Ringneck Snake, Diadophis punctatus

This article covers the species as a whole, to include the subspecies.  There are currently 14 recognized subspecies of Ringneck Snake.  There are many “intergrade zones” as well.  Additional articles will cover subspecies specifics.
 
Non-Venomous*
The ringneck is considered non-venomous in most text due to an extremely low risk to humans.  They are however slightly venomous, non-aggressive, rear-facing fanged snakes.
NorthernXSouthern Intergrade Ringneck Snake Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: plaxton53
NorthernXSouthern Intergrade Ringneck Snake Photographed by Phillip Laxton
Instagram: plaxton53

Ringneck snakes are small species of colubrid snake found in much of the USA, central Mexico, and Southeastern Canada. These small snakes average 10-15″ in length throughout much of its range.  Some subspecies do get larger with D. p. regalis reaching 18″ in length.  Most ringnecks are easy to identify by the bright belly and dark top.  The Head and the back of ringnecks are typically divided by a ring around the neck.  The ring, although typically very visible, can in some groups be difficult to see or even absent.  There are several populations in intergrade zones were rings may be “broken.  Juveniles are identical to the adults but very small.  Most neonates are less than 7” long.  In the picture below, note the incomplete band of this NorthernXSouthern Intergrade from the Coastal Plains of North Carolina.

Ringneck by Phillip Laxton Instagram: plaxton53
Ringneck by Phillip Laxton
Instagram: plaxton53

Feeding/Diet:  The diet of the ringneck snake is very dependant on the availability within the habitat in which the snake lives.  Overall, the primary diet consist of worms and slugs.  As the snake gets older, small salamanders and frogs may be eaten.  Food is overpowered by combination of constriction and envenomation.  Ringneck snakes produce a mild neurotoxin in a glad called the Duvernoy’s Gland.  All ringnecks produce this venom and most are able to administer this venom by use of rear fangs.  The last maxillary teeth are elongated and channeled.

General Activity/Behavior:  Ringnecks are nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning dawn and dusk.  In my personal experience with Ringnecks, I have always flipped them while they sleep or found them crawling around about 30 minutes prior to the sun going down until about an hour after the sun has gone down.

Ringneck Being Held by Phillip's 3 y/o Son Travis by Phillip Laxton Instagram: plaxton53
Ringneck Being Held by Phillip’s 3 y/o Son Travis by Phillip Laxton
Instagram: plaxton53

This species rarely ever shows any aggression by way of biting.  Most of the time, the snake will dig its head (while mouth is closed), into the handler.  They wiggle around a great deal as well.  Although I have not observed it in the populations I am most familiar with, they are regularly observed curling their tail, displaying the bright coloration of their ventral side.

There have been a few reported bites from Ringneck snakes.  In the vast majority of these bites, it was a forced bite (putting your finger in their mouth so you can get bit) or during feeding.  Most of these reports showed no symptoms of envenomation.  There have been a couple reports of tingling, itching, and redness at the site of the bite.  Until recent study found the toxin, it was believed to have been an infection post bite.  We now know it is a result of the mild toxin in the saliva of the Ringneck causing the reaction.  No Ringneck has ever needed medical attention other than general first aid in the reports I have been able to locate.

Ringneck Photo by Jason Hellender (Instagram: @fireteguguy)
Ringneck Photo by Jason Hellender (Instagram: @fireteguguy)

Habitat/Range:  Ringnecks are very common snakes in much of the USA.  Most are found in woodlands although, some have inhabited grassy plains and even some savanna type environments.  Be sure to check out the subspecies pages for details on the subspecies specifics.

Reproduction:  Most Ringnecks mate in spring and lay 2-7 eggs during early summer.  There are a few subspecies in the northern ranges that mate in fall with the eggs being laid late spring the following year.

Ringneck Photo by Jason Hellender (Instagram: @fireteguguy)
Ringneck Photo by Jason Hellender (Instagram: @fireteguguy)

Neat Fact:  Until recently, most text listed the Ringneck snake as a Non-venomous snake without even mention of the neurotoxic venom the snake produces.  Recent research has proven this to be untrue with ringnecks as well as a few other species listed as non-venomous in the USA.

Herping Tips:

  • Spring, Summer and Fall, theses little guys can regularly be found during the day under rotten logs, heavy leaf litter, stacked 2X4’s (especially if rotten), and artificial cover.
  • Look for cover that is in sun light during the early spring and late fall otherwise, look under well shaded cover much of the Herping season.
  • On warm evenings, just before sunset, the ringneck my be spotted while on the hunt.  dusk during a heavy dew usually produces the best results.  Remember they eat worms and salamanders so look in moist places.
  • In my personal experience, I have found Ringnecks on the move but not while “targeting” this species.  In my opinion, flipping during the evening hours yielded the best results.

For More Information on Diadophis punctatus check out:

A Demographic Study of the Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus) in Kansas (Miscellaneous publication – University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History ; no. 62)


Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorous

Venomous

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Cottonmouth, also known as the “Water Moccasin”, are very heavy bodied, semi-aquatic snakes who are in the pit-viper family.  This snake is the largest of the genus Agkistrodon.  These snakes regularly reach 31″ and there are a few specimen who have reached 71″, although be it rare.  These snakes can regularly be identified by dark crossbands on an olive to dark brown background.  The Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon p. piscivorous, is one of three sub-species and generally keeps the banding throughout life although it does typically fade with age.  The Florida Cottonmouth or Agkistrodon p. conanti and the Western Cottonmouth or Agkistrodon p. leucostoma, generally darken with age to the point the banding may become difficult to observe.  The only other Agkistrodon living in the USA is Agkistrodon, contortrix, the Copperhead.

Juveniles, look much like the adults except for the coloring being much more vivid.  Young, like all Agkistrodon and some other pit-vipers, have a yellow tail which is used to lure pray into strike range.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

*Note in the picture, the vivid markings on this juvenile A. p. piscivorous. Also note the “heat-pit” located just in front of the eye.  The eye is also “cat like”.

Feeding/Diet:

The Cottonmouth feeds on a variety of prey to include rodents, frogs, fish, and other reptiles to include other snakes.  Prey is typically ambushed near the edge of the water.  I have personally found the Eastern Cottonmouth eating large frogs that have been killed on the road.

General Activity/Behavior:

The Cottonmouth loves to bask in the sun on the edge of the water.  When spooked, they will lunge into the water.  Agkistrodon typically swim on top of the water with the head sticking up above the surface.  This is a helpful bit of knowledge, as harmless water snakes, Nerodia, a non-venomous genus of snakes, typically swim under the water.

The Cottonmouth, although considered semi-aquatic, is known to travel overland in search for amphibians at night.  These guys love to get in roads that travel near water on rainy nights, making them an easy to cruise on rainy nights.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Cottonmouth, like other semi-aquatic snakes, are known for their nasty attitudes.  In my personal experience (which I would consider frequent and knowledgeable with this species), I feel this is highly unjustified in this species.  Cottonmouth are frequently reported to lunge towards a would-be predator and even chase people.  Based on my observations of snake species, I believe this to be a combination of wrong identification and exaggerated stories.  Nerodia, like the Red Belly Watersnake, are an unrelated family of harmless water snakes.  They are known to lunge quickly towards a predator before making a quick escape.  Cottonmouth and Water Snakes are commonly confused with each other.  In my years of dealing with Cottonmouth, I have found only a few I would call aggressive, and NONE have ever chased me!  The vast majority of the hundred or so specimen I have observed were very calm and didn’t strike until prodded for some time during examinations.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Cottonmouth, although generally docile snakes, do posses a very strong venom and all bites should seek medical attention immediately.  There are many documented cases of severe bite and there are reports of death from A. piscivorous bite.

Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Agkistrodon p. piscivorous; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Habitat/Range:

Although this species can be found very far from water, it is typically found near aquatic environments.  They prefer the still water of swamps, canals, and very slow moving creeks and rivers.  This species, in some populations, is regularly found in drainage ditches.

Reproduction:

Cottonmouth, like all pit-vipers, give live birth.  Adults mate in spring and give birth in the early fall to 2 to as many as 15 young.

Bear Trap of the South.  Cottonmouth Defensive Posture.  By Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Bear Trap of the South. Cottonmouth Defensive Posture. By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: @plaxton53
Neat Fact:

Cottonmouth get their name from the white coloration on the inside of the mouth.  They typically display the inside of the mouth when aggravated.  I believe this does play a part in the misconception of this species being aggressive.

Herping Tips:

1.  Spring and Fall look for them basking on the edge of water sources on nice warm days.  They love to soak up the rays.

2.  In the heat of summer, look for them on the water’s edge lying near stumps, fallen logs, or along the marsh-line.

3.  This species, like other semi-aquatic snakes, are very curious of objects floating in the water.  I have seen many swim right up to floating logs or even boats.  The act of swimming up to boats for closer inspection also add to the story of the “chasing cottonmouth”.

4.  This species can easily be cruised in populated areas at night, especially on humid rainy nights.  For best results cruise during the rain during normal showers or during the approach of a warm front.  Cold front storms typically produce much less results.


For More Information on Agkistrodon piscivorous and other North American Herps, check out:

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians (National Audubon Society Field Guides)


Redbelly Watersnake; Nerodia erythrogaster

Red Belly Watersnake


 Nerodia e. erythrogaster

The Red Belly Watersnake, or scientifically, Nerodia erythrogaster erythrogaster, is a sub-species of the Plain Belly Water snake.   The Plain Belly Water snake gets its name from the fact that there are no markings on the belly.

This article will be focusing on the sub-species “Red Belly Water Snake”.

Non-Venomous

Note the lack of marking on back or belly of this Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Note the lack of marking on back or belly of this Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

The Red Belly Watersnake is a stocky snake found in the southeastern USA.  These heavy snakes average 24-40″ in length.  Occasionally, this species can reach 55″ although this is very rare.  They can be easily identified by the unmarked, orange or reddish belly and the unmarked, reddish-brown to dark brown back.  The chin is usually light. Juveniles can sometimes be confused with other watersnakes, or Nerodia, due to being vividly marked.  Juvenile Red-Bellied Watersnakes are marked with dark cross-bands on the neck and three rows of alternating blotches going down it’s back.  These marking quickly fade as the animal matures.  Juveniles can be distinguished from other Nerodia by viewing the underside.  The belly is unmarked from birth.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Feeding/Diet:  Nerodia erythrogaster will feed on a variety of other animals and can be quite opportunistic.  I have found them picking injured frogs off the highway many times.  Red Belly Water Snakes are big fans of frogs, toads, salamanders, and long slender fish such as eels and young gar.  I have found many young who have expelled mosquito fish after capture.

General Activity/Behavior:  Red Bellies, like most Nerodia, love to bask in the sun on the edge of the water.  When spooked, Nerodia will lunge into the water.  Nerodia typically swim under the water.  This is a helpful bit of knowledge, as Cottonmouths, Agkistrodon piscivorous, a venomous species, typically swims on top of the water.  The Plain Belly species, including the Red Belly Sub-species, is known to travel overland in search for amphibians at night.  These guys love to get in roads that travel near water on rainy nights, making them an easy to cruise on rainy nights.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Red Bellies, like all Nerodia, are known for their nasty attitudes.  These snakes, like most, will attempt to get away but if they feel cornered the Nerodia will strike.  Sometimes these snakes have been known to lunge towards a would-be predator just before making a quick exit.  Based on my observations of snake species, I believe this is where the misconception of Cottonmouths chasing people come from.  If you pick up a Nerodia, you best plan to be bit.  Bites can sometimes draw blood but are superficial.  It is important to clean the wound after being bitten to avoid infection.  Simple First aid measures are really all that is needed.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Habitat/Range:  Nerodia e. erythrogaster is found in a variety of aquatic environments.  Lakes, swamps, rivers, streams, and creeks are all home to the Red Belly.  The Plain Belly group as a whole, can regularly be found in drainage ditches that are frequently filled with water.  The range of the Red Belly Water Snake includes Florida in the northern peninsula and panhandle, southern Alabama and along the Atlantic coast to the most southeastern part of Virginia.

Reproduction:  Redbelly watersnakes, like all Nerodia give live birth from 6 to as many as 50 young.  Like all Nerodia, e. erythrogaster mates in mid to late spring and give birth in early fall.

Neat Fact:  Of all the water snakes in the USA, the plain belly group (which includes the red belly) travel the furthest from water.  These snakes have been found a couple hundred yards from the nearest water source.

Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53
Nerodia e. erythrogaster; Photographed by Phillip Laxton Instagram: @plaxton53

Herping Tips:

  • Like most aquatic snakes, they are a little more tolerant of temperatures.  I have found them basking on the water’s edge in the mid-60’s and I have found them sitting in a shady ditch enjoying the water when air temps were in the 90’s while the rest of the snakes are looking for a place to hide from the heat.
  • Spring and Fall look for them basking on the edge of water sources on nice warm days.  They love to soak up the rays.
  • In the heat of summer, look for them on the water’s edge by flipping rocks, wood, tin, and any other light object.  They may also be sitting in the water, under shade from vegetation.
  • This species, like other Nerodia, are very curious of objects floating in the water.  I have caught many Nerodia by simply cruising down a creek in a boat, reaching in, and grabbing the snake as they come to check out the vessel.
  • This species can easily be cruised in populated areas at night, especially on humid rainy nights.  For best results, cruise during the rain, during normal showers or during the approach of a warm front.  Cold front storms typically produce much less results.
  • Like all Nerodia, it is easy to break the tail during capture.  Many adults are found with a part of the tail deformed or even missing.  The tail does not regenerate and does not appear to cause much harm to the animal.  Try to catch the snake mid-body to avoid injuring the animal.