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Southern Ringneck Snake | A Little Oklahoma Reptile
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!
- 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
Yellow or red
Light to dark grey
Orange to yellow
Key ringneck snake
Slate grey (sometimes no ring)
Orange, yellow, red
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
How do you feel about snakes?
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.
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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