On the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, a camera-shy gopher snake flexed as hard as possible in an attempt to get a hiker to stop filming him. The reptile, which is not venomous, acted like a rattlesnake in hopes that the hiker would pocket his phone. However, the animal’s ace acting only made the amused human get in for a close-up. The amusing viral video was shared on USA Today’s Twitter.
This gopher snake was telling the hiker following it to back off with a few hisses and huffs. 🐍 pic.twitter.com/CAT5QdZxqk— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) November 19, 2022
The video, though funny, just shows the typical defensive behavior of the harmless reptile. The gopher snake has an interesting way of defending itself. It puffs up its body and curls into the position that a rattlesnake would strike in. Even though it looks like it’s going to bite, more often than not it strikes with a closed mouth. It uses its blunt nose to show predators that they should back off.
Furthermore, Gopher snakes often vibrate their tails to imitate rattlesnakes. A study found that gopher snakes on islands without any rattlesnake species present vibrated their tails for shorter periods of time than those in mainland California where there are many different types of rattlesnakes.
It appears that gopher snake tail vibration may actually be a form of mimicry, as the behavior is breaking down in areas without rattlesnakes. This could be because predators on these islands have no reason to avoid tail-vibrating snakes since they are not venomous like rattlesnakes.
How to tell a gopher snake apart from a rattlesnake
The prairie rattlesnake is often confused with this snake. However, there are a few key ways to tell them apart according to an article from the website Bay Nature. Firstly, the bands on a rattlesnake’s tail are black and white, whereas this snake has no such markings. Additionally, a rattlesnake’s head is much wider than this one’s.
Rattlesnakes typically hunt by lying in wait and attacking their prey (lizards when young, escalating to small mammals as adults). Their bodies are both wide and thick. Gopher snakes are more likely to search for prey than ambush it, and they have a sleeker build. They typically have a squarish cross-section with sides that are almost vertical. If you can learn to recognize the basic shape of both species, you can quickly narrow down which one it is.
Although they may look threatening, rattlesnakes actually have heat-sensing pits below their eyes which resemble a larger pair of nostrils. These carry information about the temperature around them to the snake’s brain. Additionally, if you take a closer look at their pupils, you’ll notice that they are vertical like a cat’s eye. That being said, it is probably best not to get too close for verification!
When basking on a road or trail, gopher snakes will often arrange their bodies into small curves. On the other hand, rattlesnakes typically adopt longer, broader curves.