Northern Ring-necked Snake
Diadophis punctatus edwardsii

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Northern Ring-necked Snake

Scientific Name:

Diadophis punctatus edwardsii



Diadophis is derived from the Greek words diadem which means "headband" and ophis which means "snake".


punctatus is derived from the Latin word punctum which means "spot". This refers to the ventral spotting.


edwardsii was assigned to honor George Edwards, an English ornithologist.

Vernacular Names:

Collared snake, fodder snake, king snake, little black-and-red snake, ring snake, ringed snake.

Average Length:

10 - 15 in. (25.4 - 38 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

15.7 in. (40cm)

Record length:

27.8 in. (70.6 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The adult is gray to bluish black above with a flat black head. The neck ring and ventral color varies from yellowish to reddish. The neck ring may be incomplete. The belly is unmarked to having a row of dark, half-moon-shaped spots along its length. The juvenile has a velvety black dorsum and an even blacker head. The dorsal scales are smooth with 15 scale rows and the anal plate divided. Loreal and preocular scales are present. The size is from 4 inches at hatching to about 24 inches as adults. Most adults are from 10-14 inches long, and the record length is 27.7 inches *1006,11523*. The record longevity for this species is 6 years and 2 months *11523*. In Virginia, maximum known SVL is 400 mm (15.7 in.) and maximum total length 495 mm (19.5 in.). Tail length/total length averages 21.3+/-2.1% (15.7-29.1), n=323).

SCUTELLATION: ventrals 132-172 (avg. = 154.1+/-7.7, n=353), subcaudals 35-68 (avg. = 53.4+/-6.0, n=322); ventrals + subcaudals 177-229) avg. = 207.5+/-11.4, n=322); dorsal scales smooth; scale rows 15 (100%, n=337) at midbody; anal plate divided; infralabials 8-8 (71.2%, n=340), 7-7 (14.7%), other combinations of 6-10 (14.1%); supralabials 8-8 (63.7%, n=339), 7-7 (19.5%), 7-8 or 8-7 (14.4%), other combinations of 6-9 (2.4%); loreal present; preoculars 2-2; postoculars 2-2; temporals usually 1+1/1+1 (94.1%, n=337), 1+2/1+2 (3.2%), other combinations of 1 and 2 (2.7%).

COLORATION and PATTERN: body uniformly bluish black to slate gray or brownish with a cream to yellow collar across the neck; collar complete or broken (or constricted) at the middorsal line; venter cream to yellow and immaculate, or is patterned with a single midventral row of small black spots to large half-moon shaped spots; head black with white supralabials and a white chin. Some specimens have black spots in the labial scales and on the chin. The head is flattened in individuals from the mountains and rounded in those from the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.*10760* Diadophis punctatus edwardsii usually has a complete collar, and a venter that is completely unpatterned, or has several to numerous small black spots along the midventral line. *10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM: There are no sexual differences in color or pattern. Adult male SVL is 183-358 (avg. = 262.3+/-43.0, n=111) and female SVL is 219-400 (avg. = 300.0+/-49.7, n=109). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.14. Tail length/total length ration is higher in males (16.6-29.1, avg. = 22.3+/-1.7, n=174) than females (15.7-28.8, avg. = 20.2+/-2.0, n=147). Number of ventral scales is higher in females (138-172, avg. = 156.0+/-6.4, n=161) than male (132-165, avg. = 150.7+/-7.1, n=190), whereas number of subcaudal scales is higher in males (35-68, avg. = 54.8+/-6.0, n=171) than females 37-64, avg. = 51.8+/-5.7, n=149). Number of ventrals + subcaudal scales is similar between sexes (males 177-223), avg. = 205.5+/-11.8, n=171; females 179-229, avg. = 209.7+/-10.6, n=149).*10760*

JUVENILES: hatchlings are patterned as adults but the body is uniformly colored black or blue-black and the venter is usually white (whether or not spotting is present). At hatching, juveniles are 91-128 mm SVL (avg. = 107.5+/-11.6, n=18), 108-159 mm total length (avg. = 131.7+/-16.4) and weigh 0.6-1.1 grams (avg. = 0.84+/-0.12*10760*

CONFUSING SPECIES: Diadophis punctatus is usually identified correctly because of the uniformly-colored body and head, and bright collar across the neck. Juveniles can be mistaken for neonates of Storeria dekayi, Storeria occipitomaculata, and Virginia striatula, but all of these have keeled scales.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: This species lays from 2-10 whitish eggs usually in rotting logs in June or early July. The young hatch in the early summer. Several clutches of eggs may be laid together in a communal nest *1006*. The number of eggs is positively related to the size of the female. Ringneck Snake eggs are smooth, average 27.7+/-6.2 x 8.8+/-0.7 mm (length 22.2-36.0, width 7.9-9.3, n=5) in size and weigh an average of 1.32 g (1.30-1.33, n=2). Lab incubation time was 45-58 days and recorded hatching dates are between 2-30 August.*10760*

BEHAVIOR: This species will twist and raise their tails (like a corkscrew) when approached by certain predators. Some individuals (not Virginian) will feign death as a defensive tactic. This species is very sociable and is often found in pairs. They are active predators and will take insects, earthworms, small snakes, small lizards, salamanders and frogs. Food items by volume include salamanders 80%, ants 15% and other insects and arthropods 5% *1006*. Ringneck snakes do not bite when caught but will release a foul-smelling feces and musk from anal glands. Exaggerated tail coiling, a defensive behavior that detracts a potential predator away from the head, is seen in subspecies which have the ventral surface of the tail brightly colored. This behavior has not been seen in Virginia D. punctatus, although the tail is often partially coiled when these snakes are captured. Fitch found that most movements made by ringneck snakes in Kansas were less than 250 m in length. This indicates that these snakes maintain small home ranges.*10760* Tom Thorp has observed this species as active after heavy rains *11523*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is preyed on by raccoons, opossums, skunks, black bears, shrews and toads *1006*.

POPULATION ECOLOGY: Fitch estimated population densities of 719-1849 individuals per hectare in Kansas. Populations of D. punctatus in Virginia appear to be larger in the mountains than in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, but this may be a function of the number of aggregation sites in the former compared to the lack of them in the latter. Fitch noted that ringneck snakes do not always use sites that allow us to catch them, as many snakes seek shelter beneath mats of vegetation.*10760*

References for Life History

  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11499 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1994, The Reptiles of North Carolina, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium


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Verified in 93 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.