Are Bullsnakes Poisonous or Dangerous?

© Christopher Joe Brown/

Written by Jennifer Gaeng

Updated: February 14, 2024

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The bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) belongs to the gopher snake family. In North America and the United States, the bullsnake is among the largest and longest snakes: it can grow to a length of eight feet. They prefer sandier soils, such as those found in pastures, brushlands, and grasslands. Curious to know if bull snakes are poisonous or dangerous?

Keep reading to find out!

What Do Bullsnakes Look Like?

Bull Snake with Jaws Open

Bullsnakes are nonvenomous and generally docile unless threatened.


Adult wild bullsnakes have heavily keeled scales ranging from tan to pale orange. They have brown heads with black vertical lines between the upper scales.

A black line runs diagonally from their eyes to their throat. Dark dorsal blotches extend from their neck to their tail. They have a yellow belly with black dots.

The bullsnake’s overhanging scales above each eye give it a scowl. Newborns’ patterns more vivid than the adults’, but they look virtually identical.

Are Bullsnakes Poisonous?

The bullsnake bite is non-venomous. Their bite, though, can be unpleasant. These snakes can mimic rattlesnakes by puffing up their bodies, wagging their tails, and hissing when they are threatened.

Bullsnakes also look like western diamondback rattlers (Crotalus Atrox), which are found in the same area and have similar colors, dorsal patterns, and semi-keeled scalations. Bullsnakes are often killed by people who don’t know the difference.

Instead of raising their tail for the best rattle sound, bullsnakes frequently let them rest on the ground where they can be vibrated by leaves, unlike the common rattlesnake.

Are Bullsnakes Dangerous?

Bullsnakes have a wide range of personalities, and it usually depends on the personality if this bull snake will bite you. Some are gentle, while others are apprehensive of anyone who tries to touch them. They may hiss or bend their body into an S-shape to scare away prospective attackers. No matter how frightening they appear, they are not dangerous and will strike only if provoked badly.

Bullsnakes cannot move quickly and frequently resort to alternative protective measures. To get away, they usually start lunging and withdrawing simultaneously.

Can You Keep A Bullsnake As A Pet?


Bullsnakes make great pets once they’re used to being handled.


Bullsnakes that have been grown and raised in captivity can be easy to care for. Once they’re used to being handled, they make great pets. But beware; they are capable of biting, so only knowledgeable snake owners should oversee bullsnakes. They’re not the best pick for newbies because of their temperamental demeanor.

Another thing to bear in mind is how long these snakes can live if they’re housed in captivity. In the right environment, bullsnakes can live 25 years or longer. In the wild, they are more likely to be prey for huge birds and other predatory animals because of their sluggish nature and lack of venom.

If they’re with their owner, they are likely to be trusting. To have a strong relationship with your snake, it’s important to oversee them correctly, associate them with positive things, and be aware of any indicators that something is off.

Bullsnakes And The Ecosystem


Bullsnakes are beneficial to the ecosystem by helping to get rid of rodents and small mammals.

©Christopher Joe Brown/

Animals like bullsnakes are beneficial because they devour large numbers of rodents and other small mammals. They are normally active throughout the day, but during the hot summer months, they become more active at night.

Why Is It Called a Bullsnake?

The name bullsnake comes from the loud, raspy hissing sound that this snake makes when it is startled: it is like the snorting of a bull.

The bullsnake is a member of the Pituophis genus, and these snakes have a thin and flexible epiglottis that, when air from the trachea is forced through it, produces a hiss that sounds like the grunt of a bull.

It’s scientific name is Pituophis catenifer sayi for the Pituophis genus, catenifer species, and sayi subspecies. Pituophis comes from the Greek word pitys, meaning “pine,” and ophis, meaning “serpent.” The genus name catenifer is derived from Latin, with catena meaning “chain” and ifera meaning “bearing.” The subspecies name, sayi, is a patronym in honor of Thomas Say, a well-known American naturalist and zoologist of the eighteenth/nineteenth century responsible for describing seven snakes and thousands of beetles and other insects. So the bullsnake’s scientific name means chain-bearing pine serpent, described by Say. That’s quite a moniker!

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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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