Sometime last week, as I passed the upper swamp headed for Catch the Wind on the far side of the outdoor loop here at the Museum, I spotted something on the pavement ahead. It was a long, thin object. Was it a thin branch that had fallen from a tree, or was it something else?
As I got closer I could see that it was green, lithe, and alive. At about two feet in length, it was close to the limit of it’s specific size. I had just met my yearly quota of rough green snakes (Opheodrys aestivus).
I can, typically, expect one encounter with a green snake per year. Sometimes I have two or three meetings with these slim, gentle snakes, but that’s the exception, not the norm. Oh, they’re here, and they’re a common snake, but their habitat and coloration make them difficult to see.
They spend most of their time in shrubs and small trees searching for insects and spiders to eat. Their slow and steady hunting behavior and green color help them blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. They also have a habit of shaking their head and forward part of their body back and forth. I imagine this is an attempt to appear as if they’re part of the vegetation, swaying with the breeze. However, it’s often this behavior that gives away their position.
It’s curious, that on three separate occasions I’ve seen these snakes actively hunting or consuming dragonflies. Once, here at the Museum, I witnessed a green snake eating a slaty skimmer (spotted by Ranger Kristen). On the other two encounters, I saw green snakes hanging among alder branches along a pond’s edge in Orange County, NC waiting in ambush for, and apparently stalking, perched dragonflies.
Incidentally, rough green snakes get their name from the keels, or ridges, that run down the center of the scales on their dorsum (back). And they are, of course, green. Another green snake, which looks similar, has smooth scales throughout it’s body. It lives further north and possibly in our own mountains. It’s name, as you may have guessed, is smooth green snake.
Count yourself lucky if you run into one of these pleasant snakes, they’re harmless, handsome, and just plain fun to look at!