University of Massachusetts Amherst

Snake of Massachusetts

Snakes of Massachusetts

Eastern Ribbon Snake

Thamnophis sauritus (18-26", up to 38")

The ribbon snake is a very slender, striped snake, similar in appearance to the garter snake but with a much longer tail. Tail length for the ribbon snake generally accounts for one third or more of total body length. It is boldly patterned with three yellow stripes on a reddish-brown background. A distinct dark band separates each side stripe from the belly. The ribbon snake has keeled scales and a belly that is pale yellow or pale green.

Ribbon snakes generally mate in the spring (April-May), after emerging from hibernation, and females give birth to 10-12 young in July or August.

The preferred habitats of ribbon snakes are wetlands and the edges of ponds and streams. Amphibians, especially frogs, are their preferred food, although fish and insects are also taken. Given their preference for wet habitats, ribbon snakes tend to be most active during the spring. If summer weather dries up their environment they may become dormant until conditions improve. Ribbon snakes are comfortable both in and out of water and are adept swimmers. They may be found basking on logs, hummocks or muskrat lodges, and escape rapidly into dense cover or open water if threatened. Ribbon snakes rarely bite if handled, but they do secrete a foul musk from their anal glands when alarmed.

UMass Extension logo