If you’ve ever seen a green tree python curled around a branch, you already know it’s a splendid spectacle, whether in captivity or in the wild.

Text by Nyza Faustine Ho
With editing by Charlene Bobis
Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim
Specimen credits to Nyza Faustine Ho

This non-venomous arboreal constrictor has striking colors that vary depending on its location, which ranges from Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.

The Basics

It prefers to reside in warm and humid rainforests, where it can drink the water droplets trapped in the coils of their bodies when they are on tree branches, where they prefer to spend their days. The green tree python’s prehensile tail enables them to curl around their perch effectively.

They usually have sedentary lifestyles so they are often visible, but usually motionless. The green
tree python undergoes a unique color change as it transitions from hatchling to adulthood. Hatchlings are usually yellow, red, or brown; they change color as they become adults.

Adult green tree pythons have different patterns and colors, and their locale has much to do with this. Only one known morph exists, which is the albino. Full-spectrum lighting brings out the vibrant colors of the green tree python, but such lighting is not very necessary since green tree pythons are able to metabolize calcium without full-spectrum lighting.

These obligate carnivores are able to devour prey such as small mammals, birds, and other reptiles. Thermosensory pits help the green tree python determine changes in temperature, which allow them to sense nearby warm-blooded prey.

The green tree python’s average length when full grown is four feet for males and six feet for females. The longest recorded green tree python is 7.2 feet long. The bodies of the males are more slender than those of the females. Hatchlings are usually 8 to 14 inches in length, and reach sexual maturity at about 2-3 years old.

Green tree pythons in captivity have been known to live until their mid-30s under the proper conditions. The oldest recorded green tree python in captivity lived for 35 years.Female green tree pythons are able to produce 6-30 eggs in one breeding season. They prefer to hide their eggs in tree holes or among epiphytic plants growing on the trees they inhabit.

Natural predators of green tree pythons in the wild are birds of prey which are able to find them and clasp the green tree pythons with great speed and precision. This kind of attack is unavoidable for the green tree pythons.

Health Concerns

The green tree python is easily stressed when its environment is not suitable. Stress makes the green tree python susceptible to opportunistic pathogens which take advantage of their weakened immune system during such times. Extremely low temperatures and humidity can easily give rise to respiratory infections. These can give the animal difficulty in breathing and cause the overproduction of mucus.

If left untreated, this condition can escalate quickly and the animal may refuse food or water until it succumbs to the sickness.Anorexia, diarrhea, constipation, and regurgitation are common diseases of the digestive tract in green tree pythons which can be caused by a change in diet, contaminated food or stress. Cryptosporidium and numerous kinds of protozoans are the pathogens responsible for these infections, and these can greatly affect the health of the green tree python since these are related to their digestive systems.

Malnutrition can set in quickly and take a toll on the green tree python’s health.Inclusion body disease (IBD) is caused by a virus affecting snakes. This virus affects the nervous system, causing regurgitation and compromising the green tree python’s immune system, leading to secondary infections such as pneumonia. There is no known cure, and despite the available tests for detection, euthanasia is recommended in most cases.A known skin health issue affecting green tree pythons is dysecdysis or the abnormal shedding of the outer skin. This is primarily caused by extremely low humidity, mite infestation, poor nutrition, and improper handling during the shedding cycle.

Affected snakes must be soaked in lukewarm water for 30 minutes, and the mites or stuck skin must be removed carefully by a towel.Snakes can also be affected by cancer; lymphomas, lymphosarcomas, and neoplasia have all been reported in green tree pythons. Stressing snakes must be avoided as much as possible to prevent all these health problems since these health problems only arise when a snake has a weakened immune system due to stress.

Which is Which?

The green tree python has a green counterpart in the wild halfway across the world: the emerald tree boa. These two green snakes are often misidentified by untrained eyes because of their initial appearance which is somewhat alike. Based on scientific research, it was concluded that this was the result of parallel evolution, which occurs when two unrelated or barely related species develop the same characteristics because of similar environmental factors affecting their evolution.This resulted in two similar-looking animals that adapted to similar environmental factors but are not closely related to each other; this is also not due to hybridization in the wild, since they are in the opposite parts of the world and have notable differences in their anatomy.

Here are their differences:

Green Tree Python      Vs.      Emerald Tree Boa

Oviparous (egg-laying)                  Viviparous (gives birth to live young)

Milder temperament                      Aggressive or defensive.

Even sizes of teeth                           Larger front teeth

Origin: Australia,                            Origin: South America

Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.

The differences may not always be easy to identify visually, but internally, they are two very different animals.

Slithering to the Top

The green tree python is a rising star in the reptile keeping hobby, though in the Philippines, it is not yet a very popular snake among keepers. It is expected that they will eventually become more popular in the Philippines since they easily thrive in our tropical climate without many problems adapting to the environment.

The right temperature and humidity are the most important factors to carefully monitor when keeping the green tree python. Even though the green tree python has been avoided by some snake keepers due to their defensive tendencies, this is usually because of too much stress caused by their surroundings and not because of the snakes’ temperament as they normally prefer to lie still and camouflage themselves in trees.

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• http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Snakes/Green-Tree-Python/
• http://thegreeneffects.com.au/keepingtips/
• http://www.thesnakekeeper.com/index.php?page=gtp
• https://www.racinezoo.org/green-treepython-fact-sheet
• http://www.as-exotics.co.uk/green-treepython/
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• http://www.torontozoo.com/explorethezoo/AnimalDetails.asp?pg=525
• http://www.waza.org/en/zoo/choose-aspecies/reptiles/snakes/morelia-viridis

This appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2016 issue.