The FloridaGardener is not a big fan of snakes, especially if they are poisonous or huge like the escaped constrictors slithering around in the Florida Everglades and other wild (and not so wild) areas of the state.
But the FloridaGardener does have some favorite snakes, especially the little guy (or gal) that this story is about, the Southern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus). Now, the authorities say that this is one of Florida’s most common urban snakes (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw258), but even as often as I work in the yard and my garden, to me they seem to be pretty rare. I found this one when I moved some bags of dirt and cow manure when I was working in the yard this afternoon.
First, let me clear this up, the Southern Ring-necked Snake is HARMLESS (Non-Venomous) and it rarely bites when handled. If it were to bite, its tiny teeth would not even break the skin. I have caught Anole lizards that were more aggressive biters than these little snakes! When startled or threatened, the Ring-neck may coil and raise its tail displaying its brightly-colored underside then coil its tail like a corkscrew. The Ring-neck may emit a strong smelling musk from the glands just inside its cloaca as a defensive measure. This little snake did not do any of that while I was handling it and trying to take its picture, it just wanted to go back under its dirt bags and be left alone.
The Southern Ring-necked Snake is a terrestrial burrower, frequently found in or underneath logs, leaf piles or other debris where it is dark and damp. It feeds on small earthworms, slugs, frogs, anoles, geckos, skinks, snakes, and salamanders. This is a native Florida snake.
The average adult size of this shy little snake is 6-10 inches (15.2-25.4 cm). Adults are small and slender-bodied with a black body and a yellow, cream, or orange ring across the neck. The belly is bright yellow, orange, or red with a single row of half-moon spots down the center. I like to call them Halloween snakes because of their coloration. The snake’s scales are smooth and the pupils of its eyes are round. The juvenile Southern Ring-necked Snake’s color is similar to that of the adult.
Like most snakes the Ring-neck lays eggs. During the summer usually 2-8 whitish eggs are laid in moist areas such as underneath or inside rotting logs. Sometimes a communal nest site may be used by several different females. Newborns are about 3-4 inches (7.6-10 cm) long.
Southern Ring-necked Snakes are most frequently found in Florida swimming pools — they crawl in to get a drink and then cannot climb out because they are too small to reach the lip of the pool. If you find one in your pool, lift it out with the leaf skimmer or a dip-net and turn it loose in the shrubs where it can get back to eating bugs that you do not want in your garden. This snake is found throughout Florida, including the Upper, Middle, and extreme Lower Florida Keys.