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Southern Ringneck Snake | A Little Oklahoma Reptile

Updated on September 9, 2014
The Southern Ringneck snake.
The Southern Ringneck snake. | Source

Finding A New Snake

Even though this spring has been uncommonly cold for Oklahoma (snow in May!), we are already seeing several snakes. Whereas the not-so-pygmy rattlesnake was an unwanted guest, some of our other sneaky friends are actually beneficial.

Ever since my baby sister was bitten by a copperhead many years ago, I usually embrace a kill-first, identify later policy with snakes that come close to my house. With a toddler of my own, I am constantly on edge about Oklahoma's deadlier wildlife.

When I was turning over stones for landscaping this spring, I was startled by a small snake. It was greyish-black, and had an orange band around it's neck. It was faster than me, and escaped down into the creek bed. Since I had never seen anything like it before, I came inside and Googled it.

The news was good. I didn't have a mutant coral snake loose in my yard. Instead I had a ring-necked snake; a harmless bug eating species of slitherer.

In just this last month, I have uncovered ten of these ring-necked snakes. I've lived off and on in Oklahoma for over 20 years, and yet this is the first time I ever seen this species. Since I enjoy discovering new wildlife in my yard, I thought I would research this little guy and share his story.

Venomous Snakes Found In Oklahoma

Since Oklahoma is home to 7 varieties of venomous snake, we have a good reason to be cautious!

  • Copperhead
  • Water moccasin (cottonmouth)
  • Ground (pygmy) rattlesnake
  • Coral snake
  • Timber rattlesnake
  • Prairie rattlesnake
  • Diamondback rattlesnake
  • Western Massasauga (rattlesnake)

I have personally come (too) close to 5 of these species. Read about my experiences sharing Oklahoma with venomous snakes here.

Identifying The Southern Ringneck Snake

The Southern ringneck snake is actually pretty easy to identify. It is small...not much bigger than a pencil. The dorsal side (upper body) is completely dark gray to black, except for a "necklace" of orange or red right behind the head.

This necklace may be incomplete on some individuals. This makes the necklace look more like a Celtic torc.

If you are still in doubt, turn the snake over. He will have a brilliant belly color ranging from yellowish-orange to bright red. The red will be mottled with black spots.

Note: This is only for the Southern ringneck. Other subspecies have varying colors, and some will have no band or speckles.

Interesting Differences in Ringneck Snake Coloration

Snake
Dorsal Color
Ventral Color
Mottled Ventral?
Southern Ringneck
Grey-brown-black
Orange-red
Yes
San Bernadino
Grey
Orange-red
Yes
Northern Ringneck
Bluish-black
Yellow or red
No
Regal Ringneck
Light to dark grey
Orange to yellow
Yes
Key ringneck snake
Slate grey (sometimes no ring)
Orange, yellow, red
No
These descriptions are not 100% accurate, as individual snakes differ greatly in appearance even within one subspecies.
Range of the ringneck snake. Blue states only have populations in isolated areas. Red states find ringnecks in all regions. White states have not reported ringnecks.
Range of the ringneck snake. Blue states only have populations in isolated areas. Red states find ringnecks in all regions. White states have not reported ringnecks.

Habitat and Range of the Ringneck Snake

The ringneck snake has roughly 14 subspecies. ( some of which are debated among herpetologists) It also has one of the largest geographical ranges of any North American snake, being found in over two-thirds of the US.

They have a population density estimated at approximately 700 per every 2 acres in some regions. That means I have about 690 more ringneck snakes somewhere in my yard!

You will find ringneck snakes in almost every US state, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. In general, they prefer areas with plenty of hiding places and natural cover. Some of the places you might find a ringneck snake include:

  • Under stones
  • Under leaf litter
  • Under rotting wood or logs
  • In marshy flood plains
  • Under flower pots
  • Near woodpiles
  • In flat woodlands

They are sociable snakes, so you are likely to find more than one. Some subspecies even lay eggs in a communal nest.

Another ringneck snake found under a stone.
Another ringneck snake found under a stone. | Source

Mating Habits and Baby Snakes

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera handy when I surprised two ringneck snakes that were obviously..."enjoying each other's company". It isn't the first time I've accidentally witnessed snakes being amorous.

What I didn't know this time is that ringneck snakes are very private and prudish about their mating habits. According the University of Michigan, it is incredibly rare to witness ringneck snakes during mating. (only 6 confirmed observances!) Alas, this one didn't get documented either (and the snakes retained their dignity and anonymity).

According to what HAS been observed, these snakes usually mate in the spring (although some subspecies prefer autumn). The female attracts the male by secreting pheromones. After mating, 3-10 eggs are laid. These will hatch anywhere between late June and August.

