The Regal Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus regalis) photo by Gary Nafis

The Regal Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus regalis) photo by Gary Nafis

As a whole, snakes are among the most colorful of animals, but some of these slithering reptiles elevate this characteristic to an entirely new level.  Allow me to present Diadophis punctatus regalis, the regal ringneck snake.  Indigenous to the desert southwest of North America, this snake is a more magnificently colored subspecies of the widely distributed ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus).  The regal ringneck snake is a charming shade of shiny blue-gray with a yellow clergyman’s collar and a jet black head—a color palette which would certainly get a person noticed at Delmonico’s but which hardly seems exceptional in an order of animals which includes parti-color beauties like the coral snake, the milk snake, and the paradise tree snake.  But initial appearances can be deceptive!  If the regal ringneck coral snake is threatened, it will roll over on its back and expose a belly which comes from the most lurid tropical dream of the nineteen-eighties.

The underside of the regal ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)

The underside of the regal ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)

The regal ringneck snake is a moderate-sized snake which measures from 20 to 80 cm (8 to 34 inches) in length and makes its home in the mountains which loom above the southwest deserts of the United States (and which stretch down into Northern Mexico).  Expert hunters, these snakes are ophiophagous—they live almost entirely on a diet of smaller snakes.  Since snakes are very fast and can slip into almost any space or climb almost any obstacle, the regal ringneck snake uses venom to slow down its elusive smaller cousins so it can devour them.

Regal Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Regal Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

The regal ringneck snakes venom is effective on smaller snakes but has no impact on humans or animals large enough to prey on the snake.  The bright orange and yellow belly display instead warns of another threat—like a skunk, these snakes can squirt an unpleasant musty secretion onto creatures which harass them.  If you come across a regal ringneck snake showing off his splendiferous belly, it might be wise to leave him alone!