A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Monterey Ring-necked Snake -
Diadophis punctatus vandenburgii

Blanchard, 1923
Click on a picture for a larger view

Ring-necked Snake California Range Map
Yellow = Range of this subspecies in California

Diadophis punctatus  vandenburgii -
Monterey Ring-necked Snake

Range of other subspecies in California:

Red:  Diadophis punctatus amabilis -  
Pacific Ring-necked Snake

Light Blue: Diadophis punctatus modestus -
 San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake

Orange: Diadophis punctatus occidentalis -
 Northwestern Ring-necked Snake

Purple:  Diadophis punctatus pulchellus-
 Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake

Black:  Diadophis punctatus regalis  -
Regal Ring-necked Snake

Dark BlueDiadophis punctatus similis -
 San Diego Ring-necked Snake

Gray: General area of intergradation

Click the map for a topographical view

observation link

Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
Adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult, Santa Barbara County
© Benjamin German
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
  Adult, San Luis Obispo County  
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
Adult © Brad Alexander Adult, Monterey County © John Sullivan
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Kettleman City, western Kings County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Ventura County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult, Ventura County © Chris Lima
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Ventura County © Patrick Briggs Adult, San Luis Obispo County
© Andrew Harmer
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Ventura County, from the intergrade range with D. p. modestus.
© Benjamin German
Adult, San Luis Obispo County
© Joel A. Germond
  Monterey Ring-necked Snake  
  Adult, Monterey County © Ryan Sikola  
Ring-necked Snakes Feeding
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
  Monterey Ring-necked Snake  
  Adult Monterey Ring-necked Snake eating a Slender Salamander,  San Luis Obispo County © Andrew Harmer
Monterey Ring-necked Snake Habitat Monterey Ring-necked Snake Habitat habitat
Habitat, San Benito County Habitat, San Luis Obispo County Habitat, San Luis Obispo County
© Andrew Harmer
Short Videos of Other Subspecies of Ring-necked Snakes
ring-neck snake Ring-necked Snake 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.  

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.
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, speckled with a few small black markings.
The underside of the tail is a bright reddish orange.
A narrow orange band circles the neck, 1.5 - 2.5 scale rows wide.

Similar Species
From Contra Costa County south to San Diego County Western Black-headed Snakes and Ring-necked Snakes might be found in the same location.
Both are small slender long-tailed snakes with a ring around the neck and red coloring on the belly.
Click the photo below to learn how to tell them apart easily.

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 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.

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

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Diadophis punctatusvandenburgii - Monterey Ring-necked Snake, is endemic to California, occurring along the south-central California coast from Ventura County north to southern Santa Cruz County, and inland through the coast ranges.

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.

Full Species Range Map
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.

The S.S.A.R. changed their spelling of vandenburgii to vandenburghi sometime after their 2008 list. It was vandenburghi on the 2012 list. But on the 2017 list is has been changed back to vandenburgii. Since most other sources now list it as vandenburgii, I have also made it my spelling.

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 Diadophis populations in Mexico.

They recognized four distinct lineages in California, 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. vandenburgii, 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

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Diadophis punctatus vandenburgii - SSAR 2017 Names List
Diadophis punctatus vandenburghi-
SSAR 2012 Names List
Diadophis punctatus
- Ring-necked Snake (Stebbins 2003, 2012)
Diadophis punctatus vanbdenburghi
- Monterey Ringneck Snake (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Diadophis punctatus vanbdenburghi
(Wright & Wright 1957)
Diadophis amabilis vanbdenburghi
- Ring-necked Snake ssp. (Stebbins 1954)
Santa Barbara ring-necked snake
Van Denburgh's ring-necked snake (Ditmars 1936)
Western ring-necked snake (Ditmars 1907)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Diadophis Ring-necked Snakes Baird and Girard, 1853
Species punctatus Ring-necked Snake (Linnaeus, 1766)

vandenburgii Monterey Ring-necked Snake Blanchard, 1923
Original Description
Diadophis punctatus - (Linnaeus, 1766) - Syst. Nat., 12th ed., Vol. 1, p. 376
Diadophis punctatus vandenburgii - Blanchard, 1923 - Occ. Papers Mus. Zool. Univ. Michigan, No. 142, p. 5

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."
- Latin - dotted - refers to spotted belly of species
vandenburgii - honors Van Denburgh, John

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

Related or Similar California Snakes
D. p. amabilis - Pacific Ring-necked Snake
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
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.

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.

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, 1957.

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 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: 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.
Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
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


Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps

Return to the Top

 © 2000 -