Rough Green Snake

My string of good herp luck looks like it might continue in 2010.  You may recall the super-aggressive prairie rattlesnake and uncooperative dusty hognosed snake that I featured in 2008 (or not – my readership was rather minuscule back then), followed by the juvenile Osage copperhead, gorgeous male eastern collard lizard, bizarre Texas horned lizards, death-feigning western hognosed snake, super rare Florida scrub lizard, and – finally – cute little western pygmy rattlesnake in 2009. All but the copperhead and collared lizard were first-time sightings for me, and now in 2010 I have yet another first-time sighting to present – the rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus aestivus).

Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus aestivus)

My friend Rich and I spotted this long and slender snake during our early April hike of the lower Wappapello Section of the Ozark Trail (soon after photographing the jumping spider). We would never have seen it, so effective was its green camouflage, had it not been disturbed by our close approach along the trail and tried to flee.  The moist bottomland habitat where we found it was thick with greenbrier (Smilax sp.), making tracking the snake a thorny affair, but I managed to head it off and start taking a few photos of it.  It was surprisingly calm during the early part of the photo session, but I just wasn’t getting the lighting and exposure that I wanted.  Eventually, it started fleeing again, and my efforts to rip through the greenbriers to stay close became too much for my arms to bear.  When it started climbing a tree, I said “enough is enough” and captured him, brought him back out to the comfort and openness of the trail, and had Rich hold him while I worked on getting some better photographs.  The one above is my favorite of the bunch.

Rough green snakes are found in Missouri primarily south of the Missouri River in the Ozark Highlands, where they feed on insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and especially smooth caterpillars.  A second green snake occurs in Missouri as well, the smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis), which differs from the rough green snake by having smooth scales and a more northern distribution within the state. Sadly, the smooth green snake has not been seen in the state for a number of years now, probably because of loss of habitat resulting from the near complete agricultural conversion of that part of the state.

Photo Details: Canon 100 mm macro lens on Canon 50D, ISO 400, 1/60 sec, f/4.5, Canon MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen diffusers. Minimal post-processing.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

25 thoughts on “Rough Green Snake

  1. OK I officially have snake envy! I’ve been trying for years to find one of these snakes….to no avail. They are my absolute favorite Missouri snake….right along with it’s cousin the smooth green snake. Talk about a cute herp!

  2. That’s a really neat photo. We have the Rough Green Snake here in Southern Ohio and the Smooth Green Snake is found north. I’ve seen them three times at Blue Jay Barrens. Their camouflage is so good, I may be walking by them everyday without noticing.

    • Thanks, Steve. You must have a pretty good search image now to have found them three times. Makes one wonder just how abundant they may actually be (and it also gives hope that the smooth green snake may still exist in northern Missouri).

  3. Great little snake! I would be shocked if there aren’t Smooth Green Snakes in northern Missouri. There are still a number of populations in Iowa, some fairly close to the border. I don’t have a clue how you go about surveying for them. The only one I’ve seen was just pure luck, looking at the right place at the right time. It was in an open grassy area and after a brief dash it froze and slowly waved its head back and forth like grass gently blowing in the wind.

  4. Common but well concealed here at SNR. As it turns out, I found one while out with some TNC visitors just this morning. Boy, they sure are grassy colored!

  5. A beautiful snake, and wonderful portrait! We get the smooth green snakes here, commonly so….although they’re so darned cryptic I consider it a lucky day when I manage to actually spot one.

  6. Wow! Beautiful close-up of this fresh-and-new-looking snake. Your full-sized photo is wonderful for studying the snake in larger-than life detail, with as much time as I like. I’m so glad you take time away from your beetles/insects to offer a glimpse of the other goodies you encounter in the field.

    • Thanks, Amber. I do like this photo a lot – the wide aperture I used gives it a nice softness.

      Time in the field is always good, no matter how you spend it. I didn’t lose any beetles by spending time with this snake – I gained another experience to add to the breadth.

  7. Great photo! This is one of my favorite snakes. We usually see one or two – if we are lucky – each year. A photo op is a real treat!

    I have to comment that I didn’t really appreciate how thorny greenbriars could be until I started photographing wildflowers seriously. I can feel your pain. 🙂

  8. Nice green snake – by coincidence I caught one of these in southern NJ this weekend. I know I didn’t have the patience to take good photos of the squirmer we found – just some quick voucher shots before we let it go.


    • Thanks, Billy. I was quickly losing my patience as well. I don’t normally like to “cheat” by photographing captured or confined animals, but in this case it was my only choice. We let him go and he slid off none the worse for wear 🙂

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