By: Maggie Chen
When taking a stroll through your neighborhood, you might wander through trees and greenery and see the wealth of living creatures around you. From the lichen hanging on the coast live oak trees around to the red-tailed hawks above, the abundance of nature is sure to bring you a sense of peace and fulfillment – that is not extremely surprising since studies have shown time spent in nature can decrease your stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, lowers blood pressure, and improves your overall mood! While we can appreciate the living organisms around us that we can see, one that we might not see often and are closer than we think is the Ringneck Snake. Ringneck snakes are small, shy but friendly snakes. The seven subspecies of these snakes in California look similar, they all have a “ring” around their neck that separates their dark heads from their gray to greenish bodies and have a yellow or orange belly.
You often don’t see them during the dry summer months in California because like most folks, they try to escape the heat too. The ringneck snake likes moist habitats and are likely hiding underneath objects like logs and moist leaf litter – they really like gently moistened areas with lots of hiding places. They are snakes of the night (nocturnal) though every once in a while you might see them crossing a road or basking on the pavement in the early morning or in the evenings, enjoying the lingering heat from the sun. The thought of snakes may initially alarm you and make you think of venomous bites, don’t be too scared of these small snakes – they really are non-aggressive and their bite is not venomous to humans, just to the prey they eat. They are carnivores that eat vermivores (vermivores eat worms) and they can snack on small salamanders, lizards, and frogs.
Of the seven subspecies in the area, the Pacific Ring-necked Snake Diadophis punctatus amabilis is endemic to California found just north of the San Francisco Bay around Sonoma County, and south to the Monterey Bay region. This specific subspecies lives across a wide range throughout the United States and is found along the entire east coast to the Great Lakes and southwest through the Midwest into Arizona.
As an integral part of the local ecosystem in Richmond, we have also shown appreciation for these shy carnivores as one of the 10 organisms highlighted as sidewalk stickers in our Safe Routes to Schools project. As an expansion of this project aimed at beautifying the sidewalks and fostering the community and nature relationship, the stickers were of 10 plants and animals that were native to Wildcat Creek.
Snakes have a complicated legacy, but many have been used as healing symbols throughout time and cultures. So while on your next hike break know that while the greenery around you literally decreases your stress levels, living symbols of healing may be around you too and just out of sight.
California Herps. “Pacific Ring-necked Snake – Diadophis punctatus amabilis” (2023) A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. Retrieved August 14th, 2023 from https://californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/d.p.amabilis.html
California Herps. “Ring-necked Snakes found in California” (2023) A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. Retrieved August 14th, 2023 from https://californiaherps.com/identification/snakesid/ringnecks.id.html
Department of Environmental Conservation. Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health. 2023. New York State. Retrieved August 14, 2023 from: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html#:~:text=Spending%20time%20around%20trees%20and,related%20hormones%20cortisol%20and%20adrenaline.
Snake Tracks. “Snake Symbolism: What do Snakes Represent?” Snake Tracks. Retrieved August 14th, 2023 from: https://www.snaketracks.com/snake-symbolism/
Yung, J. 2000. “Diadophis punctatus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 14, 2023 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Diadophis_punctatus/