Colorful species of snake are often highly venomous. Ringneck snakes have venom, fangs, and bright colors. But the bite of a ringneck snake is harmful only to the smallest of prey animals.
Ringneck snakes have a weak venom which isn’t potent enough to kill a human or household pet. They lack true venom glands and have only tiny fangs. Additionally, their mouths are too small to bite people, cats, and dogs easily. Ringneck snake toxicity is minimal compared to other types of snakes. They won’t hospitalize or kill you.
When a ringneck bites a person, the volume of venom is nowhere near high enough to harm you. That even applies to small pets, like cats and dogs. You need to identify them correctly, though.
What is a Ringneck Snake?
Ringneck snakes are a colubrid species found commonly across the United States. They are also found in central Mexico and south-east Canada. They are found all across the eastern seaboard.
They look the same across most of their range. They are a solid color on top, which may be olive, brown, blue-gray or black. They can appear both shiny and matt.
A distinctive band around their neck only breaks this solid color, hence their name. This band is yellow, red, orange, or somewhere in between. They have a light creamy white color on their chin.
They also have a different color underneath their body, which will be the same as their neck. Their tail is usually red. This underside is broken by individual black dots which run from head to tail. When attacked, they will flip upside down to display this color and scare away threats.
They are secretive and nocturnal, so while they are common, they are rarely seen. What makes them even more difficult to spot is that they’re small. They’re also nocturnal, or at least only active during the evening and morning. Daytime activity is uncommon.
Other Names for Ringneck Snakes
Their scientific name is Diadophis punctatus, ‘punctatus’ referring to the spots on their underside. You might also know them as a ring-necked snake. There are no other common names.
However, there are several recognized subspecies. Each has a different name. Examples include:
- Southern ringneck snake
- Key ringneck snake
- Pacific ringneck snake
- Anthony’s ringneck snake
- Prairie ringneck snake
- Duges’ ringneck snake
- Northern ringneck snake
- San Bernardino ringneck snake
- Northwestern ringneck snake
- Coral belly ringneck snake
- Regal ringneck snake
- San Diego ringneck snake
- Mississippi ringneck snake
- Monterey ringneck snake
Each of these names is based on either the person that discovered them, the place they were discovered, or what they look like. The snakes do not differ significantly, only in color and pattern.
Among Hispanic communities, the snake may be called Culebra de collar.
Where Do You Find Ringneck Snakes?
Ringneck snakes are thought to be one of the most common U.S. species.
The majority of ringneck snakes and subspecies are found in the U.S. They are common across the eastern seaboard. The northernmost tip of their range is around the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, between the east of mainland Canada and Newfoundland.
From here, you can find them continuously in every state through to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Across this broad range, the colors of the snake may change to reflect their surroundings. They are nevertheless the same species.
They can also be found inland in every U.S. state east of the Midwest. They can be found in every southern state from east to west, but northern states like Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota. They can be found from top to bottom of the Pacific coast too.
How Big Do Ringneck Snakes Get?
Ringneck snakes are short compared to other snakes, and thin. The biggest ringneck snakes measure 10 to 15 inches in length. This is much shorter than other common snakes, like the garter snake, which can reach four feet or more.
That being said, these long specimens are few and far between. More common are tiny snakes that can fit in the palm of your hand.
The biggest ringneck snakes are only around half an inch wide. This makes it easy for them to hide. Most specimens are only between 1/8 and ¼ inch across.
Are Ringneck Snakes Venomous?
For smaller prey, they use a combination of venom and constriction to kill. However, there are many differences between ringneck snakes and regular venomous snakes.
Actual venomous snakes have venom glands. These are a pair of small glands that sit towards the back of their head, between the head and neck. The bigger the venom glands, the more venom they can store at a time. This is what gives rattlesnakes their distinctive appearance.
Actual venomous snakes also have venom ducts. These transport the venom from the gland to their fangs. Venomous snakes have two hollow teeth (fangs) which sink into the bite. The venom shoots through these hollow fangs into the wound.
Ringneck snakes don’t have venom glands, or hollow fangs. But they are slightly venomous. Instead, they have ‘Duvernoy’s gland,’ which is similar to a venom gland. It produces weak venom and sits in a different place.
Do Ringneck Snakes Bite?
Ringneck snakes are a constrictor, but possess a small amount of weak venom. To catch and kill their prey, they do have to bite it. The snake will grip with their fangs while wrapping their body around their prey.
However, there’s a big difference between a snake biting something to eat it and biting something to defend itself. When constrictors bite to eat, they keep their mouth clamped tight shut. This enables them to further trap their prey in their coils.
When a constrictor bites to defend itself, it doesn’t clamp its mouth shut. And it doesn’t start to coil. Instead, it bites and retreats. The idea is to give the predator/threat a shock, to frighten it away.
Ringneck snakes are capable of both kinds of bite. However, it’s still unlikely that they will bite you.
Do Ringneck Snakes Have Fangs?
Ringneck snakes do have fangs, but not in the same way that a rattlesnake does. When you picture a snake’s fangs, you probably think of two long fangs at the front of their mouth. But that’s not what a ringneck snake has.
Instead, they have two smaller fangs further inside their mouth. These two fangs point backward, towards the throat, rather than downwards like a rattlesnake. So, why the difference?
Ringneck snake fangs point backward because it stops prey from escaping their jaws. The more the prey tugs to get away, the further the fangs sink into them. Ringneck snakes then use both venom and constriction to incapacitate their prey.
Their fangs aren’t hollow like those of other snakes. They have grooves running down them. This allows some venom to move down along them and into the bite. However, they aren’t as effective as hollow fangs.
