Eastern Smooth Green Snake
Have you ever unexpectedly run into an old friend you haven’t seen for ages? That’s how I felt when I met this beautiful Eastern Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) recently. It’s been about 20 years since I last saw a Green Snake on PEI.
Our Island is sadly depauperate in reptiles; we have no native turtles or lizards, and only three species of snakes. Earlier in this blog (https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/a-civil-serpent), I introduced you to our most common snake, the Maritime Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis pallidulus); the Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) is also fairly common here. The Eastern Smooth Green Snake is the rarest of the three, earning it the dubious distinction of S2 (imperiled) on the ranking of provincial species.
Green Snakes are sometimes called Grass Snakes, a name that makes good sense. These reptiles are very much grass-coloured, and blend in well to their habitat of grassy areas, meadows, and the edges of freshwater streams and wetlands. This camouflage does make them hard to spot, but I don’t think that’s why they are so rarely seen. They are legitimately much less common on the Island than they once were, likely due to a combination of factors including habitat loss and fragmentation.
If you meet a Green Snake, you’ll be unlikely to mistake it for either of our other species. It’s smaller (and friendlier!) than the average Garter but larger than a Red-Bellied, and neither of those species sports the lovely emerald skin. Unlike our other two species, Green Snakes lay eggs in late summer rather than bearing live young. The eggs hatch within a few weeks, but it will be two years before the young are fully mature adults.
Spring and fall are the best times for snake-spotting on PEI, when these cold-blooded animals can more often be found warming themselves in open sunny areas. All three of our species hibernate, commonly in groups and occasionally even with mixed species. I’ve found Garter Snake hibernacula in the piles of field rocks that line active or historical farm fields, but Green Snakes are more likely to hibernate underground, sometimes in small mammal burrows.
Sadly, snakes are often persecuted and feared. The general bias against them even enters the common lexicon: snake in the grass, snake oil salesman, snake eyes. This is truly unfortunate as snakes are beneficial animals that, among other things, help keep their prey in check. Our Eastern Smooth Green Snake eats all sorts of insects including crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, slugs, snails, millipedes, and centipedes.
I released this Eastern Smooth Green Snake into some perfect habitat and back into PEI untamed!