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 (Diadophis punctatus) is generally bright yellow or orange with dark edges, although sometimes it is a dull yellow or whitish yellow. Ring-necked snakes typically grow between 25 and 40 centimetres long.
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.
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.
View an interactive map of the known ranges of northern ring-necked snakes in Ontario.
Northern ring-necked snakes breed in the spring or fall. Females lay three to four eggs in rotting logs or under rocks or boards in early summer. The eggs hatch after about two months. The young snakes are from 11 to 14 centimetres long at birth and mature in three to four 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
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.
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 is not listed as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the northern ring-necked snake as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in March 2007.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.
What You Can Do
- Report a sighting
- Get involved in reptile and amphibian conservation on your property, on the road and in your community
- Donate to support reptile and amphibian conservation
- Watch for reptiles and amphibians on the road
- Don’t release pet reptiles and amphibians into the wild
- Read more about the northern ring-necked snake in the Ontario Reptile and Amphibians Atlas publication.