Two subspecies are recognized in Tennessee: Northern Ring-necked Snake (D. p. edwardsii) and Mississippi Ring-necked Snake (D. p. stictogenys). The Northern Ring-necked Snake occurs in the eastern half of the state, while the Mississippi Ring-necked Snake occurs in the western half. Populations of the 2 subspecies interbreed where their ranges meet.
Description: A small, slender snake (10.0 to 15.0 inches in length) having smooth scales and a black or dark gray body with a yellow or orange band around the neck. Both subspecies have a bright, yellow belly. The Northern Ring-necked Snake generally has a complete neck ring and unmarked (or few black dots) belly. The Mississippi Ring-necked Snake has a narrow and often broken up neck ring; and has paired black spots down the center of its belly. Young are similar to adults.
Similar Species: Juvenile Northern and Midland Brown Snakes have conspicuous yellow collars across neck, but they have keeled scales.
Habitat: Ring-necked snakes are habitat generalists occurring in a wide variety of habitats, but tend to be found in moist woodlands. They spend most of their time underground or hidden under logs, rocks, leaf litter, or debris.
Diet: Includes earthworms, insect larvae, salamanders, and small snakes and lizards.
Breeding information: Mating occurs in the spring and fall provoked by the females release of pheromones. Females lay 3-7 elongated, white (with yellow on each end) eggs under rotten logs or other moist, covered areas during the summer. Young hatch in 7 to 8 weeks without any parental care.
Status in Tennessee: Fairly common, but Ring-necked snakes are secretive snakes which prefer to remain hidden.
- Ring-necked snakes are nicknamed “Corkscrew” or “Thimble” snakes because of their unique defense behavior of flipping over and tightly coiling their tails to expose the bright belly.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Northern Ring-necked Snakes are primarily found in the mountains of east Tennessee. Under rocks or logs in any moist woodland along the Western Highland Rim would be a good spot for Mississippi Ring-necked Snakes.
For more information:
Atlas of the Reptiles of Tennessee
The Snakes of Tennessee web site
Conant, R. and Collins, J. 1998. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians (Eastern/Central North America). Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 616pp.
Jensen, J. B., Camp C. D., Gibbons, W., and Elliot, M. J. 2008. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA. 575pp.