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.
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.
This subspecies typically gets to 18 inches (46 cm). The record length is 33-5/8 inches (85.4 cm.)
A small, thin snake with smooth scales.
Color and Pattern
Gray, blue-gray, blackish, or dark olive dorsal coloring, with a bright orange to reddish underside, lightly speckled with black markings, heavily speckled under the chin.
The underside of the tail is a bright reddish orange.
A narrow orange band around the neck, 1.5 - 3 scale rows wide.
Life History and Behavior
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.
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.
Lays eggs in the summer, sometimes in a communal nest.
This subspecies, Diadophis punctatus occidentalis - Northwestern Ring-necked Snake, is found along the northern California coast from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, and inland through the coast ranges, and north through Oregon into southern Washington, with isoloated populations in Idaho.
The species Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake, has a very wide range, occurring 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.
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.
Based on research published in 2021,
it appears 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:
1 - A southern California lineage, which includes the San Diego and San Bernardino subspecies, D. p. similis, and D. p. modestus.
2 - An eastern California lineage, which includes the Coral-bellied subspecies, D. p. pulchellus, and some of the northern intergrades with D. p. occidentalis.
3 - 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.
4 - A Great Basin lineage which presumably includes the Regal subspecies, D. p. regalis, found in isolated locations in the eastern Mojave desert.
Using new samples, nuclear genes, and morphology, Fontanella, et al, (2021), confirmed the three California lineages (not including D. p. regalis) shown in the mtDNA study of Fontanella, et al in 2008, described above, and implied that they are species-level taxa, but they did not formally describe them as new taxa.
Showing seven subspecies of Diadophis punctatus in California
is clearly inaccurate now, but since it is closer to the new three or four species interpretation than it would be to show them all as one species, I will continue to show these seven subspecies until someone formally describes them as three or four species.
A rough interpretation of the ranges of these four lineages is illustrated in the map below.
Red: Southern lineage
Orange: Eastern lineage
Purple: Coastal lineage
Light Blue: Great Basin lineage
Gray: Area where the lineage is uncertain because of a lack of
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 occidentalis - Latin - western - probably refers to distribution
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Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
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Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
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Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.
Brown et. al. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society,1995.
Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow,
Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.
St. John, Alan D. Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.
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.
Frank M. Fontanella, Emily Miles, and Polly Strott. Integrated analysis of the ringneck snake Diadophis punctatus complex (Colubridae: Dipsadidae) in a biodiversity hotspot provides the foundation for conservation reassessment. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021, XX, 1–15
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.