Bull Snake

By Snaketracks / September 3, 2019
Bull Snake

Bull Snake Care Sheet

Closely related to the pine and gopher snake, the bull snake is an impressive species. They are beautifully patterned and quite docile. Additionally, bull snake care is easy.

While this is usually a docile species, the bull snake has a reputation among some keepers of being aggressive and are seen as ferocious eaters. This is however not the case.

When handled regularly, it is docile and gentle. However, if the snake is mostly interacted with only when it is feeding time, it will be quite aggressive.

This is because the snake would associate the opening of the enclosure with feeding. This automatically triggers an aggressive feeding response. With regular handling, this snake is easily tamed.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Moderate
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer sayi
  • Risk Factor: Nonvenomous, constrictor
  • Average Adult Size: 40 to 72 in (1.22 to 1.83 m)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 25 years
  • Litter Size: 2 to 24 younglings
  • Gestation Period: 65 to 75 days
  • Food: Frozen rats/mice
  • Average Temperature: 78°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 40 – 60 %
  • UVB Lighting: Optional
  • Average Price Range: $50 – $175
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Red List

Facts and Information

Bull Snake crossing the street

As with gopher snakes, bull snakes have a wide range which starts in southern Canada and ends at central Mexico. The geographical range includes areas such as southern Canada, the Great Plains, Southwest, and central United States, and northern and central Mexico.

Although the bullsnake is unique and is distinct to gopher snake, the bullsnake is still considered to be a subspecies of the gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer). Regardless, as already mentioned this snake is closely related to the gopher snake. It comes as no surprise that the geographical range of the Pituophis catenifer sayi overlaps with that of the gopher snake.

The bullsnake is one of the largest snake species endemic to North America. On average, adult bullsnakes are 4 to 6 feet although specimens with lengths of over 8 feet have been recorded. Adults also weigh between 2 to 3 pounds on average although they can reach weights of 8 to 10 pounds.

Although many color variations exist, they are generally yellow with reddish, brown, white or black blotches. Because they have similar patterns and colorations to rattlesnakes, specimens are usually mistaken to be rattlesnakes.

Bull Snake Habitat

In the wild, these snakes inhabit sandy open country and pine barrens. As you can see, they live in dry habitats, this should be considered when building the most favorable enclosure.

Enclosure

Bullsnakes like another snake thrive best when housed in a terrarium/vivarium designed for snakes/reptiles. this enclosure must be well-ventilated and large, as bullsnakes are large reptiles. good ventilation will ensure the snake gets all the air it needs, and the enclosure remains dry at all times.

As snakes, hatchlings and juveniles need to be housed in a small enclosure which then needs to be upgraded when they get too big. Since it can be expensive to acquire/build separate glass vivariums for each stage of the snake’s life (hatchling, juvenile, and adult), you can use rubber tubs to house them until they reach adulthood at age one and a half.

As adults, you can then move them to a large terrarium with a floor size of about 40 x 18 inches such as the Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium. A hatchling can be housed in a five-gallon plastic shoe box such as the Sterilite Large Flip Top. Juveniles can be housed in containers/terrariums with a floor size of 24 x 18 inches such as the Exo Terra Glass Terrarium.

The bullsnake also needs hide boxes such as the Exo Terra Reptile Cave to feel safe. Place one hide box at the warm end and another at the cool bend. Hide boxes provide snakes with a dark place to hide when they are stressed or uncomfortable. In addition to hiding boxes, you can also decorate the enclosure with driftwood.

Substrate

Since the bullsnake is found in dry habitats, you need not worry about keeping humidity high. As such, a substrate that retains moisture is not necessary.

For babies and juveniles, old newspaper or paper towels make excellent substrates. They are cheap, accessible, and easy to clean/change. Adults do well on paper as well. The main downside to paper is that it isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

Other excellent choices include calcium sand such as the Zoo Med Vita-Sand. Unlike real sand, it doesn’t pose the risk of compaction when ingested. It also looks like desert sand and adds to the aesthetics of the enclosure.

You can also use aspen bedding, corn cob granules, beech chipping or cypress mulch. In fact, you can use any substrate apart from cedar or pine since these are toxic to snakes. If the substrate is a few inches deep, the snake may burrow into it.

Temperature

As a North American snake, the bullsnake doesn’t need high temperatures to thrive. They will thrive in temperatures of about 79 F. A basking spot is necessary when it comes to bullsnakes. The temperature of the basking spot can be as high as 85F. this warm spot should be at one end of the enclosure.

This creates a temperature gradient where the temperature gradually falls as the snake moves away from the basking spot. The warm part of the enclosure will be around 85 F while the cool end is around 72 F. you can maintain the warm spot using heating mats or ceramic bulbs.

The heating mat such as Fluker’s Heat Mat is advisable since this species spends all its time its belly and doesn’t climb. This allows for quicker and more effective warmth transfer. With the help of a thermostat such as the Hydrofarm Thermostat and a thermometer, you can efficiently control the temperature within the enclosure.

For more check out our review of the best reptile thermostats.

Humidity

There is no need to mist the enclosure or provide a humidifier since the bull snake thrives in normal room humidity between 40% to 60%. The only time when they will require a lot of moisture is when they shed. Providing a humid box (a hide box with a moist substrate such as damp paper towels) can help the snake to shed.

