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Northern Ring-necked Snake

Diadophis punctatus

 

Northern ring-necked snake © Joe Crowley

Characteristics

This slender snake is aptly named for the distinct yellow, cream or orange ring around the neck. The body is a uniform dark grey, brown or black. This species has smooth scales. Juveniles tend to be even blacker than the adults and have velvety skin. The belly of the northern ring-necked snake is generally bright yellow or orange with dark edges, although sometimes it is a dull yellow or whitish yellow. Ring-necked snakes can grow to just over 70 centimetres in length but are usually 30 to 40 centimetres long.

Northern ring-necked snake © Joe Crowley

Similar Species

No other adult snake in Ontario has a distinct yellow ring around its neck. Red-bellied snakes and juvenile Dekay’s brownsnakes can have a light-coloured, sometimes ring-like marking on the neck. Red-bellied snakes have a red belly and dark stripes down the back. Dekay’s brownsnakes have a light brown (but sometimes pinkish or tan) belly and two rows of dark spots down the back.

Habitat

Ring-necked snakes are found in forested areas, including forest edges and clearings. These snakes are most common in areas with shallow soil and surface bedrock, where they are frequently found under rocks, logs or bark. They hibernate underground and will also retreat underground during especially warm weather.

Northern ring-necked snake © Todd Pierson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

View an interactive map of the known ranges of ring-necked snakes in Ontario.

Have you seen a ring-necked snake?

Beaver River, Uxbridge © Sean Marshall

Biology

Northern ring-necked snakes breed in the spring or fall. Females lay up to 10 eggs in rotting logs or under rocks or boards in early summer. The eggs hatch after about two months. The young snakes are from six to 12 centimetres long at birth and mature in two to three years.

These snakes primarily eat salamanders, specifically the red-backed salamander, which they suffocate through constriction. They will also eat other amphibians, slugs, earthworms and insects.

Ring-necked snakes are nocturnal and remain under rocks, logs and leaf piles during the day. These snakes are social and can often be found in groups. If threatened, the northern ring-necked snake may emit a musky odour or display its bright underside to scare off predators.

Other names: northern ringneck snake, ring-necked snake

Northern ring-necked snake © Emma Horrigan

Threats and Trends

Localized habitat destruction, predation and road mortality threaten some populations of this species, but none of these threats are considered to be serious. Although not commonly seen, the northern ring-necked snake is believed to be widespread and its populations to be relatively stable.

Northern ring-necked snake © Joe Crowley

Current Status and Protection

Neither the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario nor the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the status of the northern ring-necked snake. The species has been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which offers protection to individuals but not their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the ring-necked snake as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in 2010.

Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.

Northern ring-necked snake © Gord Belyea