Are Ringneck Snakes Venomous?

 

I get that question alot. Which gave me the idea that I should just include the response as a section in my website....

 

The answer is yes. Ringneck snakes are venomous. The strength of the venom differs between sub-species. Some have very strong venom... Yet some have what seems like no venom at all. The most venomous of all the ringneck snakes is the Regal Ringneck Snake(Diadophis punctatus regalis), it's venom can work faster than a North American Coral Snake's.

The ringneck snakes that live in the Western United States all have a quite potent venom. This is to be expected as in the west, it's much more dry, and the snakes are forced to feed on prey such as lizards and other snakes. Their venom against lizards/snakes can work as early as 4 minutes after the bite.

The ringneck snakes that live in the Eastern half of the United States have a very weak venom... Or atleast a venom that specializes in working on a certain prey item. For example, Northern Ringneck Snakes(Diadophis punctatus edwardsii) have a very weak venom if used on another snake, but if used on a salamander, the salamander would be paralyzed in minutes. In the East, the ringnecks that occur there have no real needs for venom, they all eat prey such as worms, salamanders, fish, frogs and small lizards or skinks. Some will also take neonate snakes. I assume they will only take neonate snakes, because their venom is weak, and they need to do their best to not get hurt while trying to get a meal. Instead of using venom, the ringneck snakes in the East tend to just grab prey and try to swallow it. Or they will grab prey and get dragged around until the prey is too tired to put up much of a fight.

 

Above pic of a NorthWestern Ringneck Snake eating a neonate Florida Blue Eastern Garter Snake

Pic by Dan Scolaro

How Strong is the Venom?

I'm sure anybody reading this is familiar with the North American Kingsnakes(Lampropeltis getula)? Well, if not, the Kingsnakes get their name because they will readily take on, and eat other snakes, as well as venomous snakes such as Rattlesnakes(Crotalus and Sistrurus), Copperheads(Agkistrodon contortrix) and Cottonmouths(Agkistrodon piscivorus). It is well known that Kingsnakes are not affected by the bites of these venomous snakes, as well as any venomous snake in the United States... Or are they?

There are plenty of stories out there that seem like myths... Where the average herper catches a ringneck snake and brings it home to feed to a kingsnake. Only to return a few hours later to find a large ringneck snake. Or the one where a herper catches a ringneck snake and a kingsnake, throws them into the bag, only to find a ringneck snake in there sometime later. These stories are actually far from myth.

Gerold Merker, snake breeder/specialist, was herping with a friend in CA in early summer 2005, when they came across a pile of rocks where a large Coral-Bellied Ringneck Snake(Diadophis punctatus pulchellus) hung out. Well, the ringneck snake was out in the open, and it was swallowing a juvenile Zonata Kingsnake. The king was about 14", while the ringneck was at 20". The king was not moving at all, either dead, or paralyzed. Effects of the venom? Or did the ringneck snake come across a dead kingsnake and eat it?

Future captive studies are in the works.

 

Here is a pic of a 22" Regal Ringneck Snake(Diadophis punctatus regalis) consuming a 15" California Kingsnake(Lampropeltis getula californiae). The Kingsnake had been killed earlier in the day by the bite from a Mussurana(Clelia clelia). Photo by regalringneck.