It is important to provide clean water at all times to the snake. Preferably, this water needs to be free of chlorine. The water bowl needs to be heavy and sturdy so the snake doesn’t tip it over and spill the water. Change the water regularly so it is always clean and free of excrement and other foreign matter.

Lighting

Since the bullsnake eats whole prey (rodents), they do not need vitamin D3 supplements or UVB lights. They acquire all the needed nutrition from the rodents it eats. Regardless, you need to maintain a day-night cycle. If the enclosure is placed in a room that is lit by natural light, then there is absolutely no need for lighting.

However, if the enclosure doesn’t get any natural light, you can light the enclosure with fluorescent light. The light needs to be on for 12 hours and off for 2 hours.

Feeding the Bull Snake

Bull Snake preparing to strike

As constrictors, bull snakes eat small mammals such as mice, rats, moles, rabbits. Ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and lizards. They can climb and as such feed on birds, nestlings and bird’s eggs found in bird nests.

As with any snake, the rule of thumb is to feed the snake a meal that makes only the slightest lump at the snake’s widest girth. Feed the snake with frozen rodents. Adults eat fully grown rats, while hatchlings eat pinkie mice.

These are easy to store than live prey and are also cheap. Thaw the rodent to room temperature. After thawing the meal, warm it ever so slightly by placing the rodent in a plastic bag and suspending it in warm water. Feed hatchlings every 5 to 7 days. Feed adults every 7 to 10 days.

Bull Snake’s Temperament

While bullsnakes can be docile with frequent handling, most can be quite aggressive or defensive depending on how you look at it. They can be quite aggressive when handled. This has garnered them a reputation of having ‘bad attitude’ among snake keepers.

For this reason, a novice may have some trouble handling them. If you are to interact with them when its feeding time, they can be quite aggressive. They can only be tamed with regular handling. Even with that, most may never be as easy going as corn snakes or Columbian boas.

Bull Snake’s Lifespan

As pets, these snakes can easily live up to 25 years although they may live to be just 15 regardless of care. In all, they have a lifespan of 20 to 25 years on average in captivity. In the wild, they hardly make it past 15 years and have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. with snakes, you need to be sure and committed before acquiring one as they live long.

Breeding Bull Snakes

The bullsnake is quite easy to breed and doesn’t require much. The male and female can be introduced at any time as far as both are matured (they mature at age 2, but its best to wait until they reach age 3).

Also, many breeders decide to give females a year off after a breeding cycle. This ensures the female isn’t overly stressed. The breeding cycle can start at any time of the year although most breeders begin in October.

First, you need to stop feeding the snake, this can occur during the first week of November. This is to ensure there is no food in their digestive system before brumation.

During this period also reduce the temperature to 60 F. At the start of December, reduce the temperature to 55 to 50 F. and turn off all lights. Ensure the enclosure has no access to light both natural and artificial. This will ensure that they brumate. This lasts for 12 weeks.

Breeding happens after brumation and can take just a few hours or a couple of days. Provide females with a nesting area (an egg box with a damp substrate such as moist moss).

Also, you can feed females twice what you normally feed them to boost egg production. Females lay about 8 to 20 eggs. Incubation lasts about 50 to 60 days and incubation temperature shout be about 83 F.

Health Issues

Bullsnakes are known to be messy and smelly. However, this can be easily managed. It is important to spot clean the enclosure every day. This involves removing any excrement and messes every day.

Additionally, deep clean every two weeks. This involves changing the substrate, and before that wiping down the enclosure.

Common health issues include refusal to eat, blister disease, parasites such as mites, ticks, roundworms, flukes and tapeworms, mouth rot, scale rot, pneumonia, and respiratory issues, regurgitation, improper shedding, and parasites.

The snake should have smooth and shiny scales free of lesions, sores, and redness, especially on the belly. Also, look out for mites which are tiny red or black dots.

The mouth should be free of pus, swelling, drool and other liquids. The mouth should be pink and clean. The snake must breathe quietly and through the nose.

Pricing and Availability

As common American snakes, they are readily available in North America and isn’t costly to acquire. They sell for as low as $35 and as high as $200 depending on the morph.

The rarer the morph, the costlier the snake is. They can be found in many pet shops that sell reptiles. you can also by them online. When purchasing aa bullsnake, ensure that it is healthy.

Some online places you can acquire bullsnakes include Underground Reptiles, Backwater Reptiles (Albino), Morph Market (morphs available include Albino, Kankakee, Trumbower, Hypo, Ivory, River Road, Regular), and Snakes at Sunset (morphs include Albino).

Conservation/Threats

As with gopher snakes, bullsnakes are doing well in the wild. Their populations are stable across North America and are listed as of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Conclusion

As far as you acquire a captive bred specimen, bullsnakes are easy to care for. Just remember that they grow to be very large. While they are popular snakes, they are also known to be defensive/aggressive, messy and quite stinky.

With proper husbandry and handling, you won’t have to face these problems. It is important to spot clean and handle them regularly. They also come in many morphs including albino, patternless, axanthic, red, ghost, whiteside, hypomelanistic, lavender and fire bull.

A combination of these primary morphs has led to the discovery of about 40 distinct morphs.  If you have any comments on these gorgeous snakes, kindly let us know.

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