Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ring-necked Snake, a harmless charmer

In a recent post, I included this photo and made mention of a cool reptile that was on that flat rock and that had captured the attention of the assembled throng. I also said that I'd be back later to highlight the animal, and give it some air time on the vast World Wide Web. So here we go...

A gorgeous animal by any possible criteria, this Northern Ring-necked Snake, Diadophis punctatus edwardsii, is what had us so enthralled. From the outset of this August 18 trip to the wilds of southern Ohio, I had been exhorting my expedition comrades to "find a ring-neck, find a ring-neck, find a ring-neck". We had three topnotch snakers along: John and Vince Howard, and David Hughes. I am NOT much of a snake-finder. I really like them, but get too fixated on other pursuits while afield to devote much time or energy to turning rocks and logs, and doing what is required to produce snakes.

Anyway, the three aforementioned snakists spent a fair bit of time flipping objects, and one of them (can't remember who) eventually produced this beauty, which was carefully placed on this rocky runway for a modeling/photography session.

If I had to pick a favorite snake, it would be the Ring-necked Snake. What's not to like here? Ring-necks are stunning little animals, and a wonderful entree into the world of snakes. They are small - a whopper only reaches a bit more than a foot in length - and exceedingly gentle. I've never had one attempt to bite, nor have I heard of that happening. Even if a ring-neck snapped someone's finger, its mouth is so small it couldn't do anything. Thus, the ring-neck is a wonderful animal to introduce to someone with a fear of reptiles, or who has had little experience with snakes.

The colors and patterning of the Ring-necked Snake are striking indeed. The dorsal, or upper, surface is plated in a dark steely blue-black, and the ventral (lower) side of the animal is a beautifully contrasting golden-orange. The effect is quite striking - no pun intended - and is augmented by the pale yellow neck collar.

Ring-necked Snakes are common in parts of southern and eastern Ohio, where they inhabit rocky streams such as where this one was found, moist forested slopes, regenerating clearcuts and other such wooded habitats. They're a bit of work to find, though. Occasionally I just stumble into one that is out and about, but apparently ring-necks are primarily nocturnal. Hence the need to go poking under hiding spots in good habitat to find one.

We noticed that this specimen had a hitchhiker. The orangish object on the snake's neck collar is a mite. Snakes can become afflicted with parasitic mites, which apparently can become a real problem with captive animals. In the wild, mites are probably not so much of an issue for the animals. I know very little about mites, especially those that parasitize snakes, but I don't think this mite is the same species that plagues captive animals. For all I know, it is just using the snake to ride to a new locale - mites often hitchhike on animal taxicabs. Anyway, it made this snake experience all the more interesting. Perhaps one of the herpetologists out there can shed some light on this.

I'm sure that I'm preaching to the choir here, but I want to reinforce that snakes are beneficial and should be protected at all costs, whether relatively "cute" species such as this Ring-necked Snake, or less enchanting behemoths such as Black Rat Snakes. If you don't like them, let them be and they'll do the same. If a snake is somewhere you'd rather it wasn't, such as an Eastern Garter Snake in the garden or an Eastern Milk Snake in the shed, please just relocate it to somewhere else. Or have someone move it for you. I get a disconcerting number of photos sent to me each year from people wanting to know the identification of a snake, often thinking it might be a venomous species. They're invariably harmless species, but what bothers me is how many of the snakes in these photos are dead - slaughtered by the blade of a shovel. The ignorant killing of snakes absolutely disgusts me, and it is almost never, if ever, neccesary to slay them.

If everyone had firsthand exposure to a gentle Ring-necked Snake, and could see up close and personal just how cool snakes are, I'm sure our tubular reptiles would have many more fans.

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4 comments:

Andy Avram said...

Down in the southern parts of Ohio these are extremely common little snakes, but up in the northeas corner of Ohio, where I live, they are harder to come by. Usually being found pocketed in little colonies. I have a couple of sure-fire spots to see them, but usually when they turn up it is cause for excitment. They also have the SMELLIEST musk known to snakes this side of a Black Rat Snake. And I have had a few try and bite, but they are too small cause any wounds.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for your comment Andy. I must be fortunate or a ring-neck charmer- never had one unleash the musk on me, the one in the blog post included.

jaredmizanin said...

I found them to be common in the Appalachians, but in northeast Ohio I personally only have a couple spots in Cuyahoga and Summit that produce them. I as well have had them bite, but never initially. I just handled them a bit too long for their comfort. As Andy said, no need to fear their bite as it is completely painless. I've never seen them out west, where they have some STUNNING subspecies which grow much larger (and may possibly be split, from what I am to understand).

fec7ec7a-507f-11e2-bef1-000bcdcb471e said...

We have found several of these over the years inside our home in Flanders, NJ. We even found a very small one crawling inside our kitchen light once and one of them up in our child's room which is 2 1/2 stories above the ground. We usually find them in our basement however and my wife is deathly afraid of snakes. Even the Northern Ring-necked Snake which probably wouldn't harm a flea.