Northern Rough Greensnake
Opheodrys aestivus

** Harmless **

Common Name:

Northern Rough Greensnake

Scientific Name:

Opheodrys aestivus



Opheodrys is derived from the Greek words ophios which means "serpent" and drys meaning "tree".


aestivus is Latin for "summer".

Vernacular Names:

Bush snake, grass snake, green summer snake, green tree snake, green whip snake, huckleberry snake, keel-scaled green snake, magnolia snake, vine snake.

Average Length:

22 - 32 in. (56 - 81 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

37.3 in. (94.7 cm)

Record length:

45.6 in. (115.9 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is plain light green above and white, cream or yellow underneath, often with a greenish cast. The body is very slender with the head being wider than the neck. On occasion, greensih-brown specimens occur. The adults are usually 18-30 inches long. In Virginia, maximum known SVL is 600 mm (23.6 in.) and maximum total length is 947 mm (37.3 in.). Outside Virginia, the maximum known total length is 45.625 inches *11523*.

COLORATION and PATTERN: dorsum of body, tail, and head uniform green; venter, chin, and labial scales uniform yellowish, yellowish green, or white to cream; green color fades to blue in preservative. This is a slender snake with a long tail.*10760*

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM:Sexual dimorphism is expressed in body size and scutellation, but not color or pattern. Average snout-vent length in adult females (431.9+/-59.8 mm, 303-600, n=80) is longer than in adult males (387.3+/-51.7 mm, 299-530, n=72), and females reach a longer total length (947 mm) than males (892 mm). Sexual dimorphism index is 1.12. Tail length/total length ratio averages slightly higher in males (38.2+/-1.9, 34.0-42.4, n=73) than in females (36.8+/-1.8, 32.2-41.3, n=82). Females weigh more (11-54 grams, avg. = 26.7+/-10.1, n=18) than males (9-27 grams, avg. = 16.3+/-4.5, n=22).*10760* Females exhibit a higher average number of ventrals (females 153.1+/-4.2, 144-163, n=89; males 150.7+/-3.8, 142-160, n=81) than males but a lower average number of subcaudals. The average number of ventrals + subcaudals is slightly higher in males (280.3+/10.2, 259-300, n=72; females 276.2+/-15.3, 177-302, n=78).*10760*

JUVENILES: Juveniles are patterned and colored as adults, except that juveniles have a paler green color. At hatching, juveniles are 130-154 mm SVL (avg. = 143.4+/-6.1, n=20), 206-245 mm total length (avg. = 225.5+/-9.3), and 1.4-2.0 g body mass (avg. = 1.8+/-0.2)

CONFUSING SPECIES: Rough green snakes may be confused only with smooth green snakes (Opheodrys vernalis). The latter is similar in color but is smaller snake and has smooth scales.*10760*

Geographic Variation: Populations on the VA. barrier islands have lower numbers of ventrals (148.3+/-3.1, 142-154, n=44) and subcaudals (120.9+/-7.1, 105-135, n=40) than populations in the VA. Coastal Plain, ventrals 153.9+/-3.9, 144-163, n=68; subcaudals 128.6+/-7.5, 111-144, n=61), the Virginia Piedmont (ventrals 152.3+/-3.1, 147-159, n=38; subcaudals 130.8+/-8.8, 108-147, n=33), or populations in the western part of the state (ventrals 151.1+/-4.3, 144-161, n=23; subcaudals 128.0+/-6.6, 119-142, n=18). A similar trend is exhibited in male ventral scale counts and subcaudal scale counts. Females also exhibit similar trends in ventrals and subcaudals.*10760* Grobman stated that the number of ventrals in O.a. conanti males (<148) and females (<151) could distinguish this subspecies from O.a. aestivus males (>149) and females (>152), and that the number of subcaudals (<123 in conanti, >124 in aestivus) could separate the 2 subspecies. The range of values for these characters in Mitchell's samples, indicated above, obviates (according to him) these differences, and suggests that the basis for recognizing O.a. conanti as a subspecies is invalid.*10760* Although there is a trend toward reduced ventral and subcaudal counts in populations on the VA. barrier islands, the overlap in values among samples suggests there is east-west clinical variation. Adequate samples from mainland Eastern Shore (not now available) and the Maryland portion of Delmarva should be compared to determine if the lower values reflect an island phenomenon or a peninsula effect.*10760*

REPRODUCTION: The females lay up to a dozen eggs in rotting logs or stumps during June or July. The eggs hatch in late summer. The smallest mature male measured was 299 mm SVL and the smallest female was 303 mm SVL. Mating occurs in spring and fall. Females lay 3-12 eggs (avg. = 6.2+/-2.1, n=19 clutches) inside decaying logs, under rocks in loamy soil, and under boards on sandy soil.*10760* Nests have also been found in a shallow cavity under a board, in loose bark of a pine stump, under a rotten log, and in a rotten stump *11499,11523*. A communal nest was found inside a rusty refrigerator panel in an oak forest *7047,11523*. Thorp had eggs brought to him by someone who found them laid in leaf litter that had accumulated in a roof gutter *11523*. Egg laying dates for VA. snakes are between 12 June and 25 July; all but one in July. Embryological development is more advanced in this genus at the time of egg-laying than other Virginia snakes. Eggs are 26.0+/-5.2 x 10.0+/-0.7 mm (length 21.4-33.6, width 9.3-11.1, n=10) and weigh 1.2-2.4 grams (avg = 1.8+/-0.6, n=10). Known hatching dates are 31 July 13 - 13 September.*10760* Growth occurred in May through September and females grew faster (1.0-1.2 mm per day) than males (0.1 mm per day). The probability of surviving from one year to the next was 39% for males, 49% for females, and 21 % for juveniles.*10760* Spring and fall mating has been observed and noted *11499,11523*.

BEHAVIOR: This snake is distinctly arboreal in nature and does most of its activity in trees, low bushes, or tall grass *10760*. It is less arboreal in the spring and fall than it is in the summer *949,11523*. Thorp often observes this species above the ground in honeysuckle and other vegetation during the spring and summer. In all of Thorp's fall observations, this species is on the ground, frequently on paved roads *11523*. It is a docile species that will not bite. It seeks escape from predators by climbing into dense vegetation where it is difficult to see.*10760* It frequents vegetation near or along streams and lakes *11536,11538,11513,11523*. A communal hibernaculum was reported by George and Robert Tregembo, who found 2 scarlet snakes, 2 eastern hognose snakes, 2 juvenile black racers, a rough green snake, and a glass lizard in the same rotten stump *11499,11523*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: The longevity record for this species is 7 years and 2 months *11523*. AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Known predators of this species include the black racer (Coluber constrictor) *11537,11523* and the eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) *11506,11523*.

References for Life History

  • 949 - Minton, S.A., 1972, Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana, Indiana Academy of Science Monograph, Vol. 3, 346 pgs., Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis
  • 1006 - Linzey, D.W., M.J. Clifford, 1981, Snakes of Virginia, Univ. of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, VA
  • 1013 - Jackson, J.J., 1983, Snakes of the Northeastern United States, 111 pgs., Ext. Serv., Univ. of GA, Athens, GA
  • 2075 - Wright, A.H., Wright, A.A., 1957, Handbook of snakes of the United States and Canada, Vol. 1, 564 pgs., Comstock Publ., Ithaca, N.Y.
  • 3067 - Conant, R., 1978, Field guide to reptiles and amphibians of eastern and central North America 2nd.ed., 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin, Boston
  • 7047 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1976, Communal egg laying and hatchlings of the rough green snake, Opheodrys aestivus (Linnaeus) (Reptilia, Serpentes, Colubridae), J. Herpetology, Vol. 10, Num. 3, pg. 257-259
  • 11499 - Palmer, W.M., A.L. Braswell, 1994, The Reptiles of North Carolina, UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11506 - Brown, E. E., 1979, Some Snake Food Records from the Carolinas, Brimleyana, Vol. 1, pg. 113-24, 12 pgs.
  • 11513 - Brothers, D. R., 1965, An Annotated List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of Northeastern North Carolina, Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, Vol. 81, Num. 2, pg. 119-24, 6 pgs.
  • 11523 - Thorp, T.J., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert Review for GAP Analysis Project, Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium
  • 11536 - Duellman, W.E., 1949, An Unusual Habitat for the Keeled Green Snake, Herpetologica, Vol. 5, Num. 6, pg. 114, 1 pgs.
  • 11537 - Lewis, T.H., 1946, Reptiles and Amphibians of Smith Island, N.C., American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 36, Num. 3, pg. 682-84, 3 pgs.
  • 11538 - Richmond, N.D., 1952, Opheodrys aestivus in Aquatic Habitat in Virginia, Herpetologica, Vol. 8, Num. 1, pg. 38, 1 pgs.


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Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


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