From ‘Anaconda’ to ‘Snakes on a Plane’, the popularity of such serpent-centered movies is a testament to the growing interest of the public in the elusive lives and habits of snakes. PetPonder presents various facts and information about one the most commonly found serpent species in America – The ring-necked snake.
You should know…
The ring-necked snake enjoys a fair share in the exotic pet trade market, owing largely to its beautiful colors and cool temperament. Though one can easily be caught from the wild, it is best not to try petting it, as it might not be able to survive in captivity. As a pet, it’s better to adopt one which is acclimated to living in captivity, rather than capturing one from the wild.
Creepy crawlies? Well not so much. Ring-necked snakes or ringnecks, as they are called, are an often misunderstood species. These magnificent reptiles are found throughout the United States. So, if you are an American, chances of you encountering one of these in your backyard is pretty high. But before you decide to gather up your gear and set out on a snake hunting expedition, know that you are more of a threat to it than it can ever be to you. Confused? Well, perhaps the following facts about the ringneck snake might help clear things up. You might even end up having a change of heart!
Right in Your Backyard
Ring necked snakes are found abundantly in the eastern and southwestern parts of the U.S., central Mexico, and the southern parts of Canada. Many subspecies of this snake are found throughout most parts of North America, making it one of the most diversely spread species of snakes in the county. Their population span ranges from the southeastern parts of Canada up to the Gulf Coast of Texas, covering the entire eastern sea coast. The species is also found within the mainland in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. In the rest of the country, small pockets of their populations can be found all across the Pacific Northwest. In Washington, Idaho, and Utah, and down along the west coast through Arizona till central Mexico, the species can be found thriving.
Well, strictly speaking, ring-necked snakes are nonvenomous. Though they do not have a true venom-producing gland, they do have what is called the Duvernoy’s gland, which produces a very mild form of venom that the snake uses to incapacitate its prey while hunting. These include salamanders, earthworms, lizards, frogs, and even smaller snakes of other species. Ringnecks are ‘rear-fanged’, and rely on a combination of constriction and venom injection to secure their prey. They are thus potentially harmless to humans, and therefore classified as belonging to the Colubridae family (mostly venom-less and posing no threat to humans).
Lord of the Ring
The snake exhibits dual coloration. On the dorsal side (facing the sky), they are usually a shade of solid olive, brown-black, or blueish-gray. These snakes are mostly nocturnal, and this darker dorsal color scheme is most likely to aid them in camouflaging their maneuvers. On their ventral sides (facing the ground), they display much brighter colors, such as yellow-orange or red with black spot marks along the margins. But by far, the most distinctive of their physical characteristics is the prominent ring around their necks. Bright yellow, orange, or red in color, this ring is present in almost every one of their subspecies, and is therefore a sure shot way of identifying the ringneck.
In biological terms, if at the time of birth/hatching, an animal is mobile and capable of fending for itself, the species is classified as precocial. The female usually lays her eggs in moist areas, such as under rocks, damp soil, burrows, or in hollow rotting pieces of logs. After laying the eggs, the mother moves away, leaving the eggs to hatch on their own. The hatchlings, at the time of birth, are nearly 4 inches in length, and resemble the adults of the species. They are very mobile and mature enough to take care of themselves without the need of parental supervision.
These snakes are very shy and seclusive, and generally tend to avoid coming in contact with other animals. They are mostly nocturnal, and only in rare cases do they venture out during the daytime. However, despite their reclusive nature, they are actually a very social species. They are frequently found in colonies of 6 or more, with larger colonies comprising even more than 100 individuals.
Habits in the Habitat
They prefer wet and cool locales. They can usually be found nesting under large stones, in swamps, under debris of wood, in earthen holes, or along the banks of rivers or streams. They tend to live in colonies, so if you happen to notice one sneaking around your backyard, chances are that there are more of its brothers and sisters close by.
Size: Female Domination
On the whole, the ring-necked snake is a small species, with adults ranging from 25 cm to 39 cm in length. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism in terms of the size of its adults, with the females being significantly larger than their male counterparts. Even though the males are slightly bigger at the time of birth and during the initial stages of development, during the later stages, the females continue growing and outgrow the males, reaching 39 cm in length, while the males reach only 31 cm.
Biting & Breeding
Ringnecks usually mate during spring, with a few subspecies waiting till fall. When she is ready to mate, the female secretes pheromones from her skin which attracts the males. The male searches until he finds the female, and then closes in on her, rubbing his closed jaw along the length of her body. Finally, he bites her on her neck ring, and positions himself so as to be able to inject his sperms into her. The mating generally takes place in the months of March and April. The female lays hers eggs sometime in June. The eggs hatch in August or September.
One of a Kind
The ring-necked snake is known as Diadophis punctatus within the scientific community, and is the only known species in the genus Diadophis. Currently, there are around 14 identified subspecies of the genus, with more expected to be added as new species are discovered every day.
This is a very passive animal, and prefers to run and hide rather than to face its enemies. However, on being cornered, it goes into a very unique series of offensives. First, it coils up its tail, revealing the bright underside of its belly in hopes of frightening off its predator. If that doesn’t work, it emits a very foul-smelling odor. Only when none of these work, will it try to bite its enemy.
Predator and Prey
This species exhibits duality with respect to its role in the ecosystem. It acts both as a predator as well as a prey. As a predator, it helps by thinning out the numbers of pests and insects. As a prey, it helps sustain larger animals, such as hawks, skunks, bullfrogs raccoons, etc. Thus, the ring-necked snake plays an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
Lots of people are intrigued by the thought of having their very own pet snake, and the ringneck seems to be the best candidate. Their non-aggressive nature, combined with their mild and non-lethal venom, makes them safe to have inside homes and even around children for exhibitions or school demonstrations. They even score high in the animal trade market, owing to their colorful rings and bright underside.
In conclusion, ringnecks are nonpoisonous and non-offensive snakes. They come out at night, and rarely do they bite. So, the next time you see one sliding along, just let it go about its business. If you are a snake lover, feel free to admire its beauty, and in case you are not, still respect it for being an important part of the ecosystem.