If you live in a wet climate that features plenty of water features, you have probably bumped into a small, thin snake with distinctive yellow stripes running alongside and on top of its body.
Nimble, quick and remarkably good swimmers, and it is far from uncommon to see them taking prey right out of the water.
These agile snakes are ribbon snakes, and they are very common throughout the Eastern United States.
But what we need to know is if ribbon snakes are dangerous. Are ribbon snakes poisonous?
No, ribbon snakes are not poisonous and posed no threat to people. Ribbon snakes only eat small, cold-blooded prey, and swallow their food whole.
It is certainly startling to see one of these small, brightly colored snakes dart across your path or shoot out across the surface of the water in search of their next meal, but you don’t have a single thing to worry about whenever you encounter one.
You can, however, learn more about these fascinating snakes in the rest of this article.
Physical Characteristics of the Ribbon Snake
Ribbon snakes are small to medium-sized snakes, and grow anywhere from 15 to 36 inches in size, or about 3 ft at maximum.
Their coloration is highly typical, and usually consists of a dark brown base color with distinctive, smooth and even stripes running along the entire length of its body starting just behind the head.
There are typically three of these stripes, one on both sides and one running along their spine.
The head is similarly slender, but as a rule somewhat larger than the body with two large, dark eyes with round pupils. The nose and jaw are smooth and do not protrude.
Some subspecies do exist however, including the northern ribbon snake which has the same dark base color but may lack the yellow stripes on the sides.
Southern subspecies of the ribbon snake trend more towards a medium brown or tan base color, whereas ribbon snakes found in North Central Florida will have a dark base color with blue stripes on the sides.
Is the Ribbon Snake Poisonous?
No. Ribbon snakes are not poisonous in any way. They do not even rely upon constriction to take prey, instead overtaking them and swallowing them whole.
Usual Habitat and Range of Ribbon Snakes
Ribbon snakes are found in the Eastern United States, from the northernmost part of Florida all the way up into and through New England and the Great Lakes region, and even into the southernmost reaches of Ontario, Canada.
They have one defining habitat characteristic, however, in that they prefer regions with plenty of water features.
Areas with lots of creeks and streams, ponds, marshes and the like are prime ribbon snake habitat. If it is a wet area with plenty of vegetation, you can expect to find ribbon snakes there.
Also note that ribbon snakes are highly aquatic, and will regularly cross bodies of water in their travels or to catch prey.
It is worth mentioning that some subspecies do live well away from water, however, and can be found in woodlands and broken, rocky terrain that furnishes plenty of hiding places.
Will Ribbon Snakes Bite?
Yes, ribbon snakes will bite but they greatly prefer to avoid conflict, especially with people. A ribbon snake’s first method of defense is to flee.
If that doesn’t work and you manage to pick the snake up, it is likely to thrash around violently well discharging a foul smelling musk from its vent.
Assuming you managed to hang on for this nasty experience, the snake might resort to biting as a last-ditch effort to free itself.
Does the Bite of a Ribbon Snake Hurt?
It could hurt, yes. Ruben snakes, though very slight of build, can grow upwards of a 3 ft in length and though they do not have venom or fangs they do have several rows of small, sharp teeth which are capable of lacerating your flesh.
Although not particularly larger powerful, this bite could result in a minor wound and more importantly good result in a nasty infection.
The mouths of pretty much all animals, reptiles in particular and snakes very particularly, tend to be full of all kinds of nasty bacteria that you don’t want getting into your body, especially through a bite one.
If for whatever reason you do get popped by a ribbon snake make sure to clean the bite site thoroughly and then it seek medical attention to ensure it doesn’t get infected.
A nasty infection from such a bite could prove to be as bad as a bite from a venomous snake if left untreated!
Will Ribbon Snakes Show Aggression to People?
Very, very rarely. These snakes, though not entirely docile, greatly prefer escape to confrontation and you’ll have to go out of your way to provoke one to violence.
Will Ribbon Snakes Show Aggression to Animals?
No. Ribbon snakes as a rule eat very tiny prey, things like tadpoles, small frogs and toads, fish, spiders, worms, newts and alike.
You won’t even have to worry about your chicks or chicken eggs falling prey to these snakes.
In fact, chickens are quite likely to kill and eat ribbon snakes if they can get to them, particularly in the case of larger breeds. It seems this is one time where the hunter has indeed become the hunted!
However, despite not being overtly dangerous to your animals you will want to keep an eye out for them around your homestead and animal enclosures.
The appearance of any snake could possibly spook larger animals like horses and cows.
This could lead to them injuring themselves or other nearby animals if they lash out or try to get away from the snake in a panic
Should You Kill Ribbon Snakes?
No, and you’ll almost never have a good reason to. Ribbon snakes are generally good natured and absolutely harmless to you and your animals.
It won’t take very much urging at all to get a ribbon snake to retreat from you, and they generally won’t hang out in any area where they are in danger.
If you absolutely have to get a ribbon snake out of an area, it should be easy enough to catch with a little creativity. Turn it loose near a water source and you probably won’t ever see it again.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.