Bullsnakes in Montana

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: June 25, 2022
Image Credit Markparker1983/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

If you live in Montana, you probably already know that the region is home to many species of snakes. The most curious fact about snakes in Montana is that the species that settled in the area are very different from each other and have managed to adapt to various habitats. Some snakes that you may stumble upon in Montana include:

  • Bullsnake;
  • Prairie Rattlesnake;
  • Terrestrial Garter Snake;
  • Plains Garter Snake;
  • Red-sided Garter Snake;
  • Valley Garter Snake;
  • Smooth Greensnake;
  • Western Milksnake;
  • Plains Hog-nosed Snake.

Today we’ll tell you everything about bullsnakes – how they look, how to identify them, where they live, and whether they are dangerous to humans

What is a bullsnake?

Closeup of a bullsnake in the wild. The bullsnake has a shield on its nose to help it dig.
The bullsnake is a subspecies of gopher snake and gets its name from the sound it makes – like a bull snorting.

Greg Birkett/Shutterstock.com

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The bullsnake is one of the largest snakes in North America. It is a subspecies of gopher snake and gets its name from the sound it makes – like a bull snorting. This species is found all over North America in gopher burrows and habitats. Bullsnakes are often called the “farmer’s friend” as they eat mice. So it’s evident that bullsnakes often inhabit areas where rodents live.

A bullsnake’s lifespan is around 12 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 30 years.

Bullsnakes are of 9 types depending on their colors:

  • Ghost;
  • White-sided;
  • Leucistic;
  • Axanthic;
  • Red;
  • Hypo;
  • Patternless;
  • Albino;
  • Snow.

What does a Montana bullsnake look like?

bullsnake
Bullsnakes can grow as long as 8 feet.

Christopher Joe Brown/Shutterstock.com

A bullsnake can grow as long as 8 feet and usually weighs around 2.2-3.3 pounds. However, some bullsnakes reportedly weigh as much as 10 pounds. Unlike other snake species, male bullsnakes are larger than female bullsnakes. 

Baby bullsnakes are gray, while adults develop an interesting pattern that makes them similar to rattlesnakes. They have brown, black, reddish, or white dorsal blotches on beige, yellow, or cream-colored ground.

How do you tell if a snake is a bullsnake?

The Bullsnake is similar to the Western Rattlesnake. It has black, brown, reddish or white dorsal blotches on a yellow, cream-colored or beige ground.
Bullsnakes are incredibly clever and very good at mimicking rattlesnakes.

steve estvanik/Shutterstock.com

Bullsnakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. However, the most noticeable and significant difference between them is that the bullsnake does not have a rattle at the end of its tail. That might still be confusing because bullsnakes are incredibly clever and very good at mimicking rattlesnakes. That said, they can simulate how rattlesnakes react to danger. 

Another way to check if the snake you’ve stumbled upon in your yard or on your farm is a bullsnake is to observe its markings. Rattlesnakes have color patterns that are much more diverse, ranging from dark brown to pink. On the other hand, bullsnakes have more pale colors (yellow or brown with faded orange or red markings) and simpler patterns.

Are bullsnakes good to have around?

Yes, bullsnakes are good to have around, as they are considered the most efficient rodent-repellent ever! A study shows that bullsnakes can kill up to three half-grown mice simultaneously through constriction.

Also, bullsnakes are known to keep rattlesnakes away. This happens because rattlesnakes aren’t as bold as bullsnakes and just avoid crossing paths with them. Some bullsnakes may even eat newborn or small rattlesnakes.

However, since bullsnakes can become pretty aggressive, having them around the household can be dangerous, especially if you have kids or pets.

Can a bullsnake hurt you?

When threatened, the Bullsnake rears up in an S-shape, hisses and vibrates its tail to mimic the venomous rattlesnake.
Bullsnakes usually get into defensive mode if the “prey” they find is bigger than they expected.

Markparker1983/Shutterstock.com

Although bullsnakes aren’t considered dangerous, they can still bite you if they feel threatened. However, they are not venomous, so their bite is not harmful. Bullsnakes usually get into defensive mode if the “prey” they find is bigger than they expected. They start thinking it’s, in fact, a predator instead of prey. 

If a bullsnake feels threatened, it will rear up in an S-shape, hiss, and vibrate its tail – that’s how the bullsnake mimics the rattlesnake. Even though it might sound strange – because rattlesnakes are venomous while bullsnakes are not – a bullsnake is more aggressive than a rattlesnake.

Bullsnakes are almost “invisible” outside of the mating season – between September and March. During this period, they spend most of the time in old gopher burrows. They come out to hunt but rapidly return to their solitary life. So you’re highly unlikely to see one in the area. However, once the breeding season begins, snakes start coming out more often, and the female bullsnakes lay their eggs in sheltered areas. You might want to take greater care during spring and summer.

What should you do if a bullsnake bites you?

First, if it’s possible, you have to make sure it’s a bullsnake; this will help you understand if it’s venomous or not. Clean the bite site by washing it with warm water and soap, flushing it with alcohol, and applying a clean bandage. If the wound bleeds heavily, apply direct pressure.

Even though bullsnakes are non-venomous, they carry lots of bacteria that can infect the injury. If you get bit by a bullsnake, it is highly recommended that you seek medical attention to avoid blood poisoning that could eventually spread throughout the body. Severe infections are rare, but getting the needed treatment or care is essential.

One tip doctors recommend when a snake bites you is to keep the wound above the level of your heart because this slows down the bacteria and stops it from reaching essential organs. 

Can you keep a bullsnake as a pet?

Yes, bullsnakes can be kept as pets. If they grow up in captivity, they get used to it and are not difficult to take care of. Still, we don’t recommend getting a bullsnake as a pet if you don’t have any experience raising and handling snakes because bullsnakes have an aggressive nature and may end up biting you. A bullsnake can live up to 30 years in captivity, so this might be another crucial factor to consider.

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