Ring-necked snake found in my garage.
September and October are good times to see snakes, as they begin to move around more looking for a place to over-winter. Furthermore, most snakes (at least in temperate areas) are born in spring and summer, so fall brings with it a flush of new slithering sweeties.
Ring-necked snakes prefer wooded areas, and are very common in Mid-Missouri where I live, even being found in our neighborhood. I often find several throughout the year.
The ring-necked snake (Diadophis puncatus) is a pretty little snake and one of my favorite. They are small and slender, only getting about 10 to 15 inches long. Many people often mistaken them for baby snakes, but babies of this species (hatchlings) are only about 4 inches in length. Their coloration is generally a gray body though they can also be almost black to tannish in color, with an orangish to yellowish belly, and a similarly colored band or ring around its neck. Sometimes the coloration of the underside gets darker nearer the tail. The belly can also have small black spots down the length. There is geographic variation on the completeness of the ring across this species’ range. Depending on location, the ring can be complete, broken or even absent.
This species has a large geographic distribution being found throughout eastern and central North America from Quebec and Ontario in Canada down to south central parts of Mexico. Given its extensive distribution it is not surprising that there are several subspecies recognized.
Ring-necked snakes feed on worms, slugs and other soft bodied invertebrates as well as small frogs and lizards. They have a mild venom that can be found in their saliva that helps subdue their prey for easier swallowing and digesting. The venom is harmless to humans and pets. In fact, venom actually evolved in snakes as a way for them to safely subdue, consume and digest its prey (snakes do not have hands or talons to help them kill their prey). Venom did not evolve as a means for biting and hurting humans as some people may believe. The other method for subduing prey in snakes is constricting. Many snakes that rely on constricting are also non-venomous, and these non-venomous species are much more numerous than venomous ones, so you are more than likely to come across a non-venomous snake. Interestingly venom evolved independently in several different groups of snakes, so venomous snakes are not necessarily closely related to one another.
Besides needing to find and handle their food, snakes also need to prevent themselves from becoming food. Snakes have a variety of behaviors and methods for avoiding be predated upon. Most of the time snakes will try to flee or hide, when they are caught off guard they try other tactics. One of my favorites is that of the hognose snakes, which will go belly up and play dead. Some rat snakes will shake their tail, even though they do not have rattles like rattlesnakes. Perhaps this is mimics the rattle of a rattlesnake, or at least create a sound disturbance that might distract the predator. A defensive posture of the ring-necked snake is to coil and flip its tail upside down exposing the brightly colored underside, perhaps as a way to deter a would-be predator. They will also release a bad smelling musk, especially if handled.
So if you are afraid of snakes and come across one, remember it would much rather not be around you anymore than perhaps you want it to be around you, mutual dislike. However, if you are keen to see snakes, the ring-necked snake is a beauty.
Pretty little snake
Notice the brightly colored belly of the snake, and this individual has black spots running down its belly as well. The spots can be present or absent in this species.
Ring-necked snake in its defensive posture, showing me the brightly colored underside of its tail.
The two of us, both showing off our rings.
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