A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Regal Ring-necked Snake  -
Diadophis punctatus regalis

Baird and Girard, 1853
Click on a picture for a larger view

Ring-necked Snake California Range Map
Range in California: Black

Click the map for a guide
to the other subspecies

observation link

Regal Ring-necked Snake Regal Ring-necked Snake  
Adult, San Bernardino County, near 5,000 ft. elevation © William Flaxington  
Regal Ring-necked Snakes From Outside California
Regal Ring-necked Snake
Adult from Arizona
Regal Ring-necked Snake Regal Ring-necked Snake Regal Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Santa Cruz County, Arizona Adult from Arizona.
Specimen courtesy of Phil Ralidus
Regal Ring-necked Snake Regal Ring-necked Snake
Regal Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Coconino County, Arizona Adult from  Arizona.
Specimen courtesy of Randy Babb
Ring-necked Snakes Feeding
San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake Monterey Ring-necked Snake

An adult San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake eating an adult Arboreal Salamander in Los Angeles County © Jonathan Benson

Adult Monterey Ring-necked Snake eating a Slender Salamander, San Luis Obispo County © Andrew Harmer
San Diego Ring-necked Snake San Diego Ring-necked Snake San Diego Ring-necked Snake
Ring-necked Snakes use a mild venom to subdue their prey which include snakes and lizards. This San Diego Ring-necked Snake from San Diego County regurgitated a California Legless Lizard that it had recently eaten. © Donald Schultz
California Habitat
Regal Ring-necked Snake Habitat Regal Ring-necked Snake habitat Regal Ring-necked Snake habitat
Habitat in California, Providence Mountains, San Bernardino County Likely habitat, Inyo County  © Brad Alexander
Short Videos - of Other Subspecies of Ring-necked Snakes
ring-neck snake ring-necked snake
A Pacific Ring-necked Snake is found under a log in the woods and is filmed on an old picnic table before being released to crawl back under its log. A Pacific Ring-necked Snake is found under a board in a forest clearing and demonstrates how quickly it can move. A few brief views of a large San Diego Ring-necked snake and its habitat.
  San Diego Ring-necked Snake  
  A San Diego Ring-necked snake is released back where it was found.  

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Mildly venomous. Not considered dangerous to humans.
Enlarged non-grooved teeth in the rear of the upper jaw and mild venom which may help to incapacitate small prey.

The typical total length of an adult Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) varies somewhat by subspecies but in general it is about 11 - 16 inches (28 - 42 cm.)
Hatchlings are much smaller and longer specimens are sometimes found.
The record length is 33-5/8 inches (85.4 cm.)

D.p. regalis
is the largest subspecies, often exceeding 18 inches, and represents the record length for the species of 33-5/8 inches (85.4 cm.)

A small, thin snake with smooth scales.
Color and Pattern
A pale subspecies - light gray, olive-gray, or olive dorsal coloring, with a yellowish or light orange underside that is lightly speckled with black markings.
The underside of the tail is a bright reddish orange.
An orange band circles the neck, sometimes faint or absent.

Life History and Behavior

Secretive - usually found under the cover of rocks, wood, bark, boards and other surface debris, but occasionally seen moving on the surface on cloudy days, at dusk, or at night.
When disturbed, coils its tail like a corkscrew, exposing the underside which is usually bright red. It may also smear musk and cloacal contents.
Diet and Feeding
Small snakes and lizards are probably the most important food sources for this subspecies. Worms, slugs, and insects are also taken by this species.
The mild venom may help to incapacitate prey, including juvenile California Kingsnakes.
Lays eggs in the summer, sometimes in a communal nest.

Well-adapted to arid conditions, but refers moist habitats, including wet meadows, riparian coridors, stock tanks, rocky hillsides, grassland, coniferous forests, woodlands. In California, inhabits areas at higher elevations in desert mountains.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Diadophis punctatus regalis - Regal Ring-necked Snake, has been found In California in isolated populations in the Clark, Providence, and Grapevine Mountains. Out of the state it ranges east through Arizona and New Mexico to central Texas, south into Mexico, and north into eastern Nevada, Utah and southeastern Idaho.

The species Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake, has a very wide range, occurring along the entire east coast of the United States west to the Great Lakes and southwest from there through the Midwest into Arizona, with scattered isolated populations throughout most of the western states including the western half of California, Oregon west of the Cascades, and south central Washington.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy
Many herpetologists no longer recognize the traditional morphologically-based subspecies of Diadophis punctatus, pending a thorough molecular study of the whole species. One ongoing study (Feldman and Spicer, 2006, Mol. Ecol. 15:2201-2222) has found all of the D. punctatus subspecies in California (except D. p. regalis) to be indistinguishable. It is likely that D. punctatus is composed of several distinct lineages that do not follow the geographic ranges of the subspecies.

In a phylogeographic analysis of the species, Fontanella, et. al. (2008) identified fourteen lineages of Diadophis punctatus. They did not recognize these lineages as separate species, pending a full taxonomic review that will require further dna sampling and evaluation including Diadophis populations in Mexico.

They recognized four distinct lineages in California, which loosely follow existing subspecies boundaries, but merge the seven subspecies into 4 groups:

* A southern California lineage, which includes the San Diego and San Bernardino subspecies, D. p. similis, and D. p. modestus

* An eastern California lineage, which includes the Coral-bellied subspecies, D. p. pulchellus, and some of the northern intergrades with D. p. occidentalis.

* A Coastal California lineage, which includes the Monterey subspecies, D. p. vandenburghi, the Pacific subspcies, D. p. amabilis, the Northwestern subspecies, D. p. occidentalis, and snakes from one region of the western Sierra Nevada currently recognized as D. p. pulchellus, along with the southern intergrades in the Tehachapi mountains region.

* A Great Basin lineage which presumably includes the Regal subspecies, D. p. regalis, found in isolated locations in the eastern Mojave.

A rough interpretation of the ranges of these four lineages is illustrated in the map below.
New Ring-necked Lineages Range Map
Red: Southern lineage
Orange: Eastern lineage
Purple: Coastal lineage      
           Light Blue: Great Basin lineage

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake (Stebbins 2003, 2012)
Diadophis punctatus regalis
- Regal Ringneck Snake (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Diadophis punctatus regalis
(Wright & Wright 1957)
Diadophis regalis regalis
- (Stebbins 1954)
Diadophis regalis regalis (Baird and Girard 1853)
Sonoran ring-necked snake (Ditmars 1907)
Regal ring-necked snake (Yarrow 1882)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Diadophis Ring-necked Snakes Baird and Girard, 1853
Species punctatus Ring-necked Snake (Linnaeus, 1766)

regalis Regal Ring-necked Snake Baird and Girard, 1853
Original Description
Diadophis punctatus - (Linnaeus, 1766) - Syst. Nat., 12th ed., Vol. 1, p. 376
Diadophis punctatus regalis - Baird and Girard, 1853 - Cat. N. Amer. Rept., Pt. 1, p. 115

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Diadophis - Latin - diadema - crown and Greek -ophis - snake -- "generally w/a light ring on the occipital region."
- Latin - dotted - refers to spotted belly of species
regalis - Latin - royal - referring to the lack of occipital ring, possibly "royal" but "uncrowned"

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Snakes
D. p. amabilis - Pacific Ring-necked Snake
D. p. modestus - San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake
D. p. occidentalis - Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
D. p. pulchellus - Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake
D. p. similis - San Diego Ring-necked Snake
D. p. vandenburgii - Monterey Ring-necked Snake
T. hobartsmithi - Smith's Black-headed Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Fontanella , Frank M., Chris R. Feldman, Mark E. Siddall, & Frank T. Burbrink. Phylogeography of Diadophis punctatus: Extensive lineage diversity and repeated patterns of historical demography in a trans-continental snake. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 46 (2008) 1049–1070. 2008.
Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the August 2019 California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) Special Animals List and the CNDDB 2019 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The status listings here might not be the most current. Check the CDFW CNDDB website to see if there are more current lists:

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW CNDDB list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Protected from take with a sport fishing license beginning in 2013 due to a special closure to the take of ring-necked snakes in San Bernardino and Inyo Counties.
Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking GNR Not ranked.
NatureServe State Ranking S2S3

Imperiled—Imperiled in the state because of rarity due to very restricted range, very few populations (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors making it very vulnerable to extirpation from the state.

Vulnerable—Vulnerable in the state due to a restricted range, relatively few populations (often 80 or fewer), recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation from the state.

U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN Not listed


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