Matthew Gibb encountered this 'big fella' gopher snake on the popular walking and cycling path along the Penticton channel on April 26, 2021.

VIDEO: Penticton man has close encounters with massive snakes twice in one week

South Okanagan residents share space with scorpions, rattlesnakes, black widows and more

Matthew Gibb stumbled across ‘this big fella’ on his walk along the Penticton channel April 26.

Gibb filmed the five foot gopher-bull snake on camera hissing at him before it slithered into the grass and disappeared near the shoreline.

Then again on the morning of April 29 he ran into a fatter bull snake that appeared frozen in fear on the popular path along the channel. Dozens walk or bike the channel pathways each day, some never encountering the large snakes.

The Great Basin gopher snake, aka the bull snake, is a common sight in the South Okanagan and looks much like the endangered western rattlesnake. They even rattle their tails to mimic a rattlesnake when they feel like they are in danger.

The bull snake is just one of the many slithering, creepy crawling critters people encounter living in the South Okanagan.

Great Basin gopher snakes don’t have venom and pose no danger to humans. They can grow up to nine-feet-long but are five to six feet on average.

Their most common food source is small mammals like moles, rabbits, mice and birds. Gopher snakes have a specially-developed epiglottis which increases the sound of their hiss. When scared they can freeze in place or try to get away.

We live among some of the rarest and venomous creatures in the country.

The South Okanagan is home to scorpions, black widows, rattlesnakes, gophers bull snakes, wolf spiders, bats and more.

Recently, while out fighting a human-caused wildfire in the mountains of Oliver, Oliver Fire Rescue firefighters noticed a few albino-like scorpions by their feet. A rare sight, one of the firefighters managed to capture a picture of a larger-sized scorpion and posted to their Facebook group.

Oliver Fire Rescue encountered several scorpions while fighting a wildfire in a mountain in Oliver this month. (Oliver Fire photo)

The Okanagan Valley, especially Osoyoos and Oliver are the home of endangered western rattlesnakes.

While there is an estimated 2,500 of them living in the area, they are endangered and many fear they won’t exist at some point. Their main predator is actually vehicles that run them over and loss of habitat.

They are very shy and use their rattle only to warn that they are scared and don’t want to attack. But they do have venom and our hospitals are equipped with anti-venom if necessary.

READ MORE: The western rattlesnake could become hissssss-tory

Recently, people have been posting pictures of their encounters with large gopher snakes, which look similar to a rattlesnake but they don’t have the venom or the rattle.

One Summerland resident had the most unusual encounter last Christmas when fishing for ornaments in his basement.

A gopher snake made an unexpected appearance in the crawlspace of his home.

Rick Lambert found the snake, around 50 centimetres long, in the crawlspace, figuring it must have come in from the cold.

One person offered to keep the snake as a pet but keeping any snake from the wild is illegal. There are seven different snakes in the Okanagan, including the rubber snake.

READ MORE: Wild snake make surprise Christmas visit

Black widows also live among us, able to produce a venom strong enough to kill a bird. The shiny black spiders with the notable red dot on their backs are a household spider found pretty much all over the Southern Interior.

If a healthy adult is bitten they can expect soreness and swelling around the bite area and possibly a fever but it won’t kill them. Children, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of suffering more serious complications from a black widow bite which may require a hospital visit. Pets are also at risk.

Former Black Press journalist Phil McLachlan took this picture of a black widow living at his Penticton home. (Phil McLachlan)

READ MORE: COVID provides perfect conditions for black widows



monique.Tamminga@pentictonwesternnews.com

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