The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 6, 2009


The Ringneck Snake

This Ringneck Snake, about 12 inches long, was found in the basement of the Ankers residence on Pheasant Hill Lane. (Photo by Alan Ankers)

Name: The Ringneck snake is Diadophis punctatus. There are several sub-species. The one in our region is the Northern Ringneck Snake or Diadophis punctatus edwardsi. The genus name is cobbled together from the Latin diadema meaning a crown (in this case, the crown has slipped until it is just a band around the neck) and the Greek ophis meaning snake (which is why fear of snakes is called ophiophobia). Punctatus means spotted and refers to the black dots which occur occur on the belly of the other sub-species but only occasionally on the Northern Ringneck.

When and where seen: Lisa Ankers of Pheasant Hill Lane found this little ring-necked snake (the one in the photo) in the basement next to the bulkhead entrance on October 24. It was about 12 inches long. She found a very tiny one last year, again in the basement, when she was shaking out a rolled-up rug pad. This summer my neighbor on School Street brought me a very small one she found in the garden. It didn’t even fill the palm of my hand. I had not seen one since November 2001 when I raked a large one up with the leaves, and through a stroke of good fortune it was saved from passage through the leaf shredder. Ringneck snakes are reputed to be quite common but are seldom seen because they are nocturnal and secretive.

Identification: Snakes in the basement are nothing like Snakes on a Plane. Most of those on the plane were animations or robots; the basement variety are usually real. The average length of the Ringneck snake is only ten to 15 inches. The record is 27 inches. The head and topside body color is either gray, black or brown and with a yellow ring around the neck. The belly is usually the same color as the neck ring.

Behavior: Ringneck snakes are unlikely to bite but might emit some smelly musk if handled. Of all New England snakes, this is the one most likely to turn up in the basement. They lay up to ten eggs, each about one inch long, in June or July. The parent abandons the eggs which hatch about two months later into little snakes four to five inches long. ∆

The River Otter


This River Otter gaily swims and poses on the Conant Land. (Photo by Kevin Smith)

The River Otter was featured in the Biodiversity Corner on November 28, 2003 on the basis of tracks picked up by Tom Wilson, an experienced tracker. You can read its story in the Mosquito archive. I thought it was worthy of another 15 minutes of fame because of Kevin Smith’s opportune sighting of one on October 21 on the Conant Land. He not only spotted it but was able to watch it for several minutes and photograph it.

The River Otter is in the weasel family and can be quite large – up to four feet long, not counting the tail. It is known to be near-sighted so if you are downwind from it and stay still, it may not notice you. They are most active from dawn to mid-morning and then again in the evening, although Kevin’s encounter was around 1 p.m. He was at the makeshift boardwalk about three quarters of the way from the Town Hall to the Transfer Station.

First-hand from Kevin: “As I was walking on the board, I heard a plop about 30 feet away, and the otter was swimming slowly toward me in a straight line, half of his head and body out of the water. I started taking pictures and he came to about 10 feet from me and stopped, put his head out of the water and stared at me. After 20 seconds or so, he turned around and started looping to the right of where I was and checking me out from further away. This went on for several minutes, then he came back closer, then turned around and went back in the direction he had come from.

The whole time he was swimming slowly, like a log in the water, although he did circles at one point. I never did see the tail or feet, and the swimming seemed effortless. The whole encounter must have been about five minutes.”

Sources: Snakes of Massachusetts at; Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians by Roger Conant; Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior by Donald and Lillian Stokes. The Stokes book has all the tracking signs but I find it especially interesting for the sections on behavior. ∆

What are you finding?

If you find something living or growing in your yard or on one of your walks in the woods and you think it might be interesting or you are just curious about it, drop me a note at

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito