Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

My ornithology professor pulled his car to the side of the gravel road, and my boyfriend, Matt, and I jumped out. While Matt and my professor were completely focused on birds, I wandered around the grassy, mountain meadow and explored the abandoned house on the edge of the woods. After finding a new-looking boat in the middle of a decaying dining room, I went back outside and decided to check the little stream meandering through the meadow for herps. I crouched in the tall grass, scrutinizing the banks of the stream while the sun shone brightly overhead. After a few minutes of looking up and down the stream, I glanced directly across from me and saw a smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) frozen on the edge of the grass.

O. vernalis are the only southeastern species of snake found only in Virginia, growing to an average length of 24 inches. They range from southern Canada to Virginia and west to Montana. There are small, isolated populations of smooth greens in the mid-west as well. In Virginia they inhabit mountain meadows and bogs, sticking close to streams.

Smooth Green Snakes prey on insects, spiders, worms, millipedes, centipedes, salamanders, and crayfish, grabbing and swallowing their food instead of constricting. Their main predators are hawks and other snakes. There have even been records of spiders eating green snakes.

The distinctive feature that sets O. vernalis apart from the rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) is the texture of the scales. Rough greens have keeled scales, while smooth greens have smooth scales. Keeled is a term referring to the rise present in the middle of the scale that resembles a mountain ridge. The first picture at the bottom of this article shows an illustration of both keeled and smooth scales. The following picture is of the smooth green snake I found by the meadow stream.

The Virginia Herpetological Society lists this species as Tier III: High Conservation Need in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan.  Human threats to this species include cars and habitat destruction (i.e. development around mountain wetlands). In the United States O. vernalis is a species of concern because it is in decline. Some states, including Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Indiana, already protect this species.

Image appropriated from
Image appropriated from
Photo taken by Matthew Anthony with his iphone through his binoculars.
Photo taken by Matthew Anthony with his iphone through his binoculars. Kudos to your skills, Matt.

Thank you for reading! I used “Snakes of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to follow my twitter page where I post links to all the articles I write.