Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)

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Pituophis catenifer sayi
Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
Name Bullsnake
Name Lat. Pituophis catenifer sayi
Family Colubrids
Family lat. Colubridae
Order Scaled Reptiles
Order lat. Squamata
Origin North America
Habitat Steppes
Diet Small mammals
Humidity 50-70 %
Behavior Semi-aggressive
Keeping Individual, pair, group
Care Level Moderate
Reproduction Oviparous
Housing Semi-humid terrarium
Life Span 15-20 years
Protection No
Metric Units
Size 150-180 cm
Temperature 24-28 °C
Temperature Local 30-33 °C
Housing Size 180 x 90 x 140 cm
US Units
Size 59"-71"
Temperature 75-82 °F
Temperature Local 86-91 °F
Housing Size 70" x 35" x 55"

Distribution and habitat

The range of the ground-dwelling, diurnal North American bull snakes extends from southern Canada to northern Mexico and from Montana to Illinois. They live in scrubland, dry steppes as well as farmland, up to 2,700 m altitude, in self-dug burrows or burrows of rodents.


Minimum dimensions for the terrarium, according to the size and number of animals:

1-2 animals 1KL x 0,5KL x 0,75KL (L x W x H)

Body length (KL) is measured on the largest animal. For each additional animal the floor space should be increased by 20%. A terrarium of e.g. L 180 x W 90 x H 140 cm is recommended, which should be placed in a quiet and vibration-free place.

They need a terrarium structured with roots, climbing branches, cork tubes and bamboo sticks (hiding places and privacy screen) with a loose graveable substrate, e.g. of sand-humus mixture or desert sand with large stones, as well as an easy to clean water basin as drinking vessel and a stone heated by spotlights as sunning place. Part of the substrate should always be kept slightly moist (no waterlogging). Once a day, preferably in the evening, the inside of the terrarium should be finely sprayed with water (humidity).

Temp. day: 24-28 °C Temp. night: 18-24 °C Temp. local: up to 33 °C Humidity: 50-70

Thermostatically controlled floor heating is recommended. Lighting duration must be 12-14 hrs depending on the season. Daylight fluorescent tubes supplemented with spotlights are ideal.


The food supply consists of live rodents (mice, rats, etc.) as well as eggs and nestlings, depending on their size. After successful acclimatization often succeeds the switch to dead food animals (commercial frozen food). Juveniles should be offered food every 3-5 days, adults every 7-14 days, with occasional periods of fasting (e.g., skipping a feeding). If the snake is disturbed after feeding, this may result in vomiting of the prey. It is better to offer several small feeders, rather than one large one. If it does not eat for a long period of time, both the timing and the food should be varied. It is important to fortify the food animals with vitamins and minerals. Since the snake could be injured by live rodents, it should not be left unattended with them.

Reproduction and breeding

Probing by the veterinarian is the only reliable method of sex determination.

The female lays her eggs (6-15 pieces) in the moist, about 5 cm deep substrate and does not engage in brood care. The incubation period is 60-75 days at a temperature of 27-28 °C. The young are 35-48 cm in size and can be fed with nest young mice.

Life expectancy can be 15-20 years.


They are bred in many color varieties and are well compatible with each other.

The good climbers have an enlarged and truncated snout shield suitable for digging. When threatened, they make hissing sounds similar to a rattlesnake and rattle the tip of their tail

For the resting phase (hibernation), the lighting duration is reduced by 4-6 hours for 2-3 months and the temperature is lowered to 5-10 °C, depending on the origin.

Always have snake hooks and protective gloves ready when handling.

The terrarium must have good ventilation without drafts and meet the species specific needs. Measuring devices such as thermometers, hygrometers, etc. are necessary. The lighting has to correspond to the species-specific day-night rhythm and has to be placed in such a way that the animals cannot injure themselves. The terrarium should be locked in such a way that neither unauthorized persons can open it nor the animals can escape. Contamination must be removed regularly

Further literature can be found in your pet store.


Text: Christian Sänger; Image: Franz Lowak

Source: BMELV (1997): Tierschutzgutachten -  Mindestanforderungen an die Haltung von Reptilien; ENGELMANN (2006): Zootierhaltung - Tiere in menschlicher Obhut: Reptilien und Amphibien, Harri Deutsch Verlag

  • Gemäß § 21 Abs. 5 Tierschutzgesetz idgF