Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)

Black Racer (Coluber constrictor)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: Ribbon snakes are slender snakes that range from 16-28 in. (41-71 cm) long. They have three light, usually yellow, stripes (two along the sides and one down the center of the back) against a dark background. Between the yellow lateral stripes and the belly there is a brown lateral stripe. Ribbon snakes resemble the closely-related eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), however ribbon snakes are generally more slender, have unpatterned lip scales, and the lateral stripes are found on scale rows 3 and 4 (in garter snakes they are on rows 2 and 3). They have a plain yellowish belly, and keeled scales. There are four subspecies of T. sauritus, of which two occur in Georgia and South Carolina: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus and Thamnophis sauritus sackenii (middorsal stripe of this subspecies is less distinct).

Range and Habitat: Eastern ribbon snakes are found throughout the eastern US, but are absent from much of the Appalachian Mountains. In our region, they are found in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, but become progressively more common from the Mountains to the Coast. T. s. sackenii is found in southern portions of our region and throughout most of Florida. Ribbon snakes are semiaquatic and are frequently found at the edges of lakes, bogs, and salt marshes.

Habits: Ribbon snakes eat small fish and amphibians and often swim in water near the shoreline. After reproduction the male inserts a copulatory plug to prevent other males from mating with that particular female. Ribbon snakes are viviparous, with females giving birth to live young in the late summer.

Conservation Status: Ribbon Snakes are considered common in our region and are not protected throughout most of it. This species is protected throughout the state of Georgia.

Pertinent References:

Carpenter C.C. 1952. Comparative Ecology of the Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis), the Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis s. sauritus), and Butler ‘s Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri) in mixed populations. Ecological Monographs. 22:235-258.

Account Author: Christina Baker, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson

Black Racer (Coluber constrictor)