General Description: The Ring-necked Snake is a small, slender snake. Adults typically average around 14 inches (35.6 cm) in total length in South Dakota. The coloration of Ring-necked Snakes varies across their range, but in South Dakota, individuals have a dorsal coloration that is gray with an orange or yellow ring around the neck bordered in black. The ventral coloration is typically yellow along the body with it shifting to orange or red in the tail. The ventral scales may also contain various amounts of black mottling. A white line is often present running along the upper lip. All individuals have non-keeled scales giving individuals a smooth, shiny appearance. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults thought they typically have a darker background coloration that lightens as they age.
Behavior: Ring-necked Snakes are rarely found outside of cover objects. Prey consists mostly of small arthropods and earthworms, though will consume other small snakes and salamanders in other regions of their distributions where these prey exist. When threatened, individuals will coil their tails showing the bright red underside while hiding their head under the body. This posturing is thought to reduce predation as they may be toxic to ingest or to direct predatory strikes away from the head and towards the tail. Upon capture, individuals will release a foul-smelling musk.
Reproduction: Mating typically takes place soon after emergence from hibernation in April. Females will typically lay 3–8 eggs in nesting sites that are sometimes used by multiple females and eggs typically hatch two months after being laid. Hatchlings are typically from 4–6 inches (10.2–15.2 cm) in total length.
Habitat: Ring-necked Snakes can be found across a variety of habitats across their range, but in South Dakota, appear to be associated with open, riparian woodlands and grasslands near wooded areas. Rocky outcroppings in these habitats provide both hibernacula and refuge with high densities occurring where there is sufficient cover.
Species Range: Ring-necked Snakes can be found across most of eastern and central United States, through the desert southwest and along the Pacific coast. Isolated populations appear to be present in the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin and they are absent from the northern Great Plains.
South Dakota Range: The distribution of Ring-necked Snakes in South Dakota is poorly known, however, it appears to be restricted to the southeast corner of the state along the Missouri, Big Sioux, Vermillion, and James rivers.
South Dakota Status: This species is monitored by the South Dakota Natural Heritage Program. Any sightings of this species should be reported to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (report observation).
Account written by Drew R. Davis and Ryan D. Comer