Photo Credit: John Taylor
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Opheodrys aestivus aestivus
COMMON NAME: Green snake, tree snake, or summer tree snake
STATUS: Uncommon to fairly common statewide. Formerly more common, this familiar slender and docile snake is found in a variety of heavily vegetated terrestrial habitats. Reasons for apparent decline are unknown. Lowest Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: Rough green snakes are fairly long, slender snakes with long tapering tails. Adults are usually between 20 and 32 inches in length, but occasionally may be as long as 40 inches. They usually are 1 inch or less in diameter. Rough green snakes are a uniform bright green color with an ivory or off white belly and a pale white throat. Young rough green snakes usually are more dully colored until they shed their skin for the first time. Rough green snakes have large eyes and particularly good vision. This allows them to see and capture quick moving insects which are often the same color as the snakes themselves. Rough green snakes have keeled (ridged) scales. This gives them a rougher feel than the similar smooth green snake.
DISTRIBUTION: Rough green snakes are common throughout the eastern and southeastern United States. They are found from southern New Jersey west to eastern Kansas and Texas and south to Florida. Some small populations have been found in New Mexico.
HABITAT: Rough green snakes are found in a variety of habitats. They inhabit uplands and wetlands as well as many habitat types in between. Rough green snakes are particularly abundant along the edges of ponds or streams where they can be found in the overhanging branches of trees and shrubs. They sometimes take to the water in pursuit of prey.
FEEDING HABITS: Rough green snakes spend the majority of their life in trees and shrubs hunting for crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, caterpillars, and an occasional small tree frog. Rough green snakes are not constrictors. They simply grasp their food with tiny recurved teeth and swallow their prey alive.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Rough green snakes mate in both spring and fall. Females lay 3-12 cylindrical eggs, usually in rotting logs or under rocks, during June or July. After an incubation period of 5-12 weeks, the eggs hatch and young emerge in late summer or early fall. Hatchlings are approximately 6 inches in length. Rough green snakes are extremely well camouflaged. Their bright, leaf-green coloration makes them virtually invisible among tangled vegetation. Their primary defense mechanism against predation or capture is to remain motionless until an opportunity for escape presents itself. Like many snakes, when first captured or handled, rough green snakes will distend their cloacae and expel a noxious mixture of feces, uric acid, and musk.
Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. Peterson Field Guides: Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Plummer, M.V. 1997. Population ecology of green snakes (Opheodrys aestivus) revisited. Herpetological Monographs 11:102-123.
Author: Kevin Pugh, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries