A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Ring-necked Snake - Diadophis punctatus

Northwestern Ring-necked Snake -
Diadophis punctatus occidentalis

Blanchard, 1923

Click on a picture for a larger view
Ring-necked Snake California Range Map
Orange: Range of this subspecies in California
Diadophis punctatus occidentalis -
 Northwestern Ring-necked Snake

Range of other subspecies in California:

Red:  Diadophis punctatus amabilis -  
Pacific Ring-necked Snake

Light Blue: Diadophis punctatus modestus -
 San Bernardino Ring-necked Snake

Purple:  Diadophis punctatus pulchellus-
 Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake

Black:  Diadophis punctatus regalis  -
Regal Ring-necked Snake

Dark BlueDiadophis punctatus similis -
 San Diego Ring-necked Snake

YellowDiadophis punctatus  vandenburgii -
 Monterey Ring-necked Snake

Gray: General area of intergradation

Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names

observation link

Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Humboldt County Adult, Humboldt County Adult, Humboldt County
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Napa County Adult coiled up, hiding the head, in defensive position, Humboldt County
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake  
Adult, 1800 ft, Del Norte County © Alan Barron  
Snakes From Intergrade Areas
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake  
Adult, Shasta county (from the intergrade zone with D. p. pulchellus.) Adult, from eastern Lake County, a probable intergrade with D. p. amabilis.
© Nancy Mittasch
Snakes From Outside California
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Benton County, Oregon
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Northwestern Ring-necked Snake
Adult, Benton County, Oregon Adult, Benton County, Oregon Adult, Klickitat County, Washington
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
Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Habitat Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Habitat  
Habitat, Napa County Habitat, Humboldt County  
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 - This snake may produce a mild venom that does not typically cause death or serious illness or injury in most humans, but its bite should be avoided.

Commonly described as "harmless" or "not poisonous" to indicate that its bite is not dangerous, but "not venomous" is more accurate since the venom is not dangerous. (A poisonous snake can hurt you if you eat it. A venomous snake can hurt you if it bites you.)

Rear teeth on the upper jaw are enlarged but not grooved which may aid in injecting mild venom into 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.
This subspecies typically gets to 18 inches (46 cm). The record length is 33-5/8 inches (85.4 cm.)

A small, thin snake with smooth scales.
Color and Pattern
Gray, blue-gray, blackish, or dark olive dorsal coloring, with a bright orange to reddish underside, lightly speckled with black markings, heavily speckled under the chin.
The underside of the tail is a bright reddish orange.
A narrow orange band around the neck, 1.5 - 3 scale rows wide.

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
Eats slender salamanders and other small salamanders, tadpoles, small frogs, small snakes, lizards, worms, slugs, and insects.
The mild venom may help to incapacitate prey.
Females are oviparous, laying eggs in the summer, sometimes in a communal nest.

Prefers moist habitats, including wet meadows, rocky hillsides, gardens, farmland, grassland, chaparral, coniferous forests, mixed woodlands.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Diadophis punctatus occidentalis - Northwestern Ring-necked Snake, is found along the northern California coast from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, and inland through the coast ranges, and north through Oregon into southern Washington, with isoloated populations in 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.

Based on research published in 2021, it appears 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 populations in Mexico.

In our area, they recognized four distinct lineages, which loosely follow existing subspecies boundaries, but merge the seven subspecies into 4 groups:

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

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

3 - 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.

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

Using new samples, nuclear genes, and morphology, Fontanella, et al, (2021), confirmed the three California lineages (not including D. p. regalis) shown in the mtDNA study of Fontanella, et al in 2008, described above, and implied that they are species-level taxa, but they did not formally describe them as new taxa.

Showing seven subspecies of Diadophis punctatus in California is clearly inaccurate now, but since it is closer to the new three or four species interpretation than it would be to show them all as one species, I will continue to show these seven subspecies until someone formally describes them as three or four species.

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
Gray: Area where the lineage is uncertain because of a lack of samples

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Diadophis punctatus - Ring-necked Snake (Stebbins 2003, 2012)
Diadophis punctatus occidentalis - Northwestern Ringneck Snake (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Diadophis punctatus occidentalis
(Wright & Wright 1957)
Diadophis amabilis occidentalis
- (Stebbins 1954)
Diadophis amabilis occidentalis - Northwestern ring-necked snake (Ditmars 1936)
Diadophis amabilis - Western Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis pulchellus; Diadophis punctatus pulchellus; Diadophis punctatus amabilis; Diadophis amabilis pulchellus; Coronella amabilis; Ablabs punctatus; Coluber punctatus; Diadophis punctatus. California Ring-necked Snake; Red-bellied Snake; Spotted Ring Snake) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)
western ring-necked snake  (Ditmars 1907)
northwestern ring-neck snake; sonoma ring-nck snake (Slevin 1934)

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)

occidentalis Northwestern Ring-necked Snake Blanchard, 1923
Original Description
Diadophis punctatus - (Linnaeus, 1766) - Syst. Nat., 12th ed., Vol. 1, p. 376
Diadophis punctatus occidentalis - Blanchard, 1923 - Occ. Papers Mus. Zool. Univ. Michigan, No. 142, p. 6

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
occidentalis - Latin - western - probably refers to distribution

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. pulchellus - Coral-bellied Ring-necked Snake
D. p. regalis - Regal Ring-necked Snake
D. p. similis - San Diego Ring-necked Snake
D. p. vandenburgii - Monterey Ring-necked Snake
C. tenuis - Sharp-tailed 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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

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.

Brown et. al. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society,1995.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.

St. John, Alan D. Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast. 2nd Edition - Revised & Updated. Lone Pine Publishing, 2021.

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.

Frank M. Fontanella, Emily Miles, and Polly Strott. Integrated analysis of the ringneck snake Diadophis punctatus complex (Colubridae: Dipsadidae) in a biodiversity hotspot provides the foundation for conservation reassessment. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021, XX, 1–15

Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the January 2024 State of California Special Animals List and the January 2024 Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California list (unless indicated otherwise below.) Both lists are produced by multiple agencies every year, and sometimes more than once per year, so the conservation status listing information found below might not be from the most recent lists. To make sure you are seeing the most recent listings, go to this California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page where you can search for and download both lists:

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found at the beginning of the two lists. For quick reference, I have included them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either 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 also go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.
Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None


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