Ring-Necked Snakes are small but familiar to many in southern Indiana for their distinctive yellow-ringed neck and bright yellow belly. They are uniformly slate gray to almost black dorsally and, often have an unmarked yellow belly. Some individuals have small black spots down the length of their underbelly. Adult Ring-Necked Snakes grow to around a foot (30 cm) in length, but may grow slightly larger.
This snake is so distinctive that it would be difficult to confuse it for any other species. However, neonate Red-Bellied Snakes have small white spots around the neck that form a ring, of sorts. The two snakes are otherwise very different though, with Red-Bellied Snakes sporting a bright orange-red belly and markedly keeled scales. Juvenile Dekay’s Brownsnakes can be confused with Ring-Necked Snakes because they can also have a ring around their neck. However, they also have keeled scales which Ring-Necked Snakes lack. Southeastern Crowned Snakes lack the brightly colored bellies found in Ring-Necked Snakes. Also, some Ring-Necked Snakes have noticeable black spots on the belly witch is lacking in Southeastern Crowned Snakes.
Ecology and Conservation
The Ring-Necked Snake is a woodland snake, preferring rocky areas near rivers in shady or heavily wooded damp areas in the Midwest. While this snake is very secretive, it does not burrow. Rather, it hides under rocks, fallen bark, or forest litter. People occasionally encounter Ring-Necked Snakes in basements and greenhouses. When threatened, this snake may release a pungent fluid, but usually, it does not attempt to bite. The diet of Ring-Necked Snakes consists mostly of insect larvae, salamanders, earthworms, and frogs.
It is listed as a state species of Special Concern in Wisconsin.
The Northern Ring-Necked Snake ranges from Maine through southern Canada to portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; and south to parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama. The distribution of the Prairie Ring-Necked Snake extends from southern Wisconsin and Minnesota, south to northwestern Arkansas, and west to New Mexico and Colorado.
These snakes are most commonly encountered in ravines and gorges throughout southern Indiana, under rocks and logs. In such areas, they often find their way into homes and garages. Though they are most prevalent in the southern half of the state, there are scattered populations in central and northern Indiana.
Two subspecies occur in the Midwest, the Northern Ring-Necked Snake (D. p. edwardsii) and the Prairie Ring-Necked Snake (D. p. arnyi). The Northern Ring-Necked Snake has a complete neckband, no spots on the belly, and eight supralabial (“upper lip”) scales The Prairie Ring-Necked Snake may have an incomplete neckband, dark spots on the belly, and seven supralabial scales.