I found this ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus) under a piece of firewood from the pile in our driveway. The snake either came as a free bonus with the wood or it colonized the new hiding place in the last couple of days. Either way, the wood is stacked, so the snake is roaming the garden. It is probably joining many others of its kind. This species can, in the right conditions, live at very high densities (hundreds per acre).
I held the snake for just a minute or two, and in that time it demonstrated its two favorite methods of defense. First it writhed around, flashing its bright underbelly at me, then it oozed nasty-smelling saliva from its mouth. Despite a thorough scrubbing, my hands still smell musky. If severely provoked, the snake will bite, but I merely handled it for a photo, then released it, stopping well short of this level of torment. The bite is not dangerous to humans.
Ringnecks are mostly active at night when they hunt for small salamanders, insects, slugs, and any other animal that can fit down their gullet. They, in turn, are preyed on by larger snakes, raccoons, and, occasionally, birds. I’d guess, from the smell, that they taste pretty bad. I usually encounter them under rocks and logs. The contrast between their smooth dark backs and bright bellies makes them one of the more visually appealing (I was going to say…striking…but we’ll leave that word for the copperheads) snakes in our area.
Range maps for the species indicate that this is a “northern” ringneck. But the color patterns are ambiguous. The animal has a complete neck ring (a characteristic of the northern subspecies, D. p. edwardsii), but the belly is patterned (a characteristic of the southern subspecies, D. p. punctatus). Some recent molecular work suggests that this “species” — the ringneck snake whose range covers much of North America — may in fact be a complex of multiple undescribed species. In addition, some of these undescribed species seem restricted to particular habitat types, suggesting ecological as well as evolutionary diversity within the group. So taxonomic revision is coming, I suspect.