Northern Ring-necked Snake
Other names: northern ringneck snake, ring-necked snake
This slender snake is aptly named for the distinct yellow, cream or orange ring around the neck. The body is a uniform dark grey, brown or black. This species has smooth scales. Juveniles tend to be even blacker than the adults and have velvety skin. The belly of the northern ring-necked snake is generally bright yellow or orange with dark edges, although sometimes it is a dull yellow or whitish yellow. Ring-necked snakes can grow to just over 70 centimetres in length but are usually 30 to 40 centimetres long.
No other adult snake in Ontario has a distinct yellow ring around its neck. Red-bellied snakes and juvenile Dekay’s brownsnakes can have a light-coloured, sometimes ring-like marking on the neck. Red-bellied snakes have a red belly and dark stripes down the back. Dekay’s brownsnakes have a light brown (but sometimes pinkish or tan) belly and two rows of dark spots down the back.
Ring-necked snakes are found in forested areas, including forest edges and clearings. These snakes are most common in areas with shallow soil and surface bedrock, where they are frequently found under rocks, logs or bark. They hibernate underground and will also retreat underground during especially warm weather.
To view an interactive map of the known ranges of milksnakes in Ontario, click here.
Northern ring-necked snakes breed in the spring or fall. Females lay up to 10 eggs in rotting logs or under rocks or boards in early summer. The eggs hatch after about two months. The young snakes are from six to 12 centimetres long at birth and mature in two to three years.
These snakes primarily eat salamanders, specifically the red-backed salamander, which they suffocate through constriction. They will also eat other amphibians, slugs, earthworms and insects.
Ring-necked snakes are nocturnal and remain under rocks, logs and leaf piles during the day. These snakes are social and can often be found in groups. If threatened, the northern ring-necked snake may emit a musky odour or display its bright underside to scare off predators.
Threats & Trends
Localized habitat destruction, predation and road mortality threaten some populations of this species, but none of these threats are considered to be serious. Although not commonly seen, the northern ring-necked snake is believed to be widespread and its populations to be relatively stable.
Current Status & Protection
Neither the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario nor the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the status of the northern ring-necked snake. The species has been designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which offers protection to individuals but not their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the ring-necked snake as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in 2010.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.
Ontario range (click to enlarge)
Southern Ontario range (click to enlarge)
The northern ring-necked snake is found throughout Ontario south and east of Lake Superior. In Canada, this species ranges from Ontario to Nova Scotia. Its range in North America extends as far south as Alabama, but only as far west as the eastern border of Minnesota. Taken collectively, the nine subspecies of ring-necked snakes occur throughout eastern Canada, the eastern and central United States and Mexico.