Harmless Garden Surprise

Even someone with a fear of snakes would find it hard not to smile when confronted with the little northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). Found through much of the northeastern states, the northern ringneck is one of six subspecies of ringneck snake in the United States. At maturity, this diminutive reptile reaches a length of less than fifteen inches. The adult snake pictured here is just about full-grown.

Ring neck snake 6-3-04 3-smYou might find this secretive creature in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows, rocky slopes, gravel pits and gardens. Since it prefers to remain hidden, the ringneck snake is most often encountered while you are rebuilding a stone wall or flipping over debris or garden mulch material such as plywood, black plastic or old carpet. Rather than bask in the open on a sunny day, the ringneck will hide under these warmed items, or under a warm flat rock sitting atop a ledge or boulder.

Its dark back is a plain gray, black or brown and its unkeeled scales give it a smooth, touchable appearance. The snake gets its name from the thin yellow ring around its neck, a nice touch on an otherwise drab back. But turn it over for the real surprise; the ringneck has a strikingly beautiful orange-yellow belly.

The female ringneck will lay one to six eggs, which are one inch long. They hatch in about eight weeks, sometime in the summer; the young snakes are four to five inches long at birth. It will take two to three years for a ringneck snake to reach maturity and full size, such as it is. [It should be noted that young northern brown snakes (Storeria d. dekayi), which are about the same size as young ringneck snakes, will also have a pale ring around the neck. A closer look will reveal that their scales are keeled, or ridged.]

The ringneck snake is a harmless inhabitant of your garden and woodlands. You have no need to fear it, unless of course you are a red-backed salamander, the ringneck’s favorite food.

Submitted by Cindi Kobak

Photo by Cindi Kobak