Northern Ringneck Snake

Diadophis punctatus edwardsii
Monday, July 18, 2011

           Ringneck snakes are secretive reptiles. Largely due to their small size and nocturnal nature, they are rarely seen and presumed to be uncommon. However, one study conducted in Kansas suggests that they exist at densities greater than 700 - 1800 per hectare. Furthermore, ringneck snakes are the most common snake in Shenandoah National Park.

           D. p. edwardsii is one of more than six recognized subspecies of ringnecks. The Northern subspecies, as with most other ringneck snakes, is composed of small, slender snakes generally 25.4-38 cm (10-15 in) in length, although they have been discovered as long as 70.6 cm (over two feet). The females tend to be larger than the males. Their solid dorsal coloration is variable—it ranges between blue-black, blue-grey, slate colored, or brownish. The young display darker coloration than the adults. The ventral is a striking yellow or reddish. These snakes have no pattern or markings anywhere on them except for the distinctive yellowish collar, or ring, around their necks. In the Northern Ringneck Snake, this collar is complete and unbroken. However, in other subspecies, the ring may be broken or indeed absent altogether. Another method of distinguishing between subspecies lies in these snakes’ ventral colorations. The northern ringneck snake has a solid, unmarked yellowish ventral. Other subspecies typically have different patterns of black marks on their ventral scales.

           All ringneck snakes are nocturnal and secretive. They inhabit wooded areas with many hiding places, as well as field edges or even backyards. They are active at night in the leaf litter and the upper soil horizon, occasionally sunning themselves under rocks in the daytime. Despite their secretiveness, ringnecks are social animals. Many populations take the form of large colonies, and communities of six or more snakes may be found sharing the same microhabitat. They communicate with each other via touching and rubbing. These snakes, however, also perceive sight and smell.

           Ringneck snakes breed once a year, in the spring or fall. During the mating season, females release pheromones from their skin to attract males. When mating, the male will bite the female around the neck ring, line their bodies up, and release sperm. Three to ten eggs are laid in June or early July in covered, moist locations. Communal nests are not uncommon. The eggs, approximately 2.5 cm long, hatch in August or September. The young are about 10 cm long at birth and become sexually mature by their fourth summer. However, the lack of parental care after hatching contributes to a high mortality rate of young ringneck snakes. It is thought that those who survive may have a lifespan approaching 20 years in the wild.

           D. punctatus consume small salamanders, lizards, and frogs, as well as earthworms and snakes of other species. They usually swallow their prey whole, but are also known to use partial constriction to subdue their meal. They are predated on by larger snakes, owls and mammals such as opossums or shrews. In populations where the ventral is orange-red color, a snake will display the ventral as a warning sign when threatened. Some subspecies may even play dead. As a further defense, snakes secrete a musky, odoriferous saliva from the corners of their mouths.

           This specimen was captured behind Wilbur Lab. It is a male approximately 33 cm long, making it full size. It is in the process of shedding, as is evidenced by the cloudy blue skin covering its eyes.

Hazel Galloway