Northern Rough Greensnake

northern rough greensnake
Scientific Name
Opheodrys aestivus aestivus
Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)

The northern 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.

Other Common Names
Rough Green Snake

Length: 22 to 32 inches.

Where To Find
Rough Greensnake Distribution Map

Throughout the southern two-thirds of the state.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.