Discover the Largest Ringneck Snake Ever Recorded

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: July 24, 2022
Image Credit Tom Fenske/Shutterstock.com
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Ringneck snakes are common throughout the United States. If you’re a snake enthusiast or just wondering how large these small, harmless snakes can get, we’ve already done the hard work by selecting the essential information! 

Let’s find out what ringneck snakes are, how they look, and what they eat! Then, we’ll discuss the maximum length they can reach and whether you should be concerned about encountering or being bitten by a ringneck snake. Moreover, if you’re planning to get a ringneck snake as a pet, we’ll tell you whether it’s a good idea!

What are ringneck snakes?

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)
Ringneck snakes are colubrid snake species, making them members of the Colubridae family.

Tom Fenske/Shutterstock.com

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Ringneck snakes are colubrid snake species, making them members of the Colubridae family, the largest snake family consisting of 249 genera. Their scientific name is Diadophis punctatus. A study shows that other common names for ringneck snakes include: fodder snakes, king snakes, baby king snakes, yellow-bellied ring snakes, and red-bellied snakes. 

There are 14 ringneck snake subspecies:

  • D. p. acricus (Key ringneck snake);
  • D. p. amabilis (Pacific ringneck snake);
  • D. p. anthonyi (Todos Santos Island ringneck snake);
  • D. p. arnyi (prairie ringneck snake);
  • D. p. dugesii (Dugès’ ringneck snake);
  • D. p. edwardsii (northern ringneck snake);
  • D. p. modestus (San Bernardino ringneck snake);
  • D. p. occidentalis (northwestern ringneck snake);
  • D. p. pulchellus (coral-bellied ringneck snake);
  • D. p. punctatus (southern ringneck snake);
  • D. p. regalis (regal ringneck snake);
  • D. p. similis (San Diego ringneck snake);
  • D. p. stictogenys (Mississippi ringneck snake);
  • D. p. vandenburgii (Monterey ringneck snake).

Appearance

Smallest Snakes: Ringneck Snake
Ringneck snakes can be of solid olive, brown, smoky black, or bluish-gray colors.

Michael K. McDermott/Shutterstock.com

When they’re born, ringneck snakes are approximately 8 inches long (20 cm). Then, they grow 1-2 inches annually, reaching a maximum length of about 10-15 inches (25-38 cm). D. p. regalis is an exception, being the largest among ringneck snakes. It can grow up to 15-18 inches (38-46 cm).

Ringneck snakes can be of solid olive, brown, smoky black, or bluish-gray colors. Their heads are usually darker than their bodies. 

These snakes have two unique features that can help distinguish them from other species. Most of them have a red, yellow, or yellow-orange neckband. Then, some snakes have a ventral coloration – a yellow-orange to red coloration with black spots along the margins. Even though not all individuals display these characteristics, it’s highly unlikely for you to find one that lacks both!

Habitat

Southern ringneck subspecies prefer riparian (e.g., plant habitats located along the river margins and basins) and wet habitats. On the other hand, northern and western subspecies live either in wet environments with woody debris or in open woodlands near rocky hillsides. These snakes do not live in higher altitudes than 7,200 feet (2,200 m).

Diet

Ringneck snakes feed on salamanders, slugs, lizards, frogs, earthworms, and even smaller snakes. Some ringneck snakes are very picky. For example, the Diadophis punctatus edwardsii, commonly called the eastern ringneck snake, primarily feeds on red-backed salamanders. 

Behavior

Ringneck snakes spend most of their time underground or hiding under rocks, leaf litter, or debris. They go out at night, looking for food. 

What’s the largest ringneck snake?

D.p.regalis subspecies is a species record because they are the largest in the Diadophis punctatus. However, there’s no official information regarding a specific snake that would’ve eventually become a record. 

Still, the Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles in California states that snakes in this subspecies (D. p. regalis) often grow longer than 18 inches (45.7 cm). The world’s largest regal ringneck snake measures 33.6 inches (85.4 cm), which is quite impressive, considering that most other subspecies rarely grow bigger than 15 inches (38 cm). Unfortunately, there’s no official information on where and how this snake was caught or spotted. 

A study on northern ringneck snakes in Virginia shows that the state record is a snake measuring 19.5 inches (49.52 cm), while the world record is 27.8 inches (70.6 cm). 

Are ringneck snakes poisonous?

Are Ringneck Snakes Poisonous or Dangerous
Ringneck snakes are venomous to small animals but harmless to humans.

Jason Mintzer/Shutterstock.com

Ringneck snakes are venomous to small animals but harmless to humans, as their venom is mild and only used to subdue their prey. 

Ringneck snakes don’t have a real venom gland. Instead, they have the Duvernoy’s gland, which is a homolog to venom glands. Scientists still haven’t figured out precisely what this gland’s role is and how it works, but it is believed that the venom is produced in that gland, which is located directly behind the eye. This venom is only used to subdue the prey. 

Moreover, a ringneck snake’s venom is believed to be used as a feeding rather than a defense strategy. This means that ringneck snakes won’t bite to defend themselves. Instead, they will wind up their tails and expose their bellies. 

Do ringneck snakes make good pets?

Ringneck snakes are popular among snake enthusiasts because they make good pets. They are not dangerous, their venom is harmless to humans and larger animals, so if you have dogs or cats, you can rest assured they’ll be safe. However, don’t forget that snakes feed on smaller animals, such as slugs, earthworms, or frogs. So, if you have other pets that could serve as food for your snake, keep them far away from each other.  

Ringneck snakes are very easy to handle. They will only bite you if you hurt them, so there’s no need to worry about this! And even if they somehow do bite you, you’ll just feel a mild sting. However, like any other wound, the bite spot may get infected if bacteria get there. It’s recommended to wash the wound thoroughly and use alcohol or other pharmaceutical products to disinfect it. 

Besides that, we’re sure you’ll be happy with your choice if you’re planning to get a ringneck snake as a pet!

Are ringneck snakes good for the environment?

northern ringneck snake
Ringneck snakes feed on salamanders, toads, newts, and frogs.

/Shutterstock.com

Ringneck snakes play an essential role in the ecosystem. They feed on salamanders, toads, newts, and frogs. In turn, all these animals eat insects. Thus, ringneck snakes help balance the insect population by feeding on the mentioned animals. 

Moreover, similarly, by feeding on slugs and earthworms that eat leaves and fungi, these snakes help balance the plant and fungi populations.

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