I have a lot of favorite snakes, but rough greens are certainly among them. They’re pretty common in most of their range, but they can be difficult to spot because they blend into their habitat so well. They are arboreal snakes that spend much of their time in small trees and shrubs that are often (but not always) adjacent to a body of water. The dorsal color of this snake is a beautiful emerald green, and the belly is cream-colored. One of the cool things about these snakes is that, though they are very slender, they can grow to be quite long: the record length is almost 4 feet, with the average length being between 22 and 32 inches. Spotting a rough green in a shrub, following the length of its body to the tip of the tail and realizing that you have a snake that’s almost three feet long on your hands is quite an experience, and I was lucky enough to find such a specimen on an evening at the end of July. Rough green snakes are diurnal, or active during the day, and they sleep in shrubs or trees at night, so this particular snake was probably on its way back to its roost.
About the name. Why are they “rough”? All snakes have one of two different kinds of scales: keeled or smooth. Rough green snakes have keeled scales, meaning that there is a ridge running lengthwise down the middle of each scale. Another species, Opheodrys vernalis, or the smooth green snake, has smooth (no ridges) scales. These two species generally live in different parts of the country. The rough green snake is found throughout the southeastern United States and ranges as far north as the southern parts of New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and most of Missouri. It ranges westward to eastern Kansas, eastern and central Oklahoma, and eastern and central Texas. It can even be found in the very eastern portion of the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, and it is also found in northeastern Mexico.
The smooth green snake, on the other hand, has a scattered distribution across the northeastern U.S., southeastern and south central Canada, Midwestern U.S., and Rocky Mountain states. At one time, there was an isolated population of vernalis in southeastern Texas, but this population may now be extinct.
Rough green snakes are good to have around. They control the insect population. They’re aesthetically pleasing. There is really nothing bad that can be said about them. We can, however, say bad things about pesticides. Since rough green snakes are predators of insects, they are susceptible
to secondary poisoning from eating insects that have been contaminated with harmful chemicals. Do the rough green snake a favor: avoid using pesticides, plant some shrubs and vines and small native trees such as possumhaw or yaupon hollies in your yard, and let the rough greens take care of the insects. You’ll thank me for it.