With the advent of spring and warmer weather on the horizon, we can expect to see more of our friendly local gopher snakes slithering around Santa Margarita Ranch during their mating season.
Gopher snakes are common on the ranch, and they play an important role in controlling the rodent population. They also eat lizards, birds and even bird eggs. They are carnivores, but they are not venomous or aggressive toward people.
Indeed, when you visit Margarita Adventures, you can even get up close and personal with our pet gopher snake who stars in our outdoor educational programs. Her name is Armpit, and she has been helping us educate people for three years.
Armpit resides in a terrarium right here in our office, and she is popular with children. While you wait for your tour to start, we can tell you all about her and let you handle her yourself.
When handling Armpit, you will find that she likes to slither toward the warmest part of the body—the armpit (hence her name!). This is because gopher snakes are ectothermic, meaning that, unlike mammals, they cannot regulate their body temperature.
Gopher snakes can reach up to seven feet in length. They can live for 12 to 15 years in captivity, and for an average of 10 years in the wild. The sexual organs on snakes are internal and it can be difficult to determine the gender of these reptiles. We recently discovered that Armpit is female when she suddenly laid eggs for the first time (see below). Gopher snakes reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 to 4 years old and mating season takes place in spring. Females will lay eggs from March through June. Females lay 12 to 14 elliptical, leathery eggs and incubation lasts 10 weeks. Armpit’s eggs were not fertilized since she had no contact with a male snake. These unfertilized eggs are called slugs. Slugs have a different appearance than fertilized eggs, as they tend to be yellower.
Unfortunately, Gopher snakes are often killed because they are easily mistaken for rattlesnakes. This is no coincidence! They mimic the rattlesnake’s behavior and patterning as a defense mechanism. When threatened, gopher snakes will shake their tail to resemble a rattle and will even flatten their heads and push out their jaws to look more like the triangular shape of a rattlesnake head. This is to trick predators like foxes, coyotes, hawks and other birds of prey into thinking they are more dangerous and should be left alone.
In other words, gopher snakes are pretty smart critters—and Armpit is no exception. We hope that you will come on out for a tour and say hello to her soon!