Grooved fangs like these are thought to be an early evolutionary stage in the development of hollow fangs. Over time, the groove becomes deeper and deeper. Each fang forms an O shape to more effectively transmit venom into the bite wound.
Are Ringneck Snakes Aggressive?
Ringneck snakes are not aggressive. They would much rather try to escape from threats, as would most snakes. When they see a threat coming, they hide or slither someplace else.
But if they can’t escape, that’s when you’ll see the reason for their distinctive pattern. Ringneck snakes have a unique defense mechanism that they use when threatened. They use color to frighten predators away.
If you don’t leave them alone, they will eventually flip over to display their bright belly. They will also coil their tail tightly, to show off its red color. Animals are hard-wired to be wary of bright colors like these, so the defense display often works.
The snake will keep trying their display until you leave them alone. If you don’t, only then will they try to bite you. They may also bite if you surprise them, e.g., by reaching into an old log where one is hiding.
However, ringneck snakes will never seek you out to bite you. Almost all snakes would rather avoid confrontation with people, because people are so large, noisy and threatening.
Can a Ringneck Snake Kill You?
Despite possessing some venom, ringneck snakes cannot kill you. There are several reasons why.
- Their venom is strong enough to incapacitate tiny prey like worms and slugs. It is not powerful enough to harm bigger prey.
- Ringneck snakes are small, so their fangs are small. They cannot get their venom deep underneath your skin where it would cause damage.
- Ringneck snakes are more likely to get defensive than aggressive. That’s especially the case with big threats like people.
- Even if the venom got into your bloodstream, they don’t have enough of it to cause you any damage.
Ringneck snakes are so small that they struggle to bite people. The only place that they can effectively bite is the area in between your fingers. Your legs, arms, and torso are too large for them to wrap their teeth around.
The most that you’ll notice is a small amount of inflammation at the bite site. This is where the body’s automatic allergic reaction occurs. The area swells to allow blood to the bite site, along with white blood cells, the body’s natural defenders.
If a ringneck snake bites you, wash the bite site. Wipe it down with water, then rinse with antibacterial soap. This will prevent the wound from getting infected.
Should You Go to Hospital with a Ringneck Snake Bite?
If a ringneck snake has bitten you, you should consider seeing a doctor. The main reason why is that you may be mistaken about the source of the bite. For example, it could be mistaken for a coral snake, which is also brightly colored. Their venom is strong enough to kill.
However, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Coral snakes are the subject of the famous rhyme, “Red next to yellow kills a fellow. Red next to black is a friend to Jack.” This rhyme isn’t correct for every snake species, but it is correct for coral snakes.
Coral snakes have bands/stripes across their bodies. Ringneck snakes never do. Coral snakes are also much longer than ringnecks, at an average of three feet.
If you’re certain that the bite was from a ringneck snake, there’s no need to see the doctor. If you are bitten, wash the bite site as soon as possible. Wipe it down with water, then wash with antibacterial soap. This will prevent the wound from getting infected.
As for the venom, your body will naturally break it down and render it harmless. It’s likely that the snake didn’t even get any under your skin as their fangs are small and awkwardly placed.
Are Ringneck Snakes Poisonous to Children?
Despite being smaller and easier to bite, children aren’t susceptible to ringneck snakes. Their fangs still find it difficult to get through the skin, and their venom isn’t strong enough.
However, you should take your child to the hospital. While ringneck snake bites aren’t dangerous, other snake bites are. There’s no guarantee that what bit your child was a ringneck. It could have been a more harmful snake.
If that’s the case, then your child would benefit from receiving medical care. A professional would clean the bite site to prevent infection. And if the bite were from a more dangerous snake, medical care would be available.
Are Ringneck Snakes Poisonous to Pets?
While small snakes can’t hurt you, they may hurt small pets. Pets like cats and dogs explore grassy areas where snakes commonly hide. They can be bitten by surprise.
But do ringneck snake bites hurt pets, and should you take them to the vet if bitten?
Are Ringneck Snakes Poisonous to Dogs?
Dogs are susceptible to snakes because of the way they explore grassy areas. They run around with their noses down in the grass. When they disturb a snake, they may be bitten straight away.
The issue is that they will be bitten on the nose or around the face. These areas are sensitive, especially the eyes and nose. When bitten here, the bite site can swell up quite a lot.
However, there are reasons why this is unlikely to occur if your dog encounters a ringneck snake.
- The snake will feel threatened, and will escape or produce a defensive display before attacking.
- Ringneck snakes are small enough that they would find it difficult to bite a dog.
- When confronted with a threat, dogs are loud and frightening. It’s impossible that the snake would think it could win.
If your dog has a big, swollen nose, it’s more likely a garter snake bite than a ringneck snake bite. According to Toxicon, these snakes are slightly venomous, and can affect larger animals than ringnecks. Whatever the case, take your dog to the vet to have the wound adequately cared for.
And if your dog does eat a ringneck snake, it won’t be poisoned either. The venom a ringneck snake possesses isn’t strong enough to significantly affect your dog after eating it.
Are Ringneck Snakes Poisonous to Cats?
As cats are smaller, they’re more at risk than dogs. Their small size means that the snake will have an easier time biting them. The smaller the animal, the more of an effect the venom would have.
However, that doesn’t mean that the cat would be harmed. Ringneck snake venom is made to incapacitate earthworms and other tiny creatures. It’s still nowhere near powerful to kill a cat, even if the cat is smaller.
The exception is if you have a kitten or a puppy. If that’s the case, then the venom will have more of an effect on them than it would an adult cat or dog.