Southern Ring-necked Snake
Diadophis punctatus punctatus

Common Name:

Southern Ring-necked Snake

Scientific Name:

Diadophis punctatus punctatus

Etymology:

Genus:

Diadophis is derived from the Greek words diadem which means "headband" and ophis which means "snake".

Species:

punctatus is derived from the Latin word punctum which means "spot". This refers to the ventral spotting.

Subspecies:

punctatus is derived from the Latin word punctum which means "spot". This refers to the ventral spotting.

Vernacular Names:

Punctuated viper; ring snake

Average Length:

10 - 14 in. (25.4 - 36 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

19.5 in. (49.5 cm)

Record length:

27.8 in. (70.6 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The adult is gray to bluish-black above with a flat, black head. The neck ring and ventral color varies from yellowish to reddish and the neck ring is usually incomplete. The belly has a row of dark, half-moon-shaped spots running along its length. The dorsal scales are smooth with 15 scale rows and the anal plate divided. Loreal and preocular scales are present. The size ranges from 4 inches at birth to almost 24 inches with the adults usually from 10-16 inches *1006*. In Virginia, maximum known SVL is 400 mm (15.7 in.) and maximum total length 495 mm (19.5 in.) *10760*. Outside Virginia, the record length of this species is 18 7/8 inches *11523*. Tail length/total length averages 21.3+/-2.1% (15.7-29.1), n=323). Record longevity for this species is 6 years and 2 months *11523*.

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 132-172 (avg. = 154.1+/-7.7, n=353), subcaudals 35-68 (avg. = 53.4+/-6.0, n=322); ventrals + subcaudals 177-229) avg. = 207.5+/-11.4, n=322); dorsal scales smooth; scale rows 15 (100%, n=337) at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials 8-8 (71.2%, n=340), 7-7 (14.7%), other combinations of 6-10 (14.1%); supralabials 8-8 (63.7%, n=339), 7-7 (19.5%), 7-8 or 8-7 (14.4%), other combinations of 6-9 (2.4%); loreal present; preoculars 2-2; postoculars 2-2; temporals usually 1+1/1+1 (94.1%, n=337), 1+2/1+2 (3.2%), other combinations of 1 and 2 (2.7%).

COLORATION and PATTERN: body uniformly bluish black to slate gray or brownish with a cream to yellow collar across the neck; collar complete or broken (or constricted) at the middorsal line; venter cream to yellow and immaculate, or is patterned with a single midventral row of small black spots to large half-moon shaped spots; head black with white supralabials and a white chin. Some specimens have black spots in the labial scales and on the chin. The head is flattened in individuals from the mountains and rounded in those from the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: There are no sexual differences in color or pattern. Adult male SVL is 183-358 (avg. = 262.3+/-43.0, n=111) and female SVL is 219-400 (avg. = 300.0+/-49.7, n=109). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.14. Tail length/total length ration is higher in males (16.6-29.1, avg. = 22.3+/-1.7, n=174) than females (15.7-28.8, avg. = 20.2+/-2.0, n=147). Number of ventral scales is higher in females (138-172, avg. = 156.0+/-6.4, n=161) than male (132-165, avg. = 150.7+/-7.1, n=190), whereas number of subcaudal scales is higher in males (35-68, avg. = 54.8+/-6.0, n=171) than females 37-64, avg. = 51.8+/-5.7, n=149). Number of ventrals + subcaudal scales is similar between sexes (males 177-223), avg. = 205.5+/-11.8, n=171; females 179-229, avg. = 209.7+/-10.6, n=149).*10760*

JUVENILES: hatchlings are patterned as adults but the body is uniformly colored black or blue-black and the venter is usually white (whether or not spotting is present). At hatching, juveniles are 91-128 mm SVL (avg. = 107.5+/-11.6, n=18), 108-159 mm total length (avg. = 131.7+/-16.4) and weigh 0.6-1.1 grams (avg. = 0.84+/-0.12*10760*

CONFUSING SPECIES: Diadophis punctatus is usually identified correctly because of the uniformly-colored body and head, and bright collar across the neck. Juveniles can be mistaken for neonates of Storeria dekayi, Storeria occipitomaculata, and Virginia striatula, but all of these have keeled scales.*10760* This subspecies sometimes intergrades with the northern ringneck snake subspecies *11523*.

REPRODUCTION: This species lays from 2-10 whitish eggs usually in rotting logs in June or early July. The young hatch in the early summer. Several clutches of eggs may be layed together in a communal nest *1006*. Behavior: As a defensive action, this species may twist and raise their tails when approached by certain predators. Some (not Virginia) will feign death on occasion. They are very sociable and usually they will be found hiding in pairs. This species is an active feeder and will take insects, earthworms, small snakes, small lizards, salamanders and frogs *1006*. The number of eggs is positively related to the size of the female. Ringneck Snake eggs are smooth, average 27.7+/-6.2 x 8.8+/-0.7 mm (length 22.2-36.0, width 7.9-9.3, n=5) in size and weigh an average of 1.32 g (1.30-1.33, n=2). Lab incubation time was 45-58 days and recorded hatching dates are between 2-30 August.*10760*

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is preyed on by raccoons, opossums, skunks, black bears, shrews and toads *1006*.

POPULATION ECOLOGY: Fitch estimated population densities of 719-1849 individuals per hectare in Kansas. Populations of D. punctatus in Virginia appear to be larger in the mountains than in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, but this may be a function of the number of aggregation sites in the former compared to the lack of them in the latter. Fitch noted that ringneck snakes do not always use sites that allow us to catch them, as many snakes seek shelter beneath mats of vegetation.*10760* Ringneck snakes do not bite when caught but will release a foul-smelling feces and musk from anal glands. Exaggerated tail coiling, a defensive behavior that detracts a potential predator away from the head, is seen in subspecies which have the ventral surface of the tail brightly colored. This behavior has not been seen in Virginia D. punctatus, although the tail is often partially coiled when these snakes are captured. Fitch found that most movements made by ringneck snakes in Kansas were less than 250 m in length. This indicates that these snakes maintain small home ranges.*10760*

References for Life History

  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC

Photos:

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FROGS

Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.

SALAMANDERS

We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.

LIZARDS

Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.

SNAKES

The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.

TURTLES

Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.