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Diadophis punctatus

What do they look like?

The backside, or top, of ringneck snakes can be blue/gray, light brown, or greenish-gray, but it is always a solid color, except for a gold ring around the neck. The ring may not be complete on all animals and may be absent in some. The belly is yellowish-orange, but in some regions may be more orangish-red towards the end. In some regions there are black spots on the belly. (Conant and Collins, 1998)

The scales on the back are smooth and the anal plate is divided. Average length ranges between 25 and 38 cm, but some can reach up to 46 cm. When ringneck snakes are born the have the same coloration as adults. Adult females are generally longer than males, and both males and females shed their skin throughout the year. (Blanchard, 1942; Conant and Collins, 1998; Myers, 1965)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    25.5 to 46 cm
    10.04 to 18.11 in

Where do they live?

Ringneck snakes are common snakes occurring 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. (Conant and Collins, 1998)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Ringneck snakes prefer areas with good hiding spaces, but they are found in many different habitats. Damp soil and temperatures between 27 and 29 degrees Celsius are best. Northern and western subspecies prefer to hide under stones or loose bark from dead trees. They are often found in open woodlands near rocky hillsides. Southern subspecies usually stay in wetter areas, like swamps, damp forests, or riparian woodlands. (Ditmars, 1930; Dundee and Miller III, 1968)

How do they grow?

After hatching, females start off smaller then males, measuring about 20 cm while males are about 21.9 cm. By the third year they are longer than most males, measuring about 29 cm while males measure about 28 cm. (Ernst and Ernst, 2003)

How do they reproduce?

Female ringneck snakes release pheromones from their skin which help attract potential mates. Actual mating between ringneck snakes has rarely been recorded. While mating, males rub their mouths on their mates and bite their mate's neck. (Ernst and Ernst, 2003)

Ringneck snakes mate in spring or fall, and eggs are laid in June or early July. Female snakes lay 3 to 10 eggs at one time. They are laid in covered, moist locations. In places where many ringneck snakes live together, it is not uncommon to find eggs from different females laid in the same area. Each egg is white with yellow ends, and it is about 2.5 cm long. Eggs hatch in August or September. (Blanchard, 1942; Jackson and Mirick, 2000; Myers, 1965)

Both male and femlae snakes are sexually mature when they are three years old, or by their fourth summer. Males are smaller than females when they reach this point. (Blanchard, 1942; Blanchard, et al., 1979)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Ringneck snakes breed once each year.
  • Breeding season
    Ringneck snakes breed in the spring or fall.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 10
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Ringneck snake eggs are not cared for, there is no parental investment after choosing a nest site and laying the eggs. This largely contributes to the high mortality rate of young ringneck snakes. (Dundee and Miller III, 1968; Scott, 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

The longest recorded lifespan in captivity is 6 years 2 months. In the wild, though, ringnecks have been recorded as having lived over 10 years. It is thought that they may have a lifespan approaching 20 years in the wild. (Blanchard, 1942; Blanchard, et al., 1979; Ernst and Ernst, 2003)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6 (high) years

How do they behave?

During the day ringneck snakes can sometimes be found warming themselves on rocks heated by the sun. They are only active, though, at night. Also, ringneck snakes return each year to the same denning sight.

Ringneck snakes are secretive and non-aggressive. They are active at night and are rarely seen during the day. They are social animals, and may live in groups of over 100. Groups of six or more may share the same microhabitat. (Blanchard, 1942; Blanchard, et al., 1979; Dundee and Miller III, 1968)

How do they communicate with each other?

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, smell, and touch. (Ernst and Ernst, 2003)

What do they eat?

Ringneck snakes prey upon small salamanders, lizards, frogs, earthworms, and younger snakes of other species. The amount of each of these prey types depends upon availability. Those snakes living in Michigan eat mainly red-backed salamanders. To stop prey from struggling ringneck snakes use constriction, wrapping themselves around their prey and squeezing to subdue them. (Blanchard, et al., 1979; Conant and Collins, 1998; Ditmars, 1930)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
    • vermivore
  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

When ringneck snakes are frightened, they raise their tail into a coil that is presented to the intruder. This is seen in snakes with reddish-orange tails, where the red color can act as a warning signal. When the snake is held, or further provoked, a musky, smelly mucus is secreted from the corners of its mouth.

Predators include coral snakes, kingsnakes, and racers. Other snakes may also be predators of ringneck snakes if they share the same habitat. Wild hogs, opossums, shrews, armadillos, skunks, screech owls, and bullfrogs are possible predators. Large spiders and centipedes have been seen eating young ringneck snakes. (Dundee and Miller III, 1968; Myers, 1965)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • aposematic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

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, helping to control pest populations and serving as sustenance for larger animals. (Blanchard, et al., 1979; Conant and Collins, 1998; Dundee and Miller III, 1968)

Do they cause problems?

Ringneck snakes do not adversely affect humans, though, at times, they may cause a slight inconvenience. Due to urbanization, it is not uncommon to find ringneck snakes in one's basement. In these circumstances ringnecks pose no real threat, and must simply be relocated. (Conant and Collins, 1998; Dundee and Miller III, 1968)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

Ringneck snakes are valued in the pet trade for their attractive coloration, and also play a part in research and education. Because they pose no real threat to humans, they are ideal for work with younger children in a school setting. Ringneck snakes also help in controling pest populations. (Conant and Collins, 1998; Dundee and Miller III, 1968)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Three subspecies of ringneck snakes may soon be protected under federal endangered species laws. They are San Diego ringneck snakes, San Bernardino ringneck snakes, and key ringneck snakes. Key ringneck snakes are currently considered an endangered species in Florida. Regal ringneck snakes and northwestern ringneck snakes are protected under state law in Idaho. (Scott, 1996)

Although ringneck snakes are rarely observed, they are fairly common throughout their range. They are secretive snakes and generally remain hidden. (Scott, 1996)

Some more information...

Ringnecks rarely bite but may release a foul smelling musk when handled. (Dundee and Miller III, 1968)


Lauren Pajerski (editor), Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, University of Michigan, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

James Yung (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.


Aardema, J., S. Beam, J. Boner, J. Bussone, C. Ewart. 2004. "Diadophis punctatus" (On-line). Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina. Accessed 04/12/04 at

Blanchard, F. 1942. The ring-neck snakes, genus *Diadophis*. Bulletin of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, 7(1): 1-144.

Blanchard, F., M. Gilreath, F. Blanchard. 1979. The eastern ring-neck snake (*Diadophis punctatus edwardsii*) in northern Michigan. Journal of Herpetology, 13(4): 377-402.

Bustard, H. 1969. Behavior of the Pacific Boa. Herpetologica, 25: 164-170.

Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A field guide to reptiles & amphibians of eastern and central North America, 3rd ed., expanded. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Ditmars, R. 1930. Reptiles of the world. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Dundee, H., M. Miller III. 1968. Aggregative behavior and habitat conditioning by the prairie ringneck snake, *Diadophis punctatus arnyi*. Tulane Studies in Zoology and Botany, 15(2): 41-58.

Ernst, C., E. Ernst. 2003. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Jackson, S., P. Mirick. 2000. "Ringneck Snake" (On-line). Snakes of Massachusetts. Accessed 04/12/04 at

Myers, C. 1965. Biology of the ringneck snake, *Diadophis punctatus*, in Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, Biological Sciences, 10(2): 43-90.

Scott, C. 1996. Snake Lovers' Lifelist & Journal. Austin: University of Texas Press.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Yung, J. 2000. "Diadophis punctatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 21, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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