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Green Tree Python Care & Natural History

The Green Tree Python tops the “must have” list of many snake-enthusiasts…and with good reason. Few snakes can match their gorgeous coloration, and an arboreal lifestyle adds an interesting twist to typical python care. Being moderately-sized, they are easier to accommodate than larger pythons, and captive breeding and life-spans of 20+ years are possible.

Enthusiasts and Fanatics

Green Tree Python at Berlin ZooCertain herps seem to arouse intense passions in their keepers, and folks drawn to them often become specialists (or fanatics, depending upon whom you ask!). Common examples include Arrow Poison Frogs and monitors. Among snakes, the Green Tree Python, Morelia viridis, seems to have more die-hard fans than most others.

Many years ago, when we knew little about their needs, I cared for a group of Green Tree Pythons that had been confiscated and re-routed to the Bronx Zoo. I searched about for an expert and soon came upon a zookeeper who was making great strides. Some of his co-workers, however, believed that his deep interest was causing him to, shall we say, give “less than perfect” care to his other charges. As the story goes, they set up a plastic Civil War battlefield in one of his frog exhibits…and it went unnoticed for weeks! I cannot attest to the truth of the tale, but I know of many others who evince a similar “one-mindedness” when working with these intriguing snakes.

Natural History

Green Tree Pythons are native to New Guinea, several Indonesian islands, and Australia’s Cape York Peninsula.

Green Tree Python HabitatAdults inhabit rainforest interiors, while juveniles favor forest edges and clearings, where their bright colors offer camouflage among flowers and sunlit foliage (please see habitat photo). They rarely if ever descend to the ground.

Green Tree Pythons are ambush predators, relying upon sensory pits in the upper lip to detect prey. Youngsters attract lizards to within striking range by waving their tail tips in imitation of an insect (caudal luring). Adults feed upon arboreal possums, rodents and bats. While birds would seem likely additions to their menu, field studies have failed to establish that they are taken.

Juveniles may be red (New Guinea), yellow or brown. Most adults are emerald green and flecked with white, but some are yellow or blue. Albino, blue and other morphs have been developed by hobbyists. Adults average 4-5 feet in length, with rare individuals approaching 7 feet.

These nocturnal reptiles ambush their prey. When hunting, they extend the first third of the body outward while remaining anchored to a branch with the prehensile tail.


Setting up the Terrarium

Cage height is desirable, but length and width are more important, as Green Tree Pythons move over branches, but not down to the floor. Although rather sedentary, they should not be crowded. An enclosure measuring at least 3 x 2 x 2 feet will accommodate an average adult.

Terrariums that open from the front are preferable to aquariums, as Green Tree Pythons are stressed by approaches from above (perhaps due to the attack style of birds of prey, their major predators). In front-opening terrariums, they will often remain on their perches while the cage is serviced – sparing snake and snake-keeper stress and injury!

Well-anchored branches of varying widths, both forked and straight, should be installed. Sturdy live plants such as pothos and philodendron may be hung about to provide security and aid in humidity control. Artificial plants can also be used to create barriers behind which the snakes can hide. The bottom of the cage should be bare, to facilitate quick cleaning.


Newspapers and washable terrarium liners work well as substrates. Douglas fir or eucalyptus bedding allows for easy “spot cleaning” and will raise the humidity if kept moist.


Green Tree Pythons do not require UVB light, but a full spectrum bulb will bring out the true beauty of their coloration. A day/night schedule of 12:12 hours should be maintained. Red/black reptile “night bulbs” will allow you to observe their nocturnal behavior.


Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain a temperature range of 78-85 F, and a basking spot of 88 F.

Night-time temperatures should not dip below 70-72 F. A ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb” can be used to provide heat after dark.


These rainforest denizens require an average humidity level of 50-75%. High humidity is especially important at shedding time. Humidity can be increased via manual spraying, moistening the substrate or a commercial reptile mister.

Constant wet conditions will lead to skin diseases, so the cage should have ample air flow and dry out completely after being misted.


Green Tree Pythons are best offered food via tongs, as pre-killed rodents left on a branch are often ignored. Slowly moving the food in front of the snake, or lightly touching the jaws or body, often induces a strike. Juveniles feed primarily upon lizards in the wild, and many refuse mice at first. “Scenting” rodents with a lizard or shed lizard skin may be helpful.

Green Tree Pythons are relatively inactive, and seem to have an extremely efficient (even by snake standards!) digestive system. They need comparatively little food. Hatchlings should be fed every 5-7 days; juveniles every 7-10 days. Depending upon their size, adults require 1-2 mice or a small rat every 10-14 days.

While some individuals will accept an elevated bowl, most Green Tree Pythons prefer to drink water sprayed onto their bodies and the foliage; their typical resting position allows water to accumulate among the coils. Some will drink from a watering can that is tilted in front of their mouths (place a bowl below to catch excess water).


Green Tree Pythons will bite if forcibly removed from their perches, and have therefore gained a reputation for aggressiveness. Detachable perches simplify handling, as many individuals will remain immobile if perch and snake are relocated together. Some will even move from their perch onto an arm that is placed below, but in general they are best considered as snakes to observe rather than handle.


Further Information

Breeding pair and hatchlings on video

Breeding Green Tree Pythons at the Houston Zoo

Natural History and Local Lore (World Association of Zoos & Aquariums)


GTP image referenced from Wikipedia and posted by Micha L. Rieser

Habitat image referenced from Wikipedia and posted by Adam J.W.C.

Amphibian Abuse – Neon Dyed Frogs Wildly Popular in Chinese Pet Stores

Loggerhead TurtleMany turtle keepers here in the USA can recall seeing hatchling Red-Eared Sliders with gaily-painted shells being offered for sale at pet stores and carnivals.  Thankfully, through education and the passage of legislation, that practice, which killed thousands if not millions of turtles, is no longer with us.  Unfortunately, an equally-horrific new fad has recently popped up in China, where millions of young African Clawed Frogs are being colored with industrial dyes and sold as short-lived “novelties”.

Torturing Sensitive Creatures

A thin, sensitive skin pre-disposes frogs to a variety of environmental hazards, and may be one of the factors behind the recent extinctions of hundreds of species worldwide.  Permeable to water, oxygen and chemicals, frog skin is marvelous yet delicate, and easily irritated by any exposure to less-than-ideal environments.

So just imagine the effect of injections of industrial dyes!  Actually, any animal would be horribly injured or killed by such a practice…in fact, the dyes being used on the frogs are reportedly dangerous for people to handle.

As you can see from article linked below, the frogs take on neon hues of pink, yellow, green and other colors, and appear more like plastic toys than live animals – a situation that makes it more likely they will be treated as objects and not living creatures in need of care.

Larger Issues: Animals as Objects

In addition to the outright killing of frogs, the practice of dyeing them raises the larger issue of how they are perceived.  In this article, for example, the author has not even bothered to identify the type of frogs that are being sold, and even makes light of the situation – suggesting that the frogs sell-out so fast that prospective owners may need to dye their own!  The author callously goes on to note that the dyes should last 3-4 years “…by which time the frogs will probably be long dead anyway”.

As you can see by the video linked below, sellers also show little regard for the doomed creatures’ needs – the dyed frogs pictured there are held in a bare tank of filthy water in which float dead fishes.

A Life-Saving Frog

Ironically, so much of interest could have been written about African Clawed Frogs.  Once used as the basis for pregnancy tests (the Hogben Test), these frogs have been used in medical research for decades, and have saved countless human lives.  Captives become quite responsive and have lived for nearly 30 years, and educational kits featuring Clawed Frog tadpoles have introduced millions of school