The eggs are usually laid under leaf litter or rotting logs. Baby snakes hatch as complete replicas of their parents, complete with their showy necklaces. The juveniles are precocial, meaning they require no parental care.

Found this ringneck snake hunting bugs in my flower bed. It is easy to mistake the smaller snakes for earthworms.
Found this ringneck snake hunting bugs in my flower bed. It is easy to mistake the smaller snakes for earthworms. | Source

What Do Ringneck Snakes Eat?

The diet of the ringneck snake depends on region and subspecies. In general though, they like to eat invertebrates, such as:

  • Frogs
  • Salamanders
  • Worms
  • Insects
  • Tadpoles
  • Slugs

The area where I found my snakes suggest they are eating slugs and insects, the most plentiful invertebrates close to my flower beds. (and they are welcome to eat all they like!)

Ringneck snakes eat by first striking their prey and injecting it with their tiny amount of venom. They then constrict the prey until it is almost dead. Like most snakes, they then swallow the dying prey whole.

The ringneck uses his red underbelly to warn predators away.
The ringneck uses his red underbelly to warn predators away. | Source

Are Ringneck Snakes Venomous?

Unless your diet consists of invertebrates and you are competing with snakes for your next meal, these snakes are no threat to you. Even though they are slightly venomous, the size of their mouth and location of their fangs makes it improbable that they could bite you. The amount of venom they carry is also very small, just enough for feeding purposes.

Since the ringneck snake is unable to defend itself from larger predators by biting, it flashes it's red underbelly when threatened. When I captured this one, it twisted itself into an impressive shape and corkscrewed it's tail at me, giving me a glimpse of it's crimson petticoats. (not very scary, Mr. Snake. Sorry.)

The ringneck may also secrete a foul odor from it's musk glands, or excrete fecal matter, in an attempt to scare off predators. My snake was much too civilized to do this. Or if he did, he was too small to be smelly.

Ringnecks are incredibly docile. There are very few recordings of one every attempting to bite a human.

Ringneck snake in defensive pose--flashing his tail to scare me.
Ringneck snake in defensive pose--flashing his tail to scare me. | Source
The ringneck snake is actually a shy pet.
The ringneck snake is actually a shy pet. | Source

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Can You Keep Ringneck Snakes As Pets?

Southern ringneck snakes are a popular pet choice. Perhaps because their small size doesn't necessitate the purchase of very large tanks or other expensive equipment.

Most ringneck snakes kept as pets are purchased from pet stores. However, some individuals have had success keeping wild snakes they have found around their home. From my research, it seems that wild-caught snakes tend to do better than pet store snakes. This is probably due to the stress and mishandling common in pet stores.

It also appears that snakes raised from babies tend to adapt better than adults. They can become accustomed to feeding and handling, but still remain a reclusive and shy pet.

Because ringnecks are small (adults only reaching about 10 inches) one can live comfortably in a 10 gallon tank with a constant fresh water supply. Like all snakes, they prefer live food, so if you intend to keep a snake as a pet, be prepared to catch or purchase a variety of insect, slugs, worms, or other small prey.

An unusually large pygmy rattlesnake found in our yard. Not a welcome visitor.
An unusually large pygmy rattlesnake found in our yard. Not a welcome visitor. | Source

Learn To Recognize Harmless Snakes

In recent years I have relaxed quite a bit where snakes are concerned. Most get tossed over the fence into the woods where they can go about doing their snakely and beneficial business.

Although being able to identify venomous snakes is very important, it is equally important to be able to recognize harmless varieties as well.Not only does this prevent the un-needed killing of snakes that are a useful and vital part of the local eco-system, it can prevent accidents.

For example, it is one thing to kill a scarlet snake because you mistook it for a coral snake. It is an entirely different (and potentially fatal) matter if you handle a coral snake because you thought it was a scarlet snake!

Because of the research I've done on the ringneck snakes, we have agreed to live in mutual harmony together. They have become the newest piece of native Oklahoma wildlife added to my garden, and one that I foresee enjoying throughout the coming months.

© 2013 Jayme Kinsey

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    • profile image

      Jayfort 4 years ago

      I've seen a few of the ringneck snakes in my yard (Stillwater!). Having had a few near misses with the rattlers (in AZ) and a copperhead (in AR), I too tend towards kill first and figure it out later approach with snakes!

    • Patriot Quest profile image

      Wayne Joel Bushong 4 years ago from America

      I live in Piedmont on 5 acres..........to date haven't ever seen a snake on my property..........before I lived in Mustang in a gated community and killed 5 last summer..........how strange is that?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting. If we have them here in Washington I have never seen them. I love to learn about different species and this was a very good read.

