What is a Ringneck Snake?

Tara Barnett

The ringneck snake is a reptile commonly found in North America, including areas of the United States, southeastern Canada, and central Mexico. It is named for the brightly colored ring typically present just below its head. Usually a small animal, reaching sizes of only 10 inches (25 centimeters) to 15 inches (38 centimeters), these snakes are known more for defense mechanisms than for being dangerous. While most varieties of ringneck snake are slightly venomous, none are known to be actively aggressive toward larger threats such as humans or other animals.

Ringneck snakes eat earthworms, among other things.
Ringneck snakes eat earthworms, among other things.

The appearance of ringneck snakes is very distinctive. It has smooth scales giving it a shiny or silky appearance. While its back is typically a dark shade, such as black, gray, or brown, it has extremely brightly colored bellies and rings around its necks. This brighter color is usually yellow, red, or orange. The ventral design may be solid or patterned depending on the variety of ringneck snake.

A ringneck snake has a bright ring below its head.
A ringneck snake has a bright ring below its head.

In some cases, the distinctive ring around the snake's neck may be missing or mottled, or the belly color may be slightly varied. These snakes are also occasionally born in albino varieties, in which case the back is colored white, cream, or even pink. An albino ringneck snake typically retains the distinctively bright ventral color, as well as the neck ring.

These snakes are shy, nocturnal creatures that are usually found hiding under leaves or other warm items during the day, and hunting at night. These reptiles are often described as secretive. Ringneck snakes live in colonies, some with a great number of members, others with only a few. Main predators include birds, bullfrogs, and larger snakes.

Ringneck snakes are known to eat smaller snakes, salamanders, earthworms, or even fish. As pets, they can be very picky eaters. If given the chance, they may attempt to eat similar-sized snake. The ringneck snake usually secures its prey by constriction, and then kills it with venom. It then swallows the victim whole.

One of the most interesting defense strategies employed by the ringneck snake is the display of warning colors in an attempt to scare predators off. When startled, ringneck snakes do not usually strike. They wind themselves up and display their bright belly colors to communicate that they are dangerous animals equipped with poison. Like many snakes, they also sometimes expel a potent musk when handled. When encountered in the wild, the best strategy for dealing with these snakes is to simply walk away.

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