey Whole

A bullsnake’s lower jaw is divided into two separate halves connected by an elastic ligament. This allows them to swallow prey up to three times bigger than the diameter of their own heads! After constricting and killing prey, bullsnakes can unhinge their flexible jaws and open their mouths incredibly wide to consume rodents whole.

7. Bullsnakes Lay Eggs Unlike Many Other Snakes

While some snakes give birth to live young, bullsnakes are oviparous. This means they lay eggs rather than giving live birth. Female bullsnakes usually lay 10 – 24 leathery-shelled eggs in underground nests during the summer months. The eggs hatch about two months later in the early fall.

8. Baby Bullsnakes Emerge Ready to Hunt on Their Own

Bullsnakes do not care for their offspring. As soon as the baby bullsnakes hatch, they shift for themselves and immediately begin hunting prey. This self-sufficiency from birth allows them to learn quickly and grow rapidly by consuming rodents and other small animals.

9. They Are Excellent Climbers

While most snakes spend their time on the ground, bullsnakes are adept climbers. Using their strong muscles, they can ascend trees, cliffs, and other steep surfaces with ease. Their climbing skills allow them to raid both ground and tree squirrel nests for food.

10. Bullsnakes Hibernate Through Frigid Winters

In northern parts of their range with extremely cold winters, bullsnakes brumate underground in communal dens with other snakes. They may hibernate alone or in groups for up to six months until temperatures warm in the spring. By hibernating, bullsnakes can avoid freezing temperatures and survive in areas that reach -18°C (0°F).

11. They Help Control Rodent and Rabbit Populations

Bullsnakes are voracious predators that eat a wide variety of small animals. Their preference is small rodents like mice, rats, squirrels, prairie dogs, and rabbits. By naturally preying on these animals, bullsnakes help keep wild rodent populations under control.

12. Bullsnakes Themselves Get Eaten by Hawks, Coyotes & Other Snakes

Predators of adult bullsnakes include hawks, foxes, coyotes, badgers and other snakes. Young bullsnakes also face getting eaten by ravens, herons, raccoons, skunks, and domestic cats & dogs. Despite trying to trick predators, bullsnakes still get preyed upon themselves.

13. They Make Great Low Maintenance Pets

Bullsnakes have calm dispositions and are easy to tame. Their simple care requirements, long lives, and disease resistance have made bullsnakes a popular pet snake species. With proper housing and handling, bullsnakes can be a rewarding lifelong pet reptile.

Here is a FAQ section with 5 questions and short 3-4 sentence answers about bullsnakes based on the information provided:

Bullsnake FAQs

How long can bullsnakes grow to?

Bullsnakes can grow over 2.4 meters (8 feet) long, making them one of the longest snakes found in North America.

What do bullsnakes eat?

Bullsnakes eat a variety of small animals like rodents, rabbits, birds, lizards, and eggs, helping control wild rodent and rabbit populations.

Why are bullsnakes called “bullsnakes”?

Bullsnakes get their name from the way they coil up and vibrate their tails rapidly when threatened, creating a loud “buzz” that sounds similar to a bull.

How do bullsnakes kill their prey?

Bullsnakes kill their prey through constriction – they grab rodents and small animals in their jaws then squeeze them with their muscular bodies which suffocates them.

Where do bullsnakes live?

Bullsnakes are found throughout the central and western United States and Mexico in areas like prairies, fields, farms, and brushlands with sandy soil.

Conclusion

The bullsnake is an impressive predator that has adapted ingenious ways to capture prey and deter predators. Their unique heat-sensing ability, intimidating defensive behaviors, and extreme jaw flexibility allow them to succeed in the wild. Bullsnakes play a vital role in controlling pest rodent populations while avoiding getting eaten themselves most of the time. These interesting snakes also possess qualities that make them suitable pets for some owners. The next time you encounter a bullsnake, remember these 13 surprising facts about them!


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