The ribbon snake sometimes called ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is a species of snake widely distributed in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.These snakes are considered a member of the garter snake group belonging to the genus Thamnophis.
The ribbon snake is a semi-aquatic snake species and is very often found at the edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams. They also inhabit other wet habitats such as bogs, marshes, wet meadows or seasonally flooded prairies.
Many ribbon snakes resemble their close relatives, the true garter snakes like the eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). But they can be distinguished because they are normally slender, have glossy scales, a somewhat longer tail, and have slight differences in the location of the stripes.
Their length varies among subspecies, while the smaller northern ribbon snake may reach between 16 and 26 inches in length the eastern ribbon snake can be anywhere from 18 to 35 inches long.
They use their pattern and coloration as a camouflage to avoid predators and also find prey. So the better the snake blends with the surrounding environment the better are the chances of survival of individual specimens.
That's why ribbon snake coloration varies between subspecies and also geographically, due to intense predator selection generating a wide range of color patterns. The ribbon snake dorsal colors range from an overall brown, reddish brown, tan, or even black.
They also have 3 distinctive stripes running through the entire length of their bodies, with one centered in the back and other the two on either side of the body.The stripes also vary in color and may be green, yellow, brown, or even light blue in the bluestripe ribbon snake.
The underside is commonly covered in a lighter color ranging from whitish, yellow, green but on occasion, it may be a dark brown or even black.The ribbon snake has keeled scales and a single anal plate
Adult ribbon snakes fall prey to several animals including weasels and other carnivorous mammals, large fish, raptors, and wading birds while younger snakes are also eaten by smaller fish, turtles and even crayfish.
They are also eaten by other snakes including venomous cottonmouths or rattlesnakes and non-venomous species such as the eastern hognose snake, racer snakes and milk snakes like the eastern milksnake.
The ribbon snake is usually active by day but in the hotter months and particularly in the southern parts of their range they may become nocturnal. While in the northern parts of geographic range they will hibernate during the colder winter months normally from October to April.
Subspecies / Taxonomy
There are 4 recognized subspecies of ribbon snake.
Eastern ribbon snake (T. sauritus sauritus) - Its range extends from southern Maine and Ontario, Canada and throughout New York south to Florida, west to the Mississippi River. They are absent from much of the Appalachian Mountains. This subspecies back is brownish in color and sometimes called the common ribbon snake.
Northern ribbon snake (T. sauritus septentrionalis) - They are found in northern New England across New York westward through Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario in Canada. An isolated population is also found Nova Scotia, Canada. They have a dark brown or blackish coloration on the back
Southern ribbon snake (T. sauritus sackeni) - Found from South Carolina south through Florida. This subspecies is also known as the Peninsula ribbon snake. It is usually has a brown or tan back color while their middorsal stripe is somewhat less distinct than other subspecies.
Bluestripe ribbon snake (T. sauritus nitae) - Found on the Gulf Coast of the north and central Florida where they are one of many snake species found in Florida. These snakes have a darker back color with light blue lateral stripes hence their common name.
Diet / Feeding
Like other garter snakes, they will eat only "cold-blooded" animals, and they hunt both on land and water. When hunting the ribbon snake stalks its prey and will chase it, if necessary.
Ribbon snakes have quite a diverse diet including frogs and tadpoles, worms, slugs, fish, newts and salamanders, spiders, caterpillars, and many other insects.
They sometimes even feed on carrion such as road-killed toads. Very often ribbon snake females will eat their own offspring.
The reproduction in ribbon snakes usually occurs after they emerge from hibernation in the spring, from April to May. But sometimes it will take place in the fall, with the female delaying fertilization and the babies development until the next spring.
Like most garter snakes, ribbon snakes are ovoviviparous giving birth to live young. After a gestation period of about 3 months, females give birth to the hatchlings in late summer or the early fall.
The clutch size varies from of 3 to 27 newborn snakes, and they receive no parental care and need to fend for themselves immediately. The younglings are about 7 to 9 inches (18 to 23 cm) long and their coloration is similar to that of their parents. The ribbon snakes reach sexual maturity after 2 or 3 years.
Conservation / Threats
The ribbon snakes are listed as Least Concern because of its wide distribution and presumed large population.
Did You Know?
The Mojave rattlesnake venom is regarded as the most toxic of any rattlesnake because of the presence of the "Mojave toxin".