Among every order of animals on earth, there are always a few individual species that seem to go against the norm of expected behavior, color, and other distinguishing characteristics. Among snakes, you might say that the ringneck is that species.
These snakes are wildly colored and exhibit a strange “curly cue” defensive pose, but they are not truly aggressive and typically hide at the first sign of trouble. That’s all well and good, but we need to know if the ringneck is actually dangerous.
So, is the ringneck a venomous snake or not?
The ringneck is technically venomous but not considered dangerous. The venomous secretions that these snakes possess are very weak and of little danger to humans even when a bite does occur.
Ringnecks are fascinating because of their biological quirks concerning their venomous secretions that they use to subdue prey, and also because of their coloration, behavior, and strange defensive adaptations.
The bottom line is that you really don’t have much to worry about from a ringneck even if it does bite you, but it is always in your best interest to learn as much about a snake as you can if it is in your area.
I’ll tell you everything in the rest of this article.
What Does the Ringneck Snake Look Like?
Ringnecks are small, slender snakes and only very rarely will adults grow longer than 1 ½ feet (45 centimeters) in length with most being quite a bit smaller and the average being about 1 feet (30 centimeters) long.
Probably the most distinctive physical characteristic of the ringneck species is the great variety of colors and patterns that they exhibit.
Nearly every color of the rainbow, as far as snakes are concerned, is possible with vividly bold patterns being the rule.
The dorsal scales of these snakes can range anywhere from the typical earth tones of brown and green to a stone gray or ashy black, with the ventral, or belly side, scales being a vivid red, yellow, or orange.
These brightly colored bellies are made even more striking by the presence of alternating patterns of dark, colored, checker-like spots.
But, the feature that these snakes take their name from is the highly distinctive contrasting loop that is immediately behind the head, looking for all the world like a dog collar. Hence the common name ringneck!
This “collar” marking is often the same tone as the belly but not always, and a few regional subspecies of ringnecks don’t have this feature at all.
Where are Ringneck Snakes Found?
Ringnecks are among the most widespread and populous snakes in North America, and certainly in the United States.
If you are anywhere east of the Mississippi River, there will be ringneck snakes, though the major populations are at their densest further east and grow less populous as you move west.
However, ringnecks are all over the western part of the country also, found throughout the Midwest all the way out to the West Coast and as far north as the Cascades in Washington and Oregon and all the way up into southern Canada.
Populations are also present in the southwest, particularly throughout Texas and Oklahoma.
Much of this widespread population and success as a species is due to the high adaptability of ringnecks and they can be found in many biomes, from swamps and marshes to dense forests, wide open prairies to baking deserts.
Ringnecks are even found throughout cities and suburban areas, tucked away under sheds, hiding in gardens, and lurking around compost piles.
Considering the usual diet of ringneck snakes, scientists are at a loss to explain this behavior.
There is some evidence to suggest that ringnecks might actually be social or semi-social snakes, if you can believe that, and that they congregate near others of their kind.
Others have hypothesized that ringnecks deliberately stick near people as a sort of buffer or shield against their own predators which instinctively avoid humans.
A lot more research is needed, but just let it be known that wherever you are there are probably ringnecks nearby!
Are Ringneck Snakes Venomous?
Ringnecks are technically venomous, or technically non-venomous depending on who you talk to.
Ringnecks do not have traditional venom glands and front-located fangs like other snakes that we consider to be classically venomous and extremely dangerous.
However, biologically they do have specialized glands that create a sort of venomous secretion that drizzles out through specialized rear teeth.
They use this venom or toxic saliva (or whatever you want to call it) the same way that other venomous snakes do: to subdue prey.
However, this venom has next to no value defensively because it just isn’t powerful except against very small and very specific creatures.
Even then, it doesn’t hold a candle compared to the dreadful toxins brewed up by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads.
Short version: this venom poses very little risk to human beings. No deaths have been recorded even when bites have been confirmed and envenomation occurred.
Furthermore, no serious complications or allergic reactions have been recorded, so you don’t have much to worry about if a ringneck does bite you.
Can the Ringneck Snake Kill Pets or Domestic Animals?
No, or at least it’s extremely unlikely concerning typical pets and livestock. Ringnecks themselves don’t even go after chicks or chicken eggs.
They are too small, and their prey consists almost entirely of invertebrates, namely snails and worms. It is no exaggeration to say that a ringneck snake is no threat to anything bigger than it is.
Will Ringneck Snakes Attack Humans?
Rarely. Ringnecks are capable of biting, and bites have been recorded, but they go through a usually intricate defensive procedure before they resort to a bite, even when being grabbed or handled.
Ringnecks are yet another snake capable of discharging a nasty anal secretion to repel would-be predators.
If approached they will demonstrate their trademark technique of rolling over onto their back, and curling up into a tight spiral or curly cue shape, showing the attacker that brightly colored belly in an attempt to confuse them.
If you persist and grab the ringneck, it is likely to thrash around before resorting to biting, but it will bite in the end.
Will a Ringneck Snake Bite Hurt You?
The bite of a ringneck is probably going to be fairly painful, but not truly agonizing.
The venomous secretions they use to hunt are not specific to mammalian prey and don’t cause serious harm to mammals. Pronounced irritation, some pain, and swelling is all that you should expect.
That being said, allergic reactions to any venom protein are not out of the question even when dealing with weak venom like that produced by ringnecks.
Additionally, the bite of any snake, venomous or not, should not be treated as medically significant for fear of infection if nothing else.
Ringnecks are small and their teeth even smaller, but they’re still likely to break the skin and that could result in infection so make sure you clean the wound as thoroughly as you can and seek medical attention if you do get bitten by one.
Is it Best to Kill Ringneck Snakes When You Can?
No, you should avoid killing a ringneck snake whenever possible. Though they have venomous saliva or very mild venom depending on who you ask, these snakes are just about as harmless as it gets and, like all snakes, they have an important part to play out in nature.
They are predators of many pests that harm plants and other insects alike and they themselves are prey for various animals.
If you have any ringnecks hanging around on your property, even if there happens to be a group of them, you don’t need to worry about them. They will mind their own business and do their best to stay out of your way.