The orange-striped ribbonsnake is a long, slender, colorful type of gartersnake. There are normally two wide, black stripes along the back and a narrow black stripe on each side. The stripe running along the middle of the back is orange or yellow. Along each side is a narrow yellow stripe. The head is black and usually has an orange, yellow, or white spot on the top. The belly is cream colored or light green and is unmarked.
As with other gartersnakes, this species will secrete a foul-smelling musk from glands at the base of the tail when first captured.
Similar species: Missouri has two other gartersnakes, the eastern and red-sided gartersnakes (both subspecies of the common gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis) and the plains gartersnake (Thamnophis radix). In addition to the description above, another key character that distinguishes the orange-striped ribbonsnake is its unmarked scales along the upper jaw (supralabial scales): they are plain white or pale green, lacking black bars; the light coloration of this "upper lip" contrasts against the ribbonsnake's dark head.
Adult length: 20 to 30 inches; occasionally to 50 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
In Missouri, this slender snake is active from mid-March through October. In mild temperatures, it is active during the day, but in hot weather it may become nocturnal. It is seldom far from water. It is quick and agile and doesn't hesitate to enter water.
Orange-striped ribbonsnakes almost always occur near water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, roadside ditches, and sloughs. They hide in the border vegetation.
They overwinter underground in rocky crevices, springs, mammal and crayfish burrows, rotten logs and stumps, and anthills. In northern Missouri, ribbonsnakes rely heavily on crayfish burrows.
In Missouri, ribbonsnakes are less common in the upland woodlands in the Ozarks, but they are abundant in bottomland prairies throughout the western and northern parts of Missouri. Bottomland prairies have saturated soils and are not far from water, so they support the ribbonsnake's prey and also offer the crayfish burrows necessary for overwintering.
Ribbonsnakes eat small frogs and toads (including tadpoles), salamanders, and small fish. They also eat earthworms.
This species is quite common and widespread in Missouri.
The orange-striped ribbonsnake is a subspecies of western ribbonsnake. It is named for the attractive orange (or yellowish) stripes running down the length of its body.
Mating occurs during April and early May. Not all females reproduce every year. The young are born from July into September. A litter may contain 4–36 young, with an average of 12 or 13. Males usually reach sexual maturity in one or two years, and females in up to three years.
Many snake species are burdened with unfair, undying myths that paint them to be much more dangerous and harmful than they are. This snake is attractive and harmless. Support nature education. Speak out on behalf of snakes.
As predators, ribbonsnakes and other gartersnakes help to control populations of the animals they consume. As with many other predatory species, they can be preyed upon themselves by larger animals, including mammals and predatory birds. The defenseless young are especially vulnerable.