Smooth Green Snake | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Smooth Green Snake

Sep 12, 2020


I can remember the first time I saw a smooth green snake.  It was sunning itself on a rock one morning many years ago on the Samuel H. Ordway Jr. Memorial Prairie west of Leola, SD.  That is 20 some miles across the state line southeast of Ashley.  

I was reminded of that first sighting recently when my wife mentioned that she and a couple friends were visiting, socially distanced, on a farmstead near Bottineau.  A smooth green snake apparently tried to join their group but was promptly shooed away.  Snakes were not welcome!  Not even a smooth green snake!    

As the name implies, the smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalisi) is bright green with a pale white to yellowish underside, and a smooth appearance.  They are one of our smaller snakes, not much bigger than a pencil and 12-20 inches or so long.  They are nonvenomous, docile, and seldom bite, even when handled.  And intriguingly, smooth green snakes seem to always be smiling.  It must be something about the structure of their mouth, coloration around the mouth, or perhaps both, but smooth green snakes always appear to be smiling!

The species ranges eastward over much of Southern Canada and the northern states and can also be found westward in scattered locations in the Rocky Mountains.  It prefers grasslands and open woods where it feeds on insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, ants, larvae, spiders, worms, snails, and the like.  

In North Dakota the smooth green snake occurs west of the Red River Valley and is considered uncommon.  But like many of our smaller animals, their distribution is not well documented. It is interesting to note that the species has been documented in border counties of Kittson, Norman, and Polk counties in Minnesota.  In Minnesota and South Dakota observers are asked to report their sightings to the DNR and Game, Fish and Parks, respectively. 

So, if you are outdoors and see a small green snake, it is almost certainly the smooth green snake.  They are harmless!  So, if you can get a good look at it, take advantage of the opportunity.  And unless you get a bit too aggressive, it will probably be smiling at you!

-Chuck Lura