The smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) is a brightly colored small snake with a long streamlined tail. It is a brilliant grass-green snake with a yellow to cream-colored belly and no additional markings. The scales are smooth. They are accomplished climbers and while active during the day, they remain well-concealed. It is not a well-studied snake, but local accounts indicate populations are declining. Loss of wetlands and fragmentation by roads are major reasons for their decline. It is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in four states in BCR 14.
Smooth green snakes are sometimes called grass snakes, and they are typically found in moist, lush habitats with plenty of green herbaceous cover and access to direct sunlight. Their preferred habitats are often at high elevations and include old fields, wet meadows, shrub swamps, open woodlands, and clearings in forests. They forage primarily for arthropods by moving through tall grass and small shrubs. They will climb into shrubs, especially in very wet habitats. These snakes overwinter underground in animal burrows, under rock crevices and sometimes in ant mounds.
This is a riparian species. Riparian corridors are especially important habitats that provide thick vegetative cover.
Habitat Management Practices
Little guidance is available on how to best manage habitats for smooth green snakes. However, based on their habitat requirements, maintaining a diversity of early successional habitats including those dominated by grasses and forbs, shrubs, and young trees, would likely benefit this species. Enhancing the understory in riparian corridors would also be beneficial. See suggested riparian management guidelines under Non-Forest Palustrine riparian type.
Avoid timber harvest, field mowing, or similar activities in known smooth green snake areas from mid-April to late-October to avoid direct impacts.
Allow dead trees and woody material to decompose naturally. After timber harvests, leave stumps, blowovers, logs, dead standing snags, and other woody material to provide current and future nesting and foraging areas. When whole-tree chipping, fell and leave some low-quality trees.
Rock outcrops are used as hibernacula and basking sites. If shaded, thin or girdle trees to allow significant sunlight to hit the outcrop for improved basking areas for gravid females and snakes coming out of hibernation in the spring.
Create brush piles for cover and foraging opportunities for smooth green snakes as well as habitat for a variety of prey items.
Gilbert, M. 2012. Under cover: wildlife of shrublands and young forest. Wildlife Management Institute, Cabot, VT. 87pp.
Mitchell, J.C., A.R. Breisch, and K.A. Buhlmann. 2006. Habitat management guidelines for amphibians and reptiles of the Northeastern United States. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Technical Bulletin HMG-3, Montgomery, Alabama. 108pp.
PSE&G. 2011. Critical habitat/endangered species mitigation plan for PSE&G's Susquehanna-Roseland 500kV transmission line project. PSE&G Delivery Projects and Construction, Newark, NJ. 102pp.