Bullsnake vs Rattlesnake: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Croft
Updated: March 31, 2022
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There is often debate regarding the similarities between bullsnakes and rattlesnakes. Both of these snakes belong to the Serpentes family, of course, but their species are different. When it comes down to comparing the bull snake vs rattlesnake, what are their key differences?

Rattlesnakes belong to the Crotalinae family, also known as the pit viper family. Bullsnakes belong to the Pituophis catenifer family, which is a subsection of gopher snakes. But this isn’t where their differences end. Let’s talk more about the ways in which these two snakes differ from each other now.

Comparing Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes

Bullsnake vs Rattlesnake
While bullsnakes use constriction to hunt, rattlesnakes are venomous.


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LocationNorth AmericaNorth America, Mexico, Argentina
ColorYellow, brown, orange, splotches                  Shades of brown, diamond/striped pattern
Lifespan10-25 years10-20 years
Size4-8 feet long3-5 feet long
Special FeaturesAn excellent mimic               Has a rattle and pits for sensing
Method of KillingConstrictionVenom

The 4 Key Differences Between Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes

There are key differences that separate bull snakes vs rattlesnakes. Bullsnakes are non-venomous, and tend to kill using constriction. Rattlesnakes utilize venom and warn potential predators away using a rattle, something that the bullsnake does not possess. The markings on bullsnakes are also different from the markings on rattlesnakes, though it can be difficult to tell them apart at first.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what makes the bullsnake and the rattlesnake so different. 

Bull snake vs rattlesnake
The markings on bullsnakes are different from the markings on rattlesnakes.

©Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock.com

Bull Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: How They Kill

Bullsnakes and rattlesnakes both eat similar things, given that they are both carnivorous snakes. However, the way that they kill their prey is very different. Bullsnakes constrict their meals before swallowing them whole, while rattlesnakes choose to use their powerful venom to achieve this same result.

Rattlesnakes also have an advantage over bullsnakes in the way that they hunt. Rattlesnakes have a facial pit that allows them to sense prey in the night, a pit viper feature that bullsnakes do not share.

Bull snake vs rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes have a facial pit that allows them to sense prey in the night.

©iStock.com/Paulo Almeida

Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes: Venomous or Not?

Another key difference between bullsnakes and rattlesnakes is their venom. Bullsnakes are non venomous, meaning they can bite you but will not inject venom. Rattlesnakes are another story altogether: they have a fairly potent venom that can even kill grown adults if left untreated.

However, this isn’t to say that rattlesnakes are inherently more aggressive than bullsnakes– far from it. Bullsnakes are regarded as a much more aggressive species than rattlesnakes are, capable of pursuing predators or humans far more than rattlesnakes do. While rattlesnakes are more dangerous overall, they tend to be a much shyer snake than bullsnakes are.

Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes: Head Shape and Body Markings

Bullsnake vs rattlesnake markings is another big difference between the two species. While it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two upon first glance, there are ways you can tell the snakes apart based on their markings alone.

Rattlesnakes have a much more unique and distinct pattern along their back when compared to bullsnakes. They can have a striped or diamond pattern, earning some species of rattlesnakes the name “diamondback”. They are also found in more colors than bullsnakes are, ranging from dark brown all the way to pink!

Bullsnakes can be patterned as well, but it is often more muddled or splotchy when compared to a rattlesnake. Most bullsnakes are a light yellow or brown color, with orange or red markings, all faded. 

Bull snakes vs rattlesnake
Compared to bullsnakes, rattlesnakes have a much more unique and distinct pattern along their back.

©Nathan A Shepard/Shutterstock.com

Bullsnakes vs Rattlesnakes: Presence of a Rattle

Another telltale difference between bullsnakes vs rattlesnakes is the presence of a rattle. Rattlesnakes are well known for their unique rattling tails, and they use these tails as a warning for predators that try to get too close. Bullsnakes possess no rattle at the end of their tails, but they do something that may confuse you at first.

Bullsnakes are excellent mimics, capable of emitting a low growling or rattling sound from within. They coil up similarly to rattlesnakes as well, and this mimicry may be something that confuses people when trying to tell the difference between bullsnakes vs rattlesnakes.

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A coiled light brown with darker markings bullsnake in a natural setting of long golden grass.
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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do bullsnakes keep rattlesnakes away?

Bullsnakes have been known to keep rattlesnakes away. Most rattlesnakes are non confrontational, so they tend to avoid an area with a bullsnake in it. They don’t want to encroach on a bullsnake’s territory, so, in a way, bullsnakes do help keep rattlesnakes away.

Are bullsnakes dangerous?

Bullsnakes can be dangerous. While their bite contains no venom and is relatively safe compared to the bite of a rattlesnake, bullsnakes are a highly aggressive species of snake. They have been known to pursue humans and animals if surprised, so it is always best to avoid a bullsnake should you see one.

Can bullsnakes rattle like rattlesnakes?

Bullsnakes can produce a type of rattle that sounds similar to rattlesnakes. However, they do not possess a rattle at the end of their tail like rattlesnakes do. They use their chests to produce this sound rather than an external rattle.

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