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What a beautiful animal

June 3, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Cole Anderson was leading a nature walk of Dike/New Hartford high school students out around the Grundy County lake, prairie and wetland recently. Every once in awhile the nature walk fairy smiles down on you when you're leading a walk like that and you find something special. The nature walk fairy was smiling on Cole that day. What Cole and the students found was a beautiful example of Opheodrys Vernalis.

In other words, the group happened upon a smooth green snake sunning itself in the middle of the hiking trail. Another name for them is Grass Snake or Green Snake. I have always called them Green Grass Snakes so I guess I cover all the bases. Anyway, back to the story. They found this smooth green snake there in the grass hiking trail. This species of snake is a beautiful bright green color the color of new green grass.

This snake is not likely to be confused with any other snake in Iowa. It is 12-22 inches in length and non venomous. It has no outstanding markings. Actually, I would say it has one outstanding marking - that is the bright, brilliant green color. The belly is usually bright yellow.

Article Photos

Smooth Green Snake like one found at Grundy County Lake.
Photo courtesy of

So why was finding this snake a cool thing? The smooth green snake is found in scattered populations in Iowa. Its range once supposedly spanned across most of Iowa and much of north central and northeastern North America. Now, it is greatly reduced to various populations scattered throughout its natural range. This snake not only suffers the restrictions of many other species of snakes, but it is extremely limited by the use of pesticides due to its insectivorous diet.

As I began searching around for more info on smooth green snakes, I found that Missouri has now listed this snake as extirpated (no longer reproducing there). And Dr. Christensen, a noted Iowa herpetologist, believes that there are fewer than ten populations left in Iowa.

Over the years, I have found a number of green grass snakes and each time I have enjoyed handling this beautiful animal, but I have never found a dead one. At least not that I have known. That's another interesting tidbit of info that I discovered when researching them. 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.

Green snakes are one of the few species of snake that is entirely insectivorous. They like crickets, grasshoppers and smooth caterpillars. Green snakes hibernate in burrows, rock crevices, road embankments and ant mounds. Large numbers of green snakes have been found together with Redbelly and Plains Garter snakes hibernating in these ant mounds. Breeding occurs in spring. They lay 3 to 15 eggs in a clutch. Some female green snakes may not lay the eggs until a week or even days before they hatch. Some have retained the eggs until they hatch inside the female.

So keep an eye out for smooth green snakes on your trips out to our parks. And remember how I started out this column saying that the nature walk fairy had smiled on Cole and his group? Well, not only did the folks find a smooth green snake on their outing. They also found a Blandings Turtle. An equally neat find and I'll have to wait until next week to tell you why!



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