    • Sharkye11 profile image
      Author

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      @Jayfort--Oh yes! Arkansas can be quite snakey! I spent all my summers there growing up. We used to go swimming at the lake and always designated someone with good eyes to be a spotter for the moccasins. One time a thunderstorm surprised all the swimmers, and the moccasins got all stirred up and the lake and campground were covered in them. Not fun! Thanks for reading, and I hope you can make peace with the ringneck snakes at least.

    • profile image

      Jayfort 4 years ago

      Thanks, Sharkye! Another bad place for water moccasins is San Angelo, Texas. They're aggressive, too.

    • Patriot Quest profile image

      Wayne Joel Bushong 4 years ago from America

      Jayfort, your right! I grew up in that country! Them suckers will try to get in the boat with you! Even while beating them back with rod and reel!!

    • Sharkye11 profile image
      Author

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      @Jayfort and Patriot Quest--The snake advocates swear that moccasins and copperheads are non-aggressive. Apparently they have never been chased by either snake. I have! I lived in SE Oklahoma, and the combination of marshy/mountainy/forested terrain made for big, nasty snakes. We lived 35 miles from humanity...we used to take walks back into a million acre Weyerhauser plantation. We always carried big sticks because the copperheads and moccasins would come out of certain places and chase you down the road.

      Patriot quest...sounds weird about the gated community. Maybe your snakes like that better lifestyle!

    • Sharkye11 profile image
      Author

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      @Bill--The ringnecks only show up in a few small areas in Washington, mainly along the coast. I thought it was odd that they are all over Oklahoma but I never found one anywhere else. Some of the species don't have the ring, and the only way to distinguish them is by the tail coiling action. I never looked that close before, so I may have missed it. the ring definitely helps with identification! Thanks for reading!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What a great story. I will keep a watch for these snakes in Stillwater.

    • Sharkye11 profile image
      Author

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      @aviannovice--I hope you get to see one! It will go great with your nature collection! I have found four more since I wrote this hub, so they must e having a good year.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 3 years ago from United States

      This is an interesting story, Jayme. We grew up our in the country and played with ringnecks as kids. I did not realize they were even slightly venomous because even most of us girls did not think a thing about holding one of them. I do not recall them ever biting anyone at all. However, I do recall a few incidents people had with copperheads. As I recall, they can be pretty aggressive and difficult to kill. Voted up.

    • Sharkye11 profile image
      Author

      Jayme Kinsey 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      @Gail--I was just surprised to learn how common they are. I had never seen one anywhere, unless it was one of the ring-less varieties. I loathe copperheads. We grew up in the country and copperheads and moccasins were a very real threat everyday of warm weather. My sister barely survived a copperhead bite. I never let one live if I find it near my house!

      These little snakes are pretty fun though. I wouldn't mind keeping one as a pet, but I don't really have the set-up. I will just let them hang out in the yard for now, I guess.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your memories!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Southern Ringneck Snake--A Little Oklahoma Nature very interesting and knowledgeable hub and you informed us so well.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      It's a pretty snake. We have two similar looking snakes here where I live. One is a copper head. I think they call the other one a king snake. A young girl just got bit by a copper head on a walking trail this past summer. I had a king snake in my yard and stepped on it by accident. I could feel the coil under my foot. It didn't bite me and I have to believe it wasn't the poisonous one.

    • profile image

      Anomynous 3 years ago

      I live Wichita, I've always wanted to see a ring-neck snake. My dad used to find them all over the place when he was a kid. I was doing a project at school, and decided to research them, because I wanted know more about them. I found out that they were apparently still common here in KS, but they like moisture, something that's been pretty hard to find.

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 23 months ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

      Thank you.... Saw my first juvenile ring-neck this morning on my way on to the beach here on Hutchinson island, Florida. He/she was sleeping on the path. Touched it with my toe and it slithered off like lightening. Thanks for the great article.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 21 months ago from sunny Florida

      Very informative...and about the turning it over when in doubt...well, no, I won't be doing that. :D I do love to go to areas where snakes are kept behind glass windows for me to admire and oooh and aaah over but not really crazy about them in my space.

      Congrats on HOTD

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 21 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub, Jamie. This is an interesting hub for sure about these snakes. I'm afraid of them, though I've written a novel about them, too. Congrats on HOTD!

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 7 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      Although we don't have these little snakes in Australia, I wish we did - they'd be very beneficial in my strawberry patch! :-)

      Glad you like having these little animals in your garden. Enjoyed reading about them.

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