Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis Punctatus)

Ring-Necked Snake (Diadophis Punctatus) Information


Introduction To The Ring-Necked Snake

Ring-neck snakes belong to the genus Diadophis, which is a name derived from the Greek word diadem, meaning “headband,” and ophis, meaning “snake”, Combined, the two words refer to the light collar or neck ring present in most ringneck snakes. The word punctatus comes from the Latin punctum, meaning “spot,” and refers to the spots found on the ventral surface of the snakes.

The Ring-Necked Snake Species

There are 12 subspecies of ringneck snakes found over much of the eastern and southern parts of the United States as well as parts of the Pacific Coast states.

The Ring-Necked Snake Colour

Ringnecks are a flat-headed gray, blue-black or black colored snake often having a yellow or cream-colored collar around the neck. The collar in some subspecies is either incomplete or missing altogether. The belly varies from yellow to orange or red-orange in color often accompanied by dark spots.

The Ring-Necked Snake Length

Adult snakes range from 10-27 inches in length. Females lay 2-10 eggs in late spring or early summer, which hatch 45-60 days later. Hatchlings average 3-6 inches in length. Ringneck snakes may live upwards of 10 years.

The Ring-Necked Snake Habitat

Ringneck snakes are typically common to find in the wild even in some urban areas, however they are not well suited to the amateur snake keeper. They are edgy and nervous creatures which should not be handled unless necessary. When handled, these snakes often excrete a foul smelling musk. Ringneck snakes are difficult to adapt to captive settings and may be quite fussy about accepting food. However, once an individual does start eating their appetite is usually hearty.

In the wild, ringneck snakes are secretive and fossorial preferring habitats that have plenty of moist leaf litter, loose soils, or other objects they can burrow under to hide from view. These primarily nocturnal snakes require a 10 to 20-gallon sized terrarium enclosure with a peat/soil/cypress mulch substrate of 3-inch depth. They also require bark strips or other items for hiding areas. Soil should be kept partially damp (not wet) and stirred once a week to keep it loose and easy to burrow into. Replace the soil 2-3 times a year to prevent excessive mold or bacteria buildups. These snakes exhibit some minor climbing ability that can be adapted to with the addition of potted plants or vines in the tank. Fresh water in a shallow water dish must be available at all times and provide a light daily misting of the enclosure.

Keeping The Ring-Necked Snake As A Pet

The temperature range preferred by these snakes is 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain the enclosure’s ambient temperature using a low watt basking light or heat emitter. If using a basking light, those that are red, blue, green, or purple colored rather than white may encourage some daytime activity of the snake. Under-tank heating is usually not required and high temperatures can lead to fatal dehydration of the animal. Include temperature and humidity gauges within the enclosure to monitor the environmental conditions. Some UVB fluorescent lighting may be beneficial, but probably not necessary due to their fossorial nature. In the evenings, turn off any light fixtures that use white or bright lights to prevent disruption to the snake’s day and night cycles.

The Ring-Necked Snake Diet

Earthworms, small salamanders and small insects make up the bulk of their natural diet. However, these snakes also prey on small frogs, salamander eggs, small snakes, small lizards, slugs, and grubs. Prey such as worms, grubs, and certain types of insects that feed on detritus materials in soil can be left within the terrarium as a ready source of food for the snake. The weekly stirring of the soil allows for regular monitoring of prey food remaining available to the snake within the terrarium. Keeping pill bugs / sow bugs in the terrarium will help to keep soil mite problems to a minimum as they often out compete the mites for food.

The Ring-Necked Snake Behaviour

Ringneck snakes are somewhat social in nature; however keep in mind that they are also occasionally cannibalistic so think carefully if you choose to house them in groups or with other small species of snakes.

While these snakes are rarely inclined to bite, they do possess enlarged rear teeth that are used to help push saliva into their prey. The snake’s saliva is believed to have some mild venomous-like properties that may cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive individuals, however, the chances of these small snakes being able to bring those rear teeth into action in terms of biting humans is very slim.

The Ring-Necked Snake Facts


1. Ring-Necked snakes can be very brightly coloredRing-Necked Snake Diadophis Punctatus

Colors of Ring-necked Snakes can vary depending on subspecies. The top color of the snake is a variety of colors including blue-grey or light grey. Other colors include olive, black, brown and olive. The snakes’ bellies can be cream, yellow or orange with black spots. They also have a ring of the same color around their necks. Some species do not have a ring on their neck or only a partial ring. Some subspecies are more orange-red towards the tail. Their pupils are round, and their heads are darker than their rest of the body.

