Ring-necked Snake - Diadophis punctatus

 

 

Ring-necked Snake Photo
No Map Available North America
Ring-necked Snake Photo No Map Available North America

Subspecies: 8
Est. World Population:

CITES Status: NOT LISTED
IUCN Status: NOT LISTED
U.S. ESA Status: NOT LISTED

Body Length: 8 - 20 inches
Tail Length:
Shoulder Height:
Weight:

Top Speed:
Jumping Ability: (Horizontal)

Life Span: 8 - 18 years in the Wild
Life Span: 6 - 7 years in Captivity

Sexual Maturity: 36 - 40 months (Females)
Sexual Maturity: 36 - 40 months (Males)
Clutch Size: 3 - 10 eggs
Incubation Period: 60 - 70 days

Identification:
The dorsum of ringneck snakes varies among subspecies from blue-gray to light brown to greenish-gray, but it is always solid, except for a distinctive golden ring around the neck. The ring may be interrupted or, in the cases of the Regal Ringneck (D. punctatus regalis) and the Key Ringneck (D. punctatus acricus), may appear only as a trace or be completely absent. The abdomen is orange-yellow, but western and extreme southern subspecies show a change in color to orange-red toward the posterior. The presence and configuration of black spots on the abdomen can be used to distinguish subspecies.

Eastern subspecies have 15 scale rows at the anterior end; western subspecies have 17. Scales are smooth and the anal plate is divided. The species has a length of 10 - 15 inches, except D. punctatus regalis, which measures 15 - 18 inches. Newborn snakes have the same markings and coloration as adults. Generally speaking, adult females are longer than adult males. Molting occurs in all months of the year.

Subspecies:
Pacific Ringneck Snake - Central California
Prarie Ringneck Snake - Central USA
San Bernardino Ringneck Snake - Southern California
North-Western Ringneck Snake - Washington, Oregon, Northern California
Coral-Bellied Ringneck Snake - Central California
Regal Ringneck Snake - Southwestern USA, Northern Mexico
San Diego Ringneck Snake - Southern California, Baja California
Monterey Ringneck Snake - Central California

Habitat:
Areas with abundant hiding places are preferred by all subspecies of D. punctatus, but beyond that, they exist in a wide range of habitats. Gently moistened soil and 27 - 29 degrees Celsius provide optimal conditions. Northern and western subspecies prefer coverage under stones or under the loose bark of dead trees, and are often found in open woodlands near rocky hillsides. Southern subspecies tend to stay in conspicuously wet locales, such as swamps, damp forests, or riparian woodlands.

Individuals can sometimes be found during daylight hours warming themselves under rocks directly exposed to the sun in open wooded areas. The species, however, is only active at night. In addition, ringneck snakes perennially return to single denning sites.

Biomes: savanna or grassland; chaparral; forest; marsh or wetlands

Range:
Ringneck snakes are a very common species that occurs throughout eastern and central North America. Their range extends from Nova Scotia, southern Quebec, and Ontario to south-central Mexico, covering the entire eastern seaboard except for areas along the gulf coasts of south Texas and northeast Mexico. The range extends laterally to the Pacific coast except for large areas in drier regions of the western United States and Mexico.

Life Cycle:
Pheromones released from a female ringneck snake's skin attracts males during mating season. Very rarely have ringneck snakes actually been observed mating, amounting to no more than 6 recorded sightings. While mating, males rub their closed mouths on their mate's body. They then bite the female around her neck ring, align their bodies with the female's, and release their sperm.

Mating of ringneck snakes can occur in spring or fall--delayed fertilization is possible--and eggs are laid in June or early July. Females lay eggs perennially. 3 - 10 eggs can be laid at one time, and are deposited together in covered, moist locations. In areas where colonies exist, it is not uncommon to find eggs laid in communal nests. A single egg is white with yellow ends and is elongated, approximating 1 inch in length. Juveniles hatch in August or September.

Reproductive maturity of both sexes is reached at the age of three years, that is, by their fourth summer. Male ringneck snakes sexually mature at a smaller size than females do. Individuals have been observed living past eight years of age; in the wild, the species is thought to have a lifespan approaching twenty years.

Ringneck snake eggs are not cared for, and therefor, there is no parental investment. Once ringneck snakes are born they are on their own. They must provide both food and defense for themselves. This largely contributes to the high mortality rate of young ringneck snakes.

Food & Hunting:
Prey of D. punctatus consists of small salamanders, lizards, and frogs, as well as earthworms and juvenile snakes of other species. Frequency of specific prey in the diet is dependent on availability. reports show that Michigan populations of the Eastern Ringneck (D. punctatus edwardsii) prey almost exclusively on the red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus. The ringneck snake employs partial constriction to subdue its prey.

Behaviour:
This is a secretive, non-aggressive species that prowls nocturnally and rarely exposes itself to daylight. Despite its secretiveness, however, the ringneck snake is a social animal and many populations exist as large colonies, numbering 100 individuals or more. Communities of six or more may be found sharing a single microhabitat. No information is known on the hierarchical structure of ringneck colonies.

When the snake is alarmed, the tail is coiled and raised forward; notably, this behavior occurs only in populations where the orange-red posterior is present. Western subspecies feign death on further provocation. When the snake is held, a musky saliva is secreted from the corners of its mouth, accompanied by a pungent, clingy odor.

Conservation:
Three subspecies are candidates for the federal endangered or threatened species lists. They are the San Diego Ringneck, the San Bernardino Ringneck, and the Key Ringneck. The Key Ringneck is also a threatened species for the state of Florida, and is protected under state law. The range of that subspecies is limited to a single island in the Florida Keys. In Idaho, the Regal Ringneck, and the Northwestern Ringneck, are considered species of special concern, and are protected under state law.

Although few records of ringneck snakes exist, the species is thought to be more common than it appears. This is presumably due to ringnecks' secretive nature and tendencies toward remaining hidden.

Other Details:
Touching, rubbing, head nuzzling, and pheromones are all ways of communication for ringneck snakes. Males rub their heads on females during mating, and females release pheromones from their skin when trying to attract a mate. Ringneck snakes perceive the world around them via sight and touch.

Predators include coral snakes (Micrurus fulvius) and racers (Coluber constrictor). Other snakes sharing the geographical areas of the ringneck snake may also be predators. In addition, wild hogs, opossums, shrews, armadillos, skunks, screech owls, and bullfrogs are all suspected predators. Large spiders and centipedes have been observed feeding on juvenile ringneck snakes.

Ringnecks may play a small role in biodegration by moving through surface debris such as branches and leaves within forests. They also take on the role of predator and prey within their habitat, hrlping to control pest populations and serving as sustinance for larger animals.

References:
Ernst, C. & E. Ernst. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2003
Myers, C. Biology of the ringneck snake, *Diadophis punctatus*, in Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, Biological S, 1965

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Database Last Updated: 31 Dec 1969

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