Species: Diodophis punctatus
Lifespan: 10-15+ years in the wild; much less in captivity, with 6 years or less being the average
Average: 323mm (12.7 inches)
Maximum recorded: 706mm (27.8 inches)
Ring-necked snakes (D. punctatus) are a small, slender Colubrid snake with a large geographic range spanning across all of North America. Earning their name from the bright, yellow-orange ring wrapped around their neck, these diminutive snakes are most known for their interesting defensive posture of curling their tails to expose the vibrant coloration of their ventral scales.
Ring-necked snakes expose their vibrant ventral coloration in defense, hoping it will serve as a warning to discourage predators from eating them.
Habitat and Distribution
D. punctatus has one of the most extensive geographic ranges of any species in North America and is characterized by many different subspecies.
Ring-necked snakes occur in a variety of different habitats, from dense forests to rocky hillsides, although they seem to prefer wooded areas. Like many snake species, they prefer environments that provide plenty of natural cover to protect them from predation.
When it comes to size, Ring-necked snakes are one of the smallest snake species in existence. Hatching from the egg at a whopping 3-5 inches long, they have even been found caught in spider webs. This species does exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females are slightly larger than males by 5-8 centimeters.
Diet and Feeding
Ring-necked snakes have a diet similar to garter snakes, which primarily includes earthworms, small salamanders, slugs, and occasionally smaller lizards, frogs and other snakes.
D. puntatus are nocturnal in nature and spend most of their time hidden under plenty of vegetation and woodland debris. They can be spotted in the open, often while crossing roads at night. However, they are commonly found within human dwellings, such as in basements and even swimming pools. While this species is rear-fanged venomous, their venom is very mild and not harmful to humans.
D. punctatus breeds once annually in the spring or fall months and undergoes the typical mating process for a snake. The females release pheromones to attract a male mate and copulation is achieved through internal fertilization. The gravid female will then seek out suitable laying sites with plenty of moist vegetation, where she will lay between three and ten eggs in June or July. The eggs average about 2.5cm long and will hatch in the fall between August and September. As with most snakes, the lack of parental care after the hatchlings emerge from their eggs contributes to the high mortality rate of juvenile Ring-necked snakes.
Most subspecies of D. puntatus are rear-fanged venomous. Like other venomous Colubrids such as the Hognose snake or False Water Cobra, they do not possess a venom gland, but instead a Duvernoy's gland, which secretes a mild toxin that then "drips" from their rear fangs and into their prey.
Diadophis is derived from the Greek words diadem which means "headband" and ophis which means "snake".
While listed as "least concern" by the IUCN, climate change and habitat loss pose a threat to D. puntatus. With that said, the lack of studies and information on this species could mean current population reports are inaccurate, as the IUCN status has not been updated since 2007.
Ring-necked snakes have a high mortality rate in captivity. They are often taken from the wild and carelessly sold to unsuspecting keepers who struggle to keep them alive. Wild populations of this species are truly best left to the wild.
Virginia Herpetological Society. https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/reptiles/snakes/northern-ring-necked-snake/northern_ring-necked_snake.php
IUCN Red List. Hammerson, G.A. & Frost, D.R. 2007. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/63769/12714288 Accessed on 22 March 2022.
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Stacey Vigil, University of Georgia. Willson, J. D., and M. E. Dorcas. 2004. Aspects of the ecology of small fossorial snakes in the western Piedmont of North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 3:1-12. Fitch, H. S. 1975. A demographic study of the ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus) in Kansas. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publications 62:1-53.