Rough Greensnake

Opheodrys aestivus
Other Common Name
Northern Rough Greensnake (ssp. aestivus); Rough Green Snake
Family

Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

Description

The rough greensnake is a long and slender snake often seen in the Ozarks. It is light green above and has a white or yellowish belly. Scales on the back have small ridges or keels, making it feel rough to the touch. Dead specimens turn bluish.

Similar species: The smooth greensnake (O. vernalis) used to live in the northern parts of our state, but it has not been seen in Missouri in several decades. A Species of Conservation Concern, it is considered extirpated from our state. The easiest way to tell the two greensnakes apart is by touch: The scales on the back of rough greensnakes feel rough; those on the back of smooth greensnakes feel smooth.

Size

Length: 22 to 32 inches.

Northern Rough Green Snake

Northern Rough Green Snake in Busiek State Park
Northern Rough Green Snake in Busiek State Park

Northern Rough Green Snake

Long green snake sliding out from a fence pole to the ground.
Northern Rough Green Snake at Morgan Cemetery near Bennett Springs
Habitat and conservation

This species is active by day and lives in bushes, vines, and low-hanging branches of trees near streams or lakes. It is often overlooked because it blends so well with its leafy surroundings. Greensnakes are seen April through October, when they are most active. They are spotted as they cross roads, trails, and creeks. The beautiful green color helps these mild-mannered insectivores blend in with the trees where they live.

Foods

Food includes spiders and soft-bodied insects — especially grasshoppers, crickets, and smooth caterpillars.

Rough Greensnake Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Throughout the southern two-thirds of the state.

Life cycle

At night, this snake rests by coiling itself among leaves near the ends of branches. Mating occurs in the spring and during autumn. Pregnant females leave the safety of trees to find nesting spots in leaf litter, brush piles, or rotten stumps, where they lay 1-10 eggs around midsummer. It can take up to 2 months for the eggs to hatch. Young are about 7 inches long, brownish green on the top and white on the bottom.

Human connections

Animals that eat insects can be harmed indirectly by pesticides. This is apparently one of the reasons why the similar-looking smooth greensnake of northern Missouri disappeared from our state. So far, the rough greensnake seems to have been spared that fate.

Ecosystem connections

This slender snake eats only insects and spiders, checking the populations of many caterpillars that feed on the leaves of trees. A 1990 study in Arkansas found that pregnant females of this species are often preyed upon by speckled kingsnakes and southern black racers.