The average size of a ring-necked serpent is 25-38 cm (10- 15 inches), and females are usually longer than males. Diadophis punctatus (regal ringnecked serpent) can be larger and range from 38 to 46 cm (15 to 18 inches).

2. Ring-Necked snakes like areas with lots of hiding places.

Ring-necked Snakes tend to be shy and prefer areas that have many hiding places. These dens are used to hibernate, and they use them both in hot weather as well as during winter. Northern and Western subspecies hide under tree bark or rocks, and can be found in open woods and near rocky hillside. Southern subspecies are found in swamps, damp forests and other wet areas.

3. The animals are nocturnal and hunt for their food at night

Ring-necked Snakes are nocturnal and hunt for prey at night. Carnivorous snakes prey on small salamanders and lizards. They also eat earthworms, slugs and young snakes from other species. The prey that they prefer will depend on the region. They are believed to subdue prey by using their mild venom and spatial constriction.

4. Ringneck Females Release Pheremones to Attract a Male

The females release pheromones from their skin during mating season, which can be spring or fall depending on subspecies. This is done to attract males. At 3 years of age, they are considered sexually-mature. The female snake will lay between 3 and 10 eggs after mating in either June or Juli. In areas where there are colonies, eggs may be laid in communal nests. Around August or Septembre, the eggs hatch and the young ring-necks are expected to be independent.

5. Although they have a mild venom, they are harmless to humans

The ring-necked serpent does not have a true venomous gland. Instead, it produces venom from a similar gland located behind the eyes called the Duvernoy’s gland. The venom is injected through the elongated front teeth of the snake to immobilize and subdue their larger prey. They use their venom to eat and not to defend themselves, as they also have other defensive mechanisms. Although they have venom, it is mild and considered harmless for humans. We still do not recommend going out to bug them in the wilderness.

6. Snakes are actually quite social animals

They are mostly nocturnal, and most active at night. However, you can sometimes see them sunning to warm themselves up during the day. The snakes are not aggressive and prefer to hide. They are social snakes, and some “communities”, which include more than 100 snakes, can have up to 100 snakes. The snakes will often hide together in dens and even lay eggs in communal nests. It is not known what the exact social hierarchy will be.

7. When threatened, ring-necked snakes will coil and raise their tails.

In the wild, there are many predators of ring-neck snakes. These include other snakes as well as wild hogs and opossums. They also have skunks. The snakes are also at risk of habitat loss and being run over while crossing the road or sitting there. They will coil their tails when alarmed, as a way to scare off predators. If this doesn’t work, some subspecies will play dead or release a foul-smelling scent to try and make themselves unappetizing for predators.

8. Communication is done in different ways

Females release pheromones via their skin in order to signal to male Ring-neck Snakes that they are ready to mate. Males rub their heads against the female during mating. Also, they have been observed rubbing their heads and nuzzling.

9. There are 14 different subspecies of Ring-Necked Snakes

Three of the 14 subspecies are shown in the picture. The color, size and shape of the rings around the neck can differ slightly between subspecies. Three subspecies, San Diego ring neck snake, san Bernardino and Key ring neck snake are candidates for the various endangered species list. However, the species as a whole is still considered at least to be in danger of extinction.

10. They are sometimes mistaken for the Red-Bellied snake

Sometimes ring-necked serpents are mistaken for red-bellied slithers. Both species are found in North America. They both have a similar length and expose their belly when threatened. Ring-necked serpents have rings on their necks, but red-bellied snakes don’t.


Useful References

  • Barnard, Susan M. 1996. Reptile Keeper’s Handbook. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, FL.
  • Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. 1988. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Knopf, New York.
  • Conant, R. and J. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians, Eastern/Central North America. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, NY.
  • DeVosjoli, P. 1995. Basic Care of Rough Green Snakes, Including Notes on the Care of Brown Snakes and Ringneck Snakes. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc., Santee, CA.
  • Ernst, Carl H., and R. W. Barbour. 1989. Snakes of Eastern North America. George Mason University Press, Fairfax, VA.
  • Linzey, Donald. W. and Michael J. Clifford, Snakes of Virginia. University Press of Virginia, 1981.
  • Mitchell, Joseph C. 1994. The Reptiles of Virginia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
  • Rossi, John V., Snakes of the United States and Canada: Keeping them healthy in captivity, Volume 1: Eastern Area. Krieger Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Rossi, John V. and Roxanne Rossi, Snakes of the United States and Canada: Keeping them healthy in captivity, Volume 2: Western Area. Krieger Publishing Company, 1992.

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