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.
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)