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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Pacific Ring-necked Snake - Diadophis punctatus amabilis

Baird and Girard, 1853
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Ring-necked Snake California Range Map
Range in California: Red

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to the other subspecies



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Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
  Adult, Santa Clara County  
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
  Adult, Contra Costa County  
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Contra Costa County Adult, Contra Costa County
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Contra Costa County Adult, Santa Cruz County Adult, Santa Clara County
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snakes
Adult, Alameda County 8 adults as found under one board, Alameda County
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
Unusually-colored adult from Petaluma in Sonoma county. Compare the lack of red pigment on its underside to other snakes on this page. © Richard Porter
YouTube video.
Juvenile, Santa Cruz County
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake Pacific Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Napa County, © Edgar Ortega Adult, from eastern Lake County, a probable intergrade with D. p. occidentalis. © Nancy Mittasch Adult, Solano County © Lou Silva
  Pacific Ring-necked Snake  
  Adult, San Francisco County
© Luke Talltree
 
     
Ring-necked Snakes Feeding
San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake

An adult San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake eating an adult Arboreal Salamander in Los Angeles County © Jonathan Benson

Adult Monterey Ring-necked Snake eating a Slender Salamander, San Luis Obispo County © Andrew Harmer
San Diego Ring-necked Snake San Diego Ring-necked Snake San Diego Ring-necked Snake
Ring-necked Snakes use a mild venom to subdue their prey which include snakes and lizards. This San Diego Ring-necked Snake from San Diego County regurgitated a California Legless Lizard that it had recently eaten. © Donald Schultz
 
Habitat
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, Santa Clara County Habitat, Contra Costa County
Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat Pacific Ring-necked Snake Habitat
Habitat, SF Bay, Alameda County Habitat, Santa Cruz County Habitat, Santa Cruz County
  California Nightsnake Habitat  
  Habitat, Contra Costa County  
     
Short Videos - Including Other Subspecies of Ring-necked Snakes
ring-necked snake
A Pacific Ring-necked Snake is found under a log in the woods and is filmed on an old picnic table before being released to crawl back under its log. A Pacific Ring-necked Snake is found under a board in a forest clearing and demonstrates how quickly it can move. A few brief views of a large San Diego Ring-necked snake and its habitat.
  San Diego Ring-necked Snake  
  A San Diego Ring-necked snake is released back where it was found.  
   
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Mildly venomous. Not considered dangerous to humans.
Enlarged non-grooved teeth in the rear of the upper jaw and mild venom which may help to incapacitate small prey.

Size
The typical total length of an adult Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) varies somewhat by subspecies but in general it is about 11 - 16 inches (28 - 42 cm.)
Hatchlings are much smaller and longer specimens are sometimes found.
The record length is 33-5/8 inches (85.4 cm.)

Appearance
A small, thin snake with smooth scales.
Color and Pattern
Gray, blue-gray, blackish, or dark olive dorsal coloring, with a yellow to orange underside, speckled with numerous black markings.
The underside of the tail is a bright reddish orange.
A narrow orange band around the neck, 1 - 1.5 scale rows wide.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Secretive - usually found under the cover of rocks, wood, bark, boards and other surface debris, but occasionally seen moving on the surface on cloudy days, at dusk, or at night.
Defense
When disturbed, coils its tail like a corkscrew, exposing the underside which is usually bright red.
It may also smear musk and cloacal contents.
Diet and Feeding
Eats slender salamanders and other small salamanders, tadpoles, small frogs, small snakes, lizards, worms, slugs, and insects. The mild venom may help to incapacitate prey.
Breeding
Lays eggs in the summer, sometimes in a communal nest.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Diadophis punctatus amabilis - Pacific Ring-necked Snake, is endemic to California, occuring from just north of the San Francisco Bay around Sonoma County, south to the Monterey Bay region.

The species Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake, has a very wide range, occuring along the entire east coast of the United States west to the Great Lakes and southwest from there through the Midwest into Arizona, with scattered isolated populations throughout most of the western states including the western half of California, Oregon west of the Cascades, and south central Washington.

Full Species Range Map
Red = Approximate Range of Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake

Habitat
Prefers moist habitats, including wet meadows, rocky hillsides, gardens, farmland, grassland, chaparral, mixed coniferous forests, woodlands.

Notes on Taxonomy
Many herpetologists no longer recognize the traditional morphologically-based subspecies of Diadophis punctatus, pending a thorough molecular study of the whole species. One ongoing study (Feldman and Spicer, 2006, Mol. Ecol. 15:2201-2222) has found all of the D. punctatus subspecies in California (except D. p. regalis) to be indistinguishable. It is likely that D. punctatus is composed of several distinct lineages that do not follow the geographic ranges of the subspecies.


In a phylogeographic analysis of the species, Fontanella, et. al (2008) identified fourteen lineages of Diadophis punctatus. They did not recognize these lineages as separate species, pending a full taxonomic review that will require further dna sampling and evaluation, including populations in Mexico.

In our area, they recognized four distinct lineages, which loosely follow existing subspecies boundaries, but merge the seven subspecies into 4 groups:

* A southern California lineage, which includes the San Diego and San Bernardino subspecies, D. p. similis, and D. p. modestus

* An eastern California lineage, which includes the Coral-bellied subspecies, D. p. pulchellus, and some of the northern intergrades with D. p. occidentalis.

* A Coastal California lineage, which includes the Monterey subspecies, D. p. vandenburghi, the Pacific subspcies, D. p. amabilis, the Northwestern subspecies, D. p. occidentalis, and snakes from one region of the western Sierra Nevada currently recognized as D. p. pulchellus, along with the southern intergrades in the Tehachapi mountains region.

* A Great Basin lineage which presumably includes the Regal subspecies, D. p. regalis, found in isolated locations in the eastern Mojave.

A rough interpretation of the ranges of these four lineages is illustrated in the map below.
New Ring-necked Lineages Range Map
Red: Southern lineage
Orange: Eastern lineage
Purple: Coastal lineage      
           Light Blue: Great Basin lineage

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Diadophis Ring-necked Snakes Baird and Girard, 1853
Species punctatus Ring-necked Snake (Linnaeus, 1766)
Subspecies

amabilis Pacific Ring-necked Snake Baird and Girard, 1853
Original Description
Diadophis punctatus - (Linnaeus, 1766) - Syst. Nat., 12th ed., Vol. 1, p. 376
Diadophis punctatus amabilis - Baird and Girard, 1853 - Cat. N.

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Diadophis - Latin - diadema - crown and Greek -ophis - snake -- "generally w/a light ring on the occipital region."
punctatus
- Latin - dotted - refers to spotted belly of species
amabilis - Latin - lovely

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake (no subspecies recognized)

Related or Similar California Snakes
D. p. modestus - San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake
D. p. occidentalis - Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
D. p. pulchellus - Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake
D. p. regalis - Regal Ring-necked Snake
D. p. similis - San Diego Ring-necked Snake
D. p. vandenburghi - Monterey Ring-necked Snake
C. tenuis - Sharp-tailed Snake
T. hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake
T. planiceps - Western Black-headed Snake

More Information and References

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.

Fontanella , Frank M., Chris R. Feldman, Mark E. Siddall, & Frank T. Burbrink. Phylogeography of Diadophis punctatus: Extensive lineage diversity and repeated patterns of historical demography in a trans-continental snake. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 46 (2008) 1049–1070. 2008.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

 

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