Ribbon Snakes: Are they Poisonous Or Dangerous?

If you live near wetlands, large bodies of water, or any other place that stays moist and damp you have probably encountered a ribbon snake before.

ribbon snake
ribbon snake

These tiny, slender, quick snakes are extremely good swimmers and, if you care to watch the surface of the water, you’ll probably see the rippling wake they leave behind as they cross.

In fact, they are so fast moving across the water that it can be quite alarming if they are coming towards you! But are ribbon snakes venomous, and are they dangerous to people?

No, ribbon snakes are neither venomous nor dangerous to people and pose next to no threat to domestic animals.

Ribbon snakes have teeth, but they are among the most harmless snakes you could possibly encounter.

Since they subsist almost entirely on a diet of small amphibians and other tiny creatures, they typically don’t bother trying to catch other animals and will only bite in defense as a last resort.

Nonetheless, it’s important to learn more about these snakes, and especially how to identify them so that you don’t feel pressured to kill one if you find it on your property.

I’ll tell you more about them below…

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What Does the Ribbon Snake Look Like?

Ribbon snakes are typified by their extremely slender build and bright stripes over dark brown scales that run the entire length of their body.

These stripes, one on each side and one along the top (on the back), are usually a yellow or light cream color over darker brown scales but some subspecies of these snakes can lack the stripes entirely or maybe entirely tan in color.

A few subspecies found in the American South have blue stripes across much darker scales.

In any case, ribbon snakes only reach a maximum of about 3 feet in size, with most adults being far smaller around a foot and a half in length.

The head of the ribbon snake is generally a little bit larger than the diameter of the body, and the snakes have large, dark marble-like eyes with round pupils and a smoothly tapering jaw line that doesn’t protrude or show any bumps or ridges.

Where are Ribbon Snakes Found?

Ribbon snakes are found all across the Eastern parts of North America, beginning in the middle part of Ontario, Canada, and stretching all the way down through New England and the Great Lakes of Michigan through parts of the Midwest, through the Deep South and all the way down into the southernmost part of Florida.

All throughout this huge range ribbon snakes are typically defined by their inhabitation of wetlands, or any place that has plenty of water features.

Swamps, ponds, rivers, lakes, and the marshes are all the usual hangouts of ribbon snakes. Plenty of wetlands and lots of vegetation means you will definitely have ribbon snakes in the area.

As mentioned, these snakes are extremely adept swimmers, and regularly take prey in the water.

However, a few individual snakes and regional subspecies even thrive in areas without much water, so you could conceivably expect to find these snakes in the usual forests or plains that other snakes inhabit.

Are Ribbon Snakes Venomous?

No, ribbon snakes are not venomous at all. They don’t even have the quasi-venom that some other snakes do.

Ribbon snakes rely on their speed and immense size advantage over their typical, tiny prey (amphibians and fish) to grapple them and swallow them whole.

Can the Ribbon Snake Kill Pets or Domestic Animals?

No, again as a general rule. Even though some of the larger ribbon snakes certainly have the size to pose a threat to chicks or ducklings, and the eggs of both species, they seem to ignore them for their preferred prey of small amphibians, and sometimes fish along with a smattering of insects.

These snakes stereotypically inhabit wet areas for a reason, you know…

It’s also worth pointing out that ribbon snakes are of such slight build that mature chickens and other animals are highly likely to kill them instead!

Many chicken keepers report their birds stomping, pecking and thrashing the stuffing out of small snakes that enter the run, and ribbon snakes are no exception.

Will Ribbon Snakes Attack Humans?

Again, as a general rule, they will not. Although they cannot be said to be truly tame, ribbon snakes prefer escape or other methods of defense to all other outcomes when interacting with larger animals, including humans.

Generally, you have to try pretty hard to get a ribbon snake to act aggressively towards you. It is possible, but rare.

If the snake couldn’t manage to escape and you managed to actually lay hands on it, it is likely to start thrashing around wildly to confuse and startle you.

If that doesn’t get you to drop the snake, they will then, basically, poop out a nasty discharge from their hind end, and if that doesn’t work either, the snake might at last decide to bite.

Will a Ribbon Snake Bite Hurt You?

Potentially yes. Even though they don’t have venom or large fangs, ribbon snakes do have multiple rows of sharp teeth that they use to grasp prey prior to swallowing it whole.

These sharp teeth are more than capable of cutting you open if they bite you, especially in the case of a larger snake.

This is definitely not going to feel good, and can result in a fairly nasty wound that will need disinfection because snake bites are notorious for getting infected from the massive amounts of bacteria present in the snake’s mouth.

Is it Best to Kill Ribbon Snakes When You Can?

No. Even if you find a ribbon snake hanging around on your property, it is probably only passing through looking for its next meal of insects, fish or tiny tadpoles and frogs.

As a rule, these snakes certainly won’t try to hurt you and won’t hurt your animals, and indeed they have a lot more to fear for most animals including chickens, than the animals do from them.

If a ribbon snake is causing problems or unease, however, it is easy to catch with a little bit of ingenuity, and from there you can relocate it somewhere far from your house – preferably near the streams or ponds that it no doubt wants to inhabit.

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