What is a Rough Green Snake?

A. Delgado

The rough green snake, or Opheodrys aestivus, is a bright green reptile found in much of the eastern United States. They live in open forests close to wetlands and rivers. Rough green snakes, also known as grass snakes, typically hunt insects and invertebrates in trees or grass. They hibernate in winter and breed in spring. The snakes have mild temperaments and are not venomous.

Rough green snakes often live in wetlands and rivers.
Rough green snakes often live in wetlands and rivers.

The length of the rough green snake ranges from 20 inches to 45 inches (about 51 cm to 114 cm). Females are usually longer than males. They have thin bodies, small heads and long tails.

Rough green snakes often dine on crickets.
Rough green snakes often dine on crickets.

Rough, or keeled, scales cover the bodies of these snakes. The scales’ texture allows them to slither up shrubs and trees. Bright green scales on the top and sides of the snakes give way to yellow or white scales on their bellies.

The coloring of the rough green snake’s scales helps it blend in with its surroundings so it can hide from predators. These include eastern king snakes, hawks, cats and foxes. This camouflage also keeps it concealed when it hunts for prey in daylight.

Rough green snakes feed mainly on spiders and insects, such as crickets, butterflies, moths and caterpillars. They climb trees to look through overhanging leaves and vegetation. Their large eyes and rapid side-to-side head movements during hunting give them a wider field of vision. When they find prey, they dart toward it, grab it, and eat it whole.

When the weather turns colder, rough green snakes move from the shrubs and trees of their wetland habitats to tunnels and burrows underground. They also stay warm under rocks and piles of debris. They usually emerge from hibernation in April or when the weather begins to warm up again.

Mating occurs during the spring. Female rough green snakes typically lay between four and six eggs during the early part of summer, although they’re capable of producing as many as 14 at a time. The eggs are deposited in tree stumps or beneath rocks or decaying logs. They generally hatch in August or September.

The rough green snake is common in the Mid-Atlantic states and throughout the southeastern United States. Their range extends as far west as Oklahoma and Texas. Although they’re not under federal or state protection, their numbers are declining in certain areas as a result of habitat destruction.

A rough green snake lives to be about 7 years old in the wild. Along with the threat of predators, their habit of hunting in grass puts them at risk of being run over by lawn mowers in residential areas. Some rough green snakes are also captured and sold as pets.

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