Snakes Of The U.S., Canada And Baja California Snakes Of The U.S., Canada And Baja California: ringneck snake, Diadophis punctatus

Common name: ringneck snake

Species name: Diadophis punctatus

venomous ?

Description: Ring-necked snakes are fairly similar in morphology throughout much of their distribution. Dorsal coloration is solid olive, brown, bluish gray to black, broken only by a distinct yellow, red, or yellow-orange neck band[1][4]. There are a few populations in New Mexico, Utah, and other distinct locations that do not have the distinctive neck band[1]. Additionally individuals may have a reduced or partially colored neck band that is hard to distinguish; coloration may also be more of a cream color rather than bright orange or red[4]. Head coloration tends to be slightly darker than the rest of the body with tendencies to be blacker than grey or olive[4]. Ventrally the snakes’ exhibit a yellow-orange to red coloration broken by crescent shaped black spots along the margins[1]. Sometimes individuals lack the distinct ventral coloration but typically retain the black spotting[4]. Rarely do individuals lack both the ventral or neck band coloration so use of those two characteristics are the most simple way to distinguish the species[1]. Size also varies across the species distribution. Typically adults range from 25 to 38 cm[1], except for D. punctatus regalis which measures 38 to 46 cm[4]. First year juvenile snakes are typically about 20 cm and grow about 2 to 5 cm a year depending on the developmental stage or resource availability[4]. Ring-necked snakes also have smooth scales with 15-17 scale rows at mid body[1]. Males typically have small tubercles on their scales just anterior to the vent which are usually absent in females[1].

Distribution: It is found throughout much of the United States, central Mexico, and south eastern Canada

Habitat: Ring-necked snakes occur in a wide variety of habitats. Preference seems to be determined by areas with abundant cover and denning locations spaces[4]. Northern and western species are found within open woodlands near rocky hillsides, or in wetter environments with abundant cover or woody debris[1]. Southern species exist primarily within riparian and wet environments, especially in more arid habitats[4]. Stebbins (2003) identified the species as a snake of moist habitats, identifying that moist soil conditions were the preferred substrate[1]. Ring-necked snakes are also not found above an elevation of 2200 meters[1]. In northern regions, dens are also important in identifying suitable ring-necked snake habitat. Dens are usually shared communally[4], and are identifiable by an existent subsurface crevasse or hole that is deep enough to prevent freezing temperatures. Since it is a woodland reptile, it can commonly also be found under wood or scraps. Because of the hot weather, they tend to make holes and burrow or they decide to hide under rocks or any suitable material. They are normally found in flatland forests.

Foods: The diet of the ring-necked snake consists primarily of smaller salamanders, lizards, frogs, earthworms, and some juvenile snakes of other species[4]. The frequency at which prey species are chosen is dependent on their availability within the habitat[4]. Ring-necked snakes use a combination of constriction and envenomation to secure their prey. The snakes do not have a true venom gland, but they do have an analogous structure called the Duvernoy’s gland derived from the same tissue[2]. Most subspecies are rear-fanged with the last maxillary teeth on both sides of the upper jaw being longer and channeled[2]; the notable exception is D. punctatus edwardsii which is fangless[4]. The venom is produced in the Duvernoy's gland located directly behind the eye[2]. It then drains out of an opening at the rear of the maxillary tooth[2]. Ring-necked snakes strike and secure the prey using constriction. They then maneuver their mouths forward ensuring that the maxillary tooth punctures the skin allowing the venom to enter the prey's tissue[2]. Ring-necked snakes are rarely aggressive to larger predators suggesting that their venom evolved as a feeding strategy rather than a defense strategy. Rather than try to bite a predator the snake winds up its tail into a corkscrew exposing the brightly colored belly

(Image by LaVonne)
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(Image by LaVonne)
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Snakes Of The U.S., Canada And Baja California

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