Critter of the Month: Bullsnake

• Species: Bullsnake.Bullsnake Constricting Its Prey

Scientific name: Pituophis catenifir sayi.

• Nicknames: None.

• Claim to fame: Growing to lengths that sometimes exceed six feet, the bullsnake is Missouri’s largest snake. Its size, plus its defensive tactics of hissing and coiling, makes it a snake that’s feared by some humans. (The name “bullsnake” is believed to have originated from the loud, deep hissing noise the snake makes which sounds something like a snorting bull.)

A human’s fear of a bullsnake is entirely unfounded, though. The bullsnake is non-venomous and is extremely beneficial to humans because of the large number of rodents it consumes.

• Species status: The status of bullsnakes in Missouri is unknown. With the loss of native prairie habitat, this snake appears to be rather rare and has been listed as a species of conservation concern in Missouri.

• First discovered: The first scientific description of the bullsnake was written in the 19th century by the American naturalist Thomas Say.

• Family matters: The bullsnake belongs to the reptile family Colubridae, a group that includes all the non-venomous snakes of Missouri.

• Length: The average length of an adult bullsnake is 37 to 72 inches. The longest bullsnake ever recorded in the United States was 105 inches in length.
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• Diet: Small mammals are the main food item for bullsnakes. Rats, mice, voles, shrews, ground squirrels are all on a bullsnake’s diet, as well as larger mammals like rabbits and squirrels on occasion. Bullsnakes kill larger prey by constriction and swallow smaller creatures while they’re still alive.

• Weight: Adult bullsnakes can weigh between four and eight pounds.

• Distinguishing characteristics: An adult bullsnake has a tannish-yellowish body overlaid with dark markings. These dark markings are usually black on the neck and tail and brown along the middle of the body. There is usually a black line from the eye to the angle of the jaw and black bars along the upper lip.

The head is large and the snout terminates with an enlarged, projecting nose scale. Though non-venomous, bullsnakes will strike at and bite humans or other animals they perceive as threats.

• Life span: Can be more than 20 years.

• Habitat: In Missouri, bullsnakes occur on native prairies, pastures, old fields, savannas, and along river bluffs.

• Life cycle: Courtship and mating takes place during April and early May. Adult males probably locate females by smell. Eggs are laid in June or early July. A normal clutch is between three and 22 eggs. Eggs usually hatch in nine to 11 weeks. Female bullsnakes normally lay their eggs in sandy or loose soil, in abandoned small mammal burrows or under large logs or stumps.

Eggs hatch in late August or September. The color of young bullsnakes is similar to adults, except that their blotches are somewhat lighter. Newly hatched bullsnakes average slightly more than 14 inches in length. Adult bullsnakes provide no parental care and the young are on their own as soon as they hatch.

(source: MDC)

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