6308 Monona Dr., Monona WI 53516
SONORAN GOPHER SNAKE CaresheetCommon Name: Sonoran gopher snake
Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer
Origin: Southwestern US from Texas to California
Size: 4-6 feet
Lifespan: 15+ years
You will find many ways on the internet on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of breeding and caring for this species.
Sonoran gopher snake babies can start out in enclosures as small as 10 gallons. At around a year old, you can increase the size of the enclosure. There are several kinds that work, e.g., glass aquariums, snake racks and any of the commercially available, plastic-type reptile cages. For a yearling, you can step up to an enclosure that is at least 30" x 12" inches (like Zilla critter cage 20 Long) or go to the adult enclosure size. An adult does well in a tank at least 36" x 18" (Exo Terra Large, or Zilla 40 gal). You can go bigger if you have room. They will appreciate it. If you use a glass tank, you'll want to provide a humid hide--that is a hide that has some damp moss in it for extra humidity. A snake will feel more secure if there is a hide for it on both the cool and warm sides of the enclosure (more about that in the heating section).
Sonoran gophers are good climbers, so it's a nice idea to place a branch or driftwood piece inside your tank for them use. They're also skilled escape artists. It's extremely important that your top is clipped or locked to prevent them from getting out.
You can use many types of bedding for your snake. The ones that look the best and help hold some humidity are Zoo Med repti bark, Zilla jungle mix, Zoo Med eco earth, Zoo Med aspen, and Zoo Med forest floor. Spot clean the bedding whenever they defecate. You should only need to clean the whole thing out about once a month. Disinfect the enclosure and change out the bedding at that time. Zoo Meds wipe out or vinegar and water both work good for cage cleaning.
LIGHTING AND HEAT
Sonoran gophers originate from the southwestern US and they like it pretty warm, though they need to be able to cool off if they want. Like all reptiles, they are dependent on external thermoregulation to control their body temperature. This essentially means you need to provide a hot side and a cool side to your enclosure. All the lighting and heat elements should be on one side and the other will then be the cool side. This way your snake can move back and forth between the different temperatures depending on its needs.
The hot side basking spot should be at 85-88 degrees. Put one hide there and another hide on the cool side. The cooler side can be between 75-80 degrees. At night, it can drop down to 72 ambient temperature. It's a good idea to use a basking light and an under tank heat pad also. The heat pads are usually placed on the hot side with a hide over it. We recommend a Zoo Med heat mat or Exo Terra heat pad that stays on 24/7 to give them a little bit of supplemental heat during the night. Both of these are placed on the outside, underneath the enclosure. You want a heat pad that only covers half the tank (or less). The basking light should be housed in a good quality light dome like Exo Terra and Flukers that has a ceramic housing to tolerate high heat and an on/off switch.
Use a good quality temperature gauge, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer to figure out the temperatures in your enclosure. Don't guess at it. You can also use a rheostat and/or timers to control your heat source. We do not recommend the use of hot rocks. They have a tendency to heat unevenly over too small an area and can cause serious burns.
Keep a non-porous water bowl in with your Sonoran gopher and make sure they always have clean water. Exo Terras water bowls or Flukers water bowls are good decorative choices or a good ceramic crock dish. Scrub the bowl at least once a week to keep bacteria slime from building up. If you maintain a humidity level of 50-60%, your snake will be able to shed properly. Hand misters are usually sufficient, but if you don't care to remember to mist the cage, an automatic mister like the Exo Terra monsoon or the Reptile fogger are nice options.
Do not handle your snake for several hours before it's fed. We do recommend feeding in its own enclosure. Feeding in its home will not make your Sonoran gopher more aggressive or associate you with food. If you are worried about your pet associating food with you, get yourself a good snake hook when you take the snake out. Gently hook your snake out of its enclosure when you want to hold it. Check out these hooks: Exo Terra collapsible hook for babies and larger hooks for adults. Using a snake hook when you take your pet out will greatly reduce the chances of you being bit from a feeding response. If you don't have a hook and are still worried about picking up your Sonoran, reach around and pick the snake up from behind, rather than from the front. This way your hand is not coming at his face.
Hatchlings to 2 years
1 rodent of appropriate size once a week. This means the girth of the rodent should not exceed the girth of the snake (at it's biggest point, not his neck size) Some people say you can give them rodents 1 1/2 times as big as the girth of the snake. However, we have found that snakes eat better and tend not to skip meals if you don't exceed their girth. Do not handle your snake for at least 24 hours after it has eaten.
You can cut back to 1 rodent every 2 weeks if you want. If you do this, make sure it is a decent size meal, don't skimp.
Continue on the once a week regime with a slightly smaller meal than if you are feeding every two weeks.
Snakes in general tend not to eat when they are in shed. Just wait to feed until your ball sheds.
Sonoran gophers are not as well known as others, yet they make for great pets. They are bluffers which means babies may hiss, rattle tails, and put on a big show, but if gently handled, they quickly get over this and become friendly and easy to care for.
When holding your pet, always remember to support your snake's body. Once a Sonoran realizes that you will not hurt it, it often seem to enjoy being handled. Relax and give your snake time to get used to you. Avoid touching the top of your snake's head. Unless it knows and trusts you, touching the top of the head will cause it to jerk away from the touch. The fast movement of the snake tends to scare a lot of new snake owners. This is called being "head shy." Most Sonorans will get over it with gentle handling.
Give your pet at least a day to settle in to its new home before handling. Start slow and gradually increase the amount of time you have your snake out. Remember your new pet's life is in your hands. So please take care of it properly.