What Do Gopher Snakes Eat? 10 Common Foods
What do gopher snakes eat? It’s a more intricate question than the name implies. The assumption is that an observer of a snake eating a gopher gave the snake its name. It’s a natural assumption to make. Gopher snakes do, after all, eat gophers. However, that’s not all they eat and, many times throughout the year, they may not eat gophers at all.
Gophers snakes actually get their name thanks to their preference for settling down and curling up inside gopher holes. Too lazy or incapable of making their own, they settle for taking advantage of their hardworking prey. Nature is fascinating because it’s simultaneously simple and enormously complex.
Gopher snakes are like most snakes, consuming the smaller prey they come across, whenever they’re hungry. As one of the most widespread snakes in North America, it’s difficult to lock gopher snakes down to a particular state or habitat. This also means their menu is a lot broader than snakes with a tighter habitat zone.
What Do Gopher Snakes Eat?
As it turns out, gopher snakes are not very picky eaters, at least where meat is concerned. What gopher snakes like to eat versus what they will eat is a narrow window. Due to their extensive habitat, they encounter a wide variety of species. The average gopher snake will reach between 4′ and 9′ in length. They’re also fairly wide-bodied snakes.
Their tummies hold quite a bit, and they’re large enough that their menu is even more extensive than just what their range encompasses.
Who could have guessed? Gopher snakes do eat gophers, though they get their name from stealing their homes. Sometimes, a gophers snake will steal a gopher’s home and wait quietly for it to return. Two birds with one stone, as it turns out. A gopher is a smallish mammal that grows to about half a pound, maybe a shade less. They primarily feed on roots (as a tunneling mammal) and have litters of up to 6.
Depending on the rabbit, this may or may not be a huge meal. Since gopher snakes prefer agricultural areas, they’re likely to come across a lot of rabbits. Since rabbits are quick, agile, and very skittish, a gopher snake has to be at its best to nail one. Quickness is key, but gopher snakes prove they are up to the task time and time again.
3. Kangaroo Rats
The kangaroo rat gets its name from the cute way it positions itself on its back feet, standing like a kangaroo. All that cuteness won’t save it from the crafty gopher snake, however. A kangaroo rat is a semi-decent meal, especially an adult. They weight up to 4.5 ounces and are somewhere between 2″ and 4″ in length.
Voles are often confused with mole, but the gopher snake couldn’t care less. Down the hatch it goes. Voles, like moles, are tunnelers, primarily living underground. Like kangaroo rats, they’re fairly small, though some will reach up to 9″ in length. A vole is a natural food source for gopher snakes, since gopher snakes like the safety of underground tunnels and dwellings.
5. Ground Squirrels
In terms of what gopher snakes like to eat, the ground squirrel is pretty high on the menu. Like voles and gophers, ground squirrels are tunnelers, spending much of their time below the earth, thinking they are safe. Since gopher snakes are more than happy to investigate a hole, they regularly encounter ground squirrels. Some of them make quite a meal too, since they are capable of reaching 30 lbs in body weight.
In a way, having a gopher snake on your property may not be the worst thing in the world. They will drastically reduce the mouse population, most of which are constantly trying to figure out ways to make a home in your home. As very small animals, a mouse is more of a passing snack for an adult gopher snake, so they will consume more than just one if possible.
Since gopher snakes have such a large habitat (north all the way to Canada, south into Mexico, and east to west from coastline to coastline), frogs are on the menu as well. Gopher snakes prefer agricultural areas, but a swamp doesn’t bother them one bit. Some frogs grow pretty big in the swamp, and will either make a good snack or a meal for the day.
8. Birds and Bird Eggs
Dining out on the plains? Check. Hunting frogs in the swamp? Check. Living in holes in the ground? Check. Climbing trees? Absolutely. A gopher snake has no problem climbing a tree to feast on the eggs in a bird nest. It will also go after birds on the ground, chicken eggs, duck eggs, or any eggs that are easily accessible. A gopher snake is often large enough to tackle a moderately sized chicken.
What do gopher snakes eat when they’re young and small? They can’t tackle the gophers of the world just yet. Fortunately, nature always presents a solution and juvenile gopher snakes will normally dine on insects. The larger the insect the better. There are more insects out there than are worth writing down, especially since gopher snakes are all over North America. Suffice it to say that just about any insect will do.
What gopher snakes like to eat changes with size. While there are large lizards out there, most of the juvenile gopher snakes prefer the much smaller ones. Like insects, they are easy to catch, roll up, and constrict. Lizards drop off the menu once gopher snakes reach a certain size, making larger game the new focus.
|#1||Gophers||7 oz to 35 oz|
|#2||Rabbits||1 to 6 lbs|
|#3||Kangaroo Rats||4 to 5 oz|
|#4||Voles||.9 to 1.8 oz|
|#5||Ground Squirrels||.1 oz to 30 lbs|
|#6||Mice||3.2 to 6.4 oz|
|#7||Frogs||.07 oz to 8 lbs|
|#8||Birds and Bird Eggs||.01 oz to 8 lbs|
|#9||Insects||.01 to 3.5 oz|
|#10||Lizards||.01 oz to 8 lbs|