Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Green with Envy

As the spring continues on here in Michigan, my field time is running out before I head back to the northeast for the summer to work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service once again. It's been an odd spring here in Michigan, but I've still seen some decent snake diversity. However, there are several "common" species which I'm hoping to see before I depart. For whatever reason, these snake species can be particularly difficult to find in the state.

Smooth Green Snake - Opheodrys vernalis

The true gem of Michigan's snake species, the smooth green snake's emerald green color is unique in the state. It was once widespread across the lower peninsula, but seems to have disappeared from much of its former distribution in the state. Smooth greens are insectivores, and because of this diet they are particularly susceptible to pesticides. Much of its habitat in the lower peninsula has been reclaimed for agricultural purposes and in turn pesticides have been widely used, likely contributing to its decline.

It can still be found in pockets in the northern lower peninsula and in the upper peninsula. Smooth greens inhabit a variety of habitats which include meadows, prairies, conifer swamps, and coastal alvar habitat. I'm hoping to head north in early May to track down one of these gems and the two other snake species which seem to be very elusive here in Michigan.

Northern Ringneck Snake - Diadophis punctatus edwardsii

This small, colorful snake is another mystery here in Michigan. It is extremely common in states to the south of Michigan, but can be extremely difficult to find in the lower peninsula. Even more mysterious is that it can be found in huge numbers on some of the coastal islands along Michigan's coasts, I once saw more than twenty under a single coverboard on an island in Lake Michigan. 

Ringnecks snakes are easily distinguishable from other Michigan snake species. They are small in size (13" max TL), have a slate-blue colored dorsum, a bright yellow ventral surface, and a light colored sing around the neck with a cream colored chin. Ringnecks are found in a wide variety of places and are most readily found under surface debris in damp locations. They're usually associated with Redback Salamanders, one of the primary staples of their diet. A friend of mine has seen a few within a short drive of CMU, but I have not been so lucky to see one on the state's mainland. 

Eastern Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum

A secretive but relatively common snake species, milk snakes are likely found throughout all of Michigan's lower peninsula. Like other snakes from the genus Lampropeltis (Kingsnakes & Milk Snakes), the eastern milk snake is a constrictor and a lover of rodents.

Milks are an interesting snake species in that you never know where you're going to find them. I've found them in many different environments and situations. I've cruised them at night in the mountains of Tennessee, flipped them under tin and trash, found them on the crawl, and found them basking in the early spring. I haven't seen one in Michigan since 2010 and am hoping to change that soon.


  1. Great photos as expected, Nick! I think I may recognize one of those green snakes...

  2. I got fugly MI milks last year, but greens and rings elude me consistently as well...

  3. Just walked past a milk snake in my yard...Chelsea, MI.