Gopher Snake vs Rattlesnake: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Croft
Updated: March 15, 2023
© Alexander Wong/
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Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes may appear similar at first glance, but there are many key differences between them. While they are both snakes from the Serpentes family, gopher snakes are from the Colubridae sub-family, while rattlesnakes are members of the Crotalinae family, a sub-family of vipers.

But this is only the beginning of the differences between gopher snakes and rattlesnakes. For example, rattlesnakes prefer to live in desert environments or arid climates, while gopher snakes are more often found in grassy areas or fields. These two snakes may eat the same diet, but they kill their prey in very different ways as well.

If you are hoping to learn more about the differences between gopher snakes and rattlesnakes, you’re in the right place. Let’s learn more about these two snake types now.

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Comparing Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes

Rattlesnake vs Gopher Snake
Gopher SnakeRattlesnake
Location                         North AmericaNorth America, Mexico, Argentina
Color           Yellow, brown, orange, splotches                  Shades of brown, diamond/striped pattern
Lifespan                         10-25 years10-20 years
Size                                4-8 feet long3-5 feet long
Special Features         An excellent mimic               Has a rattle and pits for sensing
Method of Killing                ConstrictionVenom
Venomous?                        NoYes

The 5 Key Differences Between Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes

There are multiple key differences between gopher snakes vs rattlesnakes. Gopher snakes are non-venomous and highly aggressive, while rattlesnakes use venom only when pursuing prey or when they feel threatened. Gopher snakes are physically different as well, with less distinct markings when compared to the majority of rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes are complete with a rattle at the end of their tails, while gopher snakes have no rattle. However, there are even more differences between these two snakes — let’s dive in and learn more about these two now.

Gopher snake vs rattlesnake
Gopher snakes are non-venomous, while rattlesnakes use venom only when pursuing prey or when they feel threatened.

©Cedar Dobson/

Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Venom

One of the main differences between gopher snakes vs rattlesnakes is their venom. Gopher snakes are non venomous, meaning they can bite you but will not inject venom. Rattlesnakes have a fairly potent venom that can even kill grown adults if left untreated- this makes them extremely dangerous.

However, this isn’t to say that rattlesnakes are inherently more aggressive than gopher snakes- it’s actually the opposite. Gopher snakes are regarded as a much more aggressive species than rattlesnakes are, capable of pursuing predators or humans far more than rattlesnakes do. Gopher snakes have been known to chase humans if they feel threatened- talk about scary! While rattlesnakes are more dangerous overall, they tend to avoid conflict.

Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: How They Kill

Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes both eat an almost identical diet, given that they are both carnivorous snakes. However, the way that they kill their prey is very different. Gopher snakes constrict their meals before swallowing them whole, while rattlesnakes choose to use their powerful venom first before consuming their prey.

Gopher snakes likely need to eat more than rattlesnakes as well, especially given that some gopher snakes grow to twice the size as rattlesnakes. They are powerful constrictors, and this method of killing can give their bodies a more distinct shape than rattlesnakes as well. They are often thicker and a more uniform width all the way down, tail tapering to a point rather than a knobby rattle.

Gopher snake vs rattlesnake
Gopher snakes constrict their meals before swallowing them whole, while rattlesnakes choose to use their powerful venom first before consuming their prey.

©Nathan A Shepard/

Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Presence of a Rattle

An easy way that you can tell the difference between gopher snakes vs rattlesnakes is the presence of a rattle. Rattlesnakes are well known for their trademark rattling tails, and they use these tails as a warning for predators that try to get too close. Gopher snakes possess no rattle on the exterior of their bodies. But this doesn’t mean that gopher snakes don’t know how to mimic rattlesnakes.

Gopher snakes are known for pretending to be rattlesnakes. They coil up like rattlesnakes do before they strike, and gopher snakes flick their tails on the ground, often rustling leaves and other plant matter. This can make them sound extremely similar to rattlesnakes, and many people often mistake these snakes for one another.

Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Head Shape and Body Coloring

Gopher snake and rattlesnake markings or coloring can be 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 if you have enough time to observe them.

Rattlesnake skin is often more detailed in its pattern, with clear and stark coloring; gopher snakes are more muddled in both pattern and color overall. Rattlesnakes can be found in a wide variety of colors as well, while gopher snakes tend to remain a creamy brown or yellowish orange color.

Gopher snake vs rattlesnake
The gopher snake is commonly misidentified as a Rattlesnake because of its markings and defensive behavior. It may hiss loudly, flatten its head, vibrate the tail, and strike when annoyed.

©Creeping Things/

Gopher Snakes vs Rattlesnakes: Overall Aggression

While this can be a difficult thing to tell between gopher snakes and rattlesnakes, the overall aggression level between these two snakes can be a key difference. Rattlesnakes try to avoid conflict whenever possible, but gopher snakes are known for their aggression.

However, even wild gopher snakes bite as a last resort. They are just less likely to slither away, adopting a more venomous snake stance of standing their ground. Just like any snake, venomous or otherwise, it is best to leave one alone should you see them in the wild!

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baby rattlesnake portrait
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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.

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