Colubridae (nonvenomous snakes) in the order Squamata (lizards and snakes)
This 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.
Length: 22 to 32 inches.
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 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 soft-bodied insects—especially grasshoppers, crickets, and smooth caterpillars—and spiders.
Distribution in Missouri:
Throughout the southern two-thirds of the state.
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.