Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Semi-smooth Green Snake

While working on a trash cleanup at Valley Water Mill I saw a long piece of pale green cable draped across some shrubs and green briar.  It turned out to be a beautiful 27" long green snake.  It patiently held still for pictures but tried to slither out of my grasp.  It was smooth to touch, unlike the Rough Green Snake (RGS), Opheodrys aestivus, that we find commonly in SW Missouri.  I confidently identified it as a Smooth Green Snake (SGS) Opheodrys vernalis, until corrected by Jay Barber, our honored conservation educator.

Hanging out in the shrubs - REK
Jay pointed out that although it felt smooth, on close inspection it had the keels that usually would make the body feel rough on stroking.  I could see them with magnification but still wasn't convinced.  I even mentioned this to a botanist professor friend who said it wouldn't be a SGS in Missouri.  Time to research it.

It turns out that the last SGS seen in Missouri was over 35 years ago and it is considered extirpated in the state.  Also my specimen would be one inch longer than the record length, while the RGS grows up to 45 inches.  Jay wins.

The RGS is a beautiful snake with an intense gaze.  It seemed at times to be listening intently to our debate, or more probably sensing our vibrations, squirming excitedly, but it may have been just wanting to get away.  It was docile, never threatening and even seemed to relax with time.  When we released it, it left slowly - reluctant to leave?  No, probably just worn out by its new friends.

Big gaping jaws - Youtube
RGS reportedly are found in moist lands close to water although this one was up on the prairie.  Sometimes called grass snakes, they frequently are found up on shrubs as in this video where they hunt for insects such as grasshoppers.  On first glance, its mouth looks too small to hold a larger insect, let alone swallow one whole.

Dead blue snake - Bull Mills 2015   REK
This research also solves another Bull Creek mystery.  We found this dead and desiccated snake last April and couldn't account for its color. 
"After death, green snakes turn blue in dorsal coloration. Yellow and blue pigments in the skin fuse to produce the bright green color in the living snakes. After death, the yellow pigment breaks down very quickly, whereas the blue pigment is more stable and remains much longer." Herpnet.net
3-14-2018 Addendum
It turns out that the blue is in the refraction of the scales, mixed with the yellow pigment that has broken down.  See npr.org 
Snake in the grass

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