Eastern ribbon snakes are slim, striped snakes with long tails relative to their body length. They have three white, yellow, or greenish stripes that run along the length of their body on a background color of black or dark brown. This striped pattern makes them difficult to see in the grassy habitats they prefer. The head is wider than the neck and their relatively large eyes are bordered by a light bar in front. Their belly is white, yellow, or green without blotches. The scales above their mouth are bright white or yellow, without dark borders (as in garter snakes). Their scales are keeled (with a raised ridge along their length). Females are slightly larger than males and total body length ranges from 46 to 86.2 cm. Young eastern ribbon snakes are born alive and are from 16 to 24 cm long. (Harding, 2000)
Eastern ribbon snakes are found throughout much of eastern North America east of the Mississippi River. They occur from southern Maine, across southern Ontario, throughout Michigan, south to eastern Louisiana, throughout the Gulf states, including Florida, and throughout the eastern seaboard. They appear to be largely absent from southern Ohio, southeastern Illinois, central Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama and Georgia. There are isolated populations in parts of Kentucky and Wisconsin. (Harding, 2000)
Eastern ribbon snakes prefer wet meadows and fields, especially near the edges of lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes. They are most often found in open, sunny sites. (Harding, 2000)
Mating typically occurs when snakes emerge from hibernation. Males seek out females and attempt to mate with them. (Harding, 2000)
Mating takes place soon after these snakes have emerged from hibernation in the spring, they also sometimes mate in the fall. Live young are born in late summer, litter size ranges from 4 to 27 young, with 12 being average. Young snakes grow rapidly and often become mature before their second year, though some females don't breed until their third year. (Harding, 2000)
The young are nurtured inside of their mother's body until they are born. Once they are born there is no further parental care. (Harding, 2000)
Little is known of eastern ribbon snake lifespan in the wild, they probably live for several years, once they have survived their first year. (Harding, 2000)
Eastern ribbon snakes are active and fast-moving snakes. They are usually seen at or near the edge of a body of water, but may also be found in moist meadows away from water. They bask on logs and rocks but also climb into bushes to bask. They are active from April to October and hibernate through the winter in the abandoned burrows of animals such as rodents and crayfish, or in anthills. These snakes are most active during the day and are mainly solitary, though they may share hibernation sites with other snakes. (Harding, 2000)
Eastern ribbon snakes communicate with each other primarily through touch and smell. They use their forked tongues to collect chemicals from the air and insert these forks into a special organ in the roof of their mouth, which interprets these chemical signals. Snakes are also sensitive to vibrations and have reasonably good vision.
Eastern ribbon snakes are eaten by many of the predators that frequent the habitats in which they are found. This includes great blue herons, hawks, mink, and raccoons. Young snakes are vulnerable to large fish and large frogs. They escape predation by being fast and agile, they will readily flee into the water, where they may dive to hide below the surface, or into dense vegetation. When harassed, eastern ribbon snakes will flatten their heads and bite at the attacker. They will also thrash their bodies violently and smear the attacker with a foul-smelling secretion. (Harding, 2000)
Eastern ribbon snakes impact populations of amphibians, their primary prey. They are also an important food source for the animals which prey on them.
There are no negative effects of eastern ribbon snakes on humans. (Harding, 2000)
While eastern ribbon snakes are not currently recognized as threatened, the habitats they prefer are continually threatened by development and contamination. It is important to continue to monitor populations. (Harding, 2000)
There are four subspecies of Thamnophis sauritus: northern ribbon snakes (T. s. septentrionalis, occurring from southern Maine through southern Ontario, Michigan, and northern Ohio and Indiana, with some isolated populations in Wisconsin, eastern ribbon snakes (T. s. sauritus), occurring throughout the eastern seaboard states to the Gulf of Mexico and north along the eastern shores of the Mississippi River, peninsula ribbon snakes (T. s. sackenii), in Florida and southern Georgia, and bluestripe ribbon snakes (T. s. nitae), found only along the Gulf coast of northwestern peninsular Florida. (Conant and Collins, 1991)
Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America, 3rd edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Harding, J. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.