The northern ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) is a petite and rarely seen woodland snake that is native to Canada and the eastern United States. Named after its beautiful yellow collar, the ringneck snake appears to be wearing a delicate golden necklace made of scales. The rest of its body is a sublime bluish-black to gray color with an underside of yellow or white scales and a few black dots. The ringneck snake is pencil thin and full grown at only 10 to 16 inches in size, making it one of the smaller species of snakes that can be found on Long Island.
The ringneck snake is a part of the Colubrid family, which includes seventy-five percent of all snake species in the world. It prefers to live in hardwood forests where it can travel secretively through leaf litter. The ringneck is most active between April and October when temperatures rise and allow the snake to hunt and reproduce. Females are oviparous, which means they lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. A female ringneck can lay between 2 to 10 oval eggs that are about the size of a penny during the months of June or July. Multiple females have been found laying their eggs together under an ideal log. Like most reptiles, the young are born completely independent and don’t need any parental care. Hatchling snakes are a delicate 4 to 5 inches in length and are sometimes accidentally found in basements, garages, curled up in logs, under rocks or debris piles. A ringneck snake hatchling at the Refuge was once found trapped in a spider web! The simplest and best way to help is to just scoop them up and release them outside.
The ringneck snake is harmless and rarely bites animals larger than itself. Instead, it hunts for earthworms, salamanders (a favorite on the menu is the red-backed salamander), beetles, slugs, small frogs, insects, and sometimes other snakes. Ringneck snakes will hunt at dawn, dusk, and during the night if the opportunity arises, but hardly ever travel through open spaces as other snakes do. If threatened by a larger animal, the ringneck snake will emit an unpleasant musk in defense. Some subspecies of the ringneck snake, especially in the southern U.S., have a bright red colored tail that they coil to distract predators like hawks, great horned owls, bullfrogs, black racer snakes, and domestic cats away from their head.
Like many animals, the ringneck snake can be in danger of being hit by cars when crossing the road. Since they are so petite, they can also be inadvertently caught in glue traps meant for bugs or mice. To help all critters, don’t use glue traps as they cause inhumane suffering for the animals caught in them. Although many people may fear snakes, they are mid-level predators that control pest populations from growing at an unnatural rate and are a key component to maintaining a healthy environment. The northern ringneck snake is just one of many fascinating species of snakes that we share our beautiful island with. Keep a keen eye out for them on your next visit to the Refuge.
by Cara Fernandes