Eastern Ribbonsnake Thamnophis sauritus

Subadult from Jasper County

Identification

This slender snake is aptly named for its elongate form and elegant stripes. They are brown to black in color with a bright yellow dorsal stripe and lighter-colored lateral stripes. Although they are not robust, Eastern Ribbonsnakes can grow to over three feet (1 m) in length and have a long tail (over 25% of their body length).

Neonate from Jennings County
Adult from Jennings County

Most other striped snakes in Indiana (Common Gartersnakes, Plains Gartersnakes, and Butler's Gartersnakes) are more robust with much shorter tails. The Western Ribbonsnake is very similar but has a brighter orange-red stripe and favors sandier environs. Western Ribbonsnakes also have a bold white spot on top of their head (parietal spot) that is either absent or faint in this species.

Ecology and Conservation

Eastern Ribbonsnakes can be found along the edges or in adjacent vegetation of streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes. They can often be observed climbing and foraging in low vegetation. Their diet consists primarily of frogs and salamanders, and are one of the few species that will not eat earthworms. Eastern Ribbonsnakes are a nervous species and will flee at the slightest hint of danger. The snakes will move along the shore and weave their way through the vegetation and are able to lose their pursuers with amazing quickness. The snake is semi aquatic, however, individuals will rarely dive below the water, but instead skirt along the water’s surface.

It is listed as State Endangered in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Lowland stream in Dubois County
Marshland in Jackson County

Distribution

The range of the Eastern Ribbonsnake extends from Louisiana into all or portions of every state east of the Mississippi River. Eastern Ribbonsnakes have an irregular distribution in Indiana that reflects portions of the state with historically abundant wetlands. They are absent from much of eastern Indiana and the unglaciated south-central hills. This amphibian-specialist is strongly tied to aquatic habitats and is rarely found far from wetlands.

Taxonomy

Several subspecies of the Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) are currently recognized, including two in Indiana. The Common Ribbonsnake (T. s. sauritus) is found in southern Indiana, and the the Northern Ribbonsnake (T. s. septentrionalis) is found in northern Indiana. These snakes are members of the family Colubridae, which is represented by a total of 28 species in Indiana.

Literature Cited

Conant, R. and J. T . Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Expanded. Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY.

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Eastern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus)
Photographs