bullsnake caresheet, gopher snake, pine snake, pituophis catenifer, sayi

Keeping a Bullsnake
(Pituophis catenifer sayi)

Also known as:Pituophis melanoleucus sayi”, "Pituophis sayi",“Bull Snake”, "Gopher snake (subspecies of)"

Suitability as an exotic pet: A robust species, very adaptable, and relatively easy and quick to tame to a handle-able state.
Fast growing, and a large adult size. Known for their bad attitude, they puff up into striking position, hiss, and vibrate their tails to mimic the action and sound of a venomous rattlesnake. They appear very nervous when handled, and do not sit still, which can make them tricky to work with.

Native habitat: North America
Adult Size: 6 feet (1.8 metres)
Warm side of tank: 30°C
Cool side of tank: 23°C
Humidity: 50-60%
Vivarium Size: 50+ gallons


Species description

The Bullsnake is a subspecies of Gopher Snake - a large, constricting serpent native primarily to North America. Their unusual name comes from their defensive behaviour, whereby their hissing and puffing noises resemble the snorting of a bull. Just like their bovine counterpart, this snake subspecies shares the bull's reputation for having a bad temper!

Bullsnakes are very defensive animals, and are quick to confront signs of danger by raising themselves off the ground in a coiled S-shape, and puffing themselves up to appear larger to a predator. This is especially true in situations where they feel cornered, which can be problematic in small vivariums. The Bullsnake also has another, more novel method of avoiding danger - by pretending to be a venomous snake. They achieve this by vibrating the end of their tail against the ground, mimicking the venomous rattlesnake which shares most of its natural range with the Bullsnake. Unfortunately, this mimicry works too well, and humans frequently kill Bullsnakes which they have mistaken for the deadly rattlesnake.

Housing in captivity

Like most snakes, Bullsnakes are nocturnal, and are often hide away until nightfall. Due to this, Bullsnakes do not need a dedicated light source, such as a spotlight, and can thrive in captivity without the addition of a UVB lamp (feeding on whole prey items such as mice and rats means that snakes get a lot of their VitaminD3 from their food also). Nocturnal animals still need a defined day and night cycle, but if the enclosure recieves natural light from a window, no further lighting should be needed.

They can be kept in relatively simple setups, with a 4x2x2 ft vivarium being the recommended size for a single adult. Small snakes and hatchlings can initally be housed in plastic tanks (ensure that they have a tight fitting lid to prevent escapes), but this will need to be upgraded as they grow.

In the vivarium, a warm side and a cool side should be provided, so that the snake can move between the two to alter its body temperature. A warm size can be created by providing a hiding spot such as driftwood, a rock cave or an upturned plantpot, with a reptile heatmat underneath. This heatpad should cover no more than half of the tank, but should keep the ground temperature around 30°C (85°F).

At the opposite end of the vivarium to the heatmat, a large sturdy water bowl should be provided, which is large enough for the Bullsnake to completely submerge itself in. Water should be changed every 2-3 days or if soiled. A hidespot should be provided at the cool end of the tank also, so that the snake has atleast two hiding places to choose from, with different temperatures on the inside.

It is always best to take inspiration from the natural habitat when decorating the vivarium, and Bullsnakes have a large natural range, including grasslands, prairies and farm land where they are helpful for controlling rodent populations. A grass like substrate such as aspen or shredded paper can be used which also allows some burrowing behaviour. Driftwood sticks and branches provide climbing places for stimulation.

In captivity, the Bullsnake does calm down relatively easily with regular handling. Hatchlings are very nervous and behave like miniature adult specimens, but like a lot of snake species, taming young animals is often easier than attempting to win the trust of an adult which has never been familar with handling. When being handled, Bullsnakes continually move and try to escape, and very rarely sit still.


Bullsnakes kill their prey by constriction. Their natural diet consists of rodents, birds, frogs and lizards. In captivity, they do well on a diet of frozen mice/rats which are thawed out and offered to them using tongs, moving the food around to similute the movements of the prey.

Hatchlings will begin taking thawed-out pinkie mice after their first shed, and the size of prey should be increased as the snake grows. As a rule of thumb, the widest part of the prey should be the same as the widest part of the snake.

Young Bullsnakes can be fed weekly, and will grow fast. In adults, the feeding routine can be slowed to once every 2 weeks.

Smaller items of food are often swallowed greedily with no attempt at constriction, which makes the snake appear very hungry, however overfeeding can cause obesity and health issues, and even young snakes should not be fed more than weekly.

If you require any further information regarding this caresheet, or the care of Pituophis, you can email the author at:

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