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Have you seen a smooth green snake?

Smooth Green Snake
Lorie Shaull
Smooth Green Snake

The Amphibians and Reptiles of North Dakota website lists eight species of snakes documented in the state. I assume that most North Dakotans are familiar with many of these snakes, but I suspect that few have ever heard of or seen a smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis).

Smooth green snakes may be found over much of North Dakota, but more so west of the Red River Valley. It is a species of grasslands, meadows, open woods, and other similar habitats, often with some open water nearby.

These snakes are small, colorful, and quite docile. Resting in the grass, they resemble a lime green, wavy shafted pencil. The adults are generally a smooth, bright green with a pale yellow underbelly, and measure between 1-2 feet long. They are interesting animals, and perhaps there is something about their jaw structure that makes them look like they are smiling when you get a good look at them.

Smooth green snakes are rather opportunistic predators with the bulk of their diet consisting of insects, spiders, worms, and the like. And although they find shelter and protection in rodent burrows, they are known to fall prey to a variety of predators including raccoons, foxes, weasels, hawks, owls, and herons.

It is worth noting that the smooth green snake is listed as a species of concern in several states and is listed at vulnerable in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has it listed as a species of conservation priority Level 1. Population declines often list habitat loss as a factor. And because they feed heavily on insects, they are both directly and indirectly vulnerable to the widespread use of insecticides.

If you have an aversion to snakes, make an effort to at least become a little more familiar with the smooth green snake. You may well even find a new friend. And if you carefully catch and hold one, it might even smile at you!

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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