Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A "blue" green snake

Maybe it's due to the upcoming Ohio Amphibian Conference, but I've got herps on the mind. Just in case you weren't aware: "herps" is shorthand for herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. Unfortunately when truncated, herpetology sounds reminiscent of a certain STD. And even when elongated, it don't sound so hot.

Anyway, someone was asking me about rough green snakes, of all things, today. So I dipped into my photo files and was reminded of a few cool images and I don't recall sharing them here before.

An odd looking snake if there ever were one. Spot one of these strange blue-green ribbons while driving along, and you'll surely wonder what the heck it is. What it is, is a rough greensnake, Opeodrys aestivus.

So why so blue? Well, you'd be blue, too, if you had been pancaked on the roadbed by a speeding pick-em-up or whatever it was that got this poor creature.

A photo caveat: I'm not sure whose this is, and the last photo that follows. I archive my photos to nearly museum-quality levels, with good data on species, location, date, etc., so that I can quickly find things among the gigs and gigs of images that I've got. These photos say only "Clermont County", and according to the imbedded photo-data they were taken in July 2007. I don't think they are mine, and I vaguely recall someone sending them to me in an attempt to learn the snake's identity.

This is what a healthy, living rough greensnake oughta look like. It is not blue at all, as it happily twists serpentine loops through the branches of a redbud. Greensnakes may be my favorite species of snake. Everything about them is cool, cool, cool. I've only found a relative handful of them in my career, but each has been memorable. Rough greensnakes are highly arboreal, and with an exception or two all that I have found have been near eye level or lower in shrubs or small trees.

Even a snake-hater can possibly be won over by one of these scaly charmers. Greensnakes are exceedingly gentle and make no attempt to bite, even when rudely plucked from hiding. They are exceptionally slender, and of the most gorgeous shade of lime-green imaginable.

I've also seen a few roadkilled green snakes, and they too were blue. It's a truly eyecatching hue, and in a way it's a shame that they - or some other serpent species - doesn't look just like this in life.

This change in color begs the obvious question: why? Think back to basic art classes, when the instructor had you mix various paints to create different colors. For instance, blending the primary colors of blue and yellow makes.... GREEN, a secondary color. Mother Nature took her infinite palette of colors, and used blue pigments and yellow pigments to infuse the greensnake, leading, obviously, to its namesake tint. Upon death, the paler and less durable yellow pigment quickly breaks down, leaving the underlying blue pigment to shine strongly through. And thus, ever so briefly, we have a strange blue snake.

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6 comments:

Mike Whittemore said...

Jim, a coworker (Dave Runkle) and I came across a squashed blue-green snake as well. We surely thought we found a new species until we researched it a bit more. Such a vibrant blue!

OpposableChums said...

Fascinating. Thanks.

Lori said...

I had one like this in my yard that i ran over with the lawn mower on accident...truly eye catching. I had no idea that they did this until looking into what species i had seen.

Hannah Angulin said...

Thanks for the article. I really enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure I saw one of these on my run tonight, unfortunately it had been run over. However, I live in Virginia Beach, VA do they come this far East? The map of their range on a VA website said they are only in the mountains near West Virginia. I took a picture of it since it was such a pretty color. Just wondering if this is really what I saw.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

My sister sighted a rough green snake in her yard in eastern Athens County, Ohio last weekend.

Unfortunately she was unable to get a picture before it disappeared in her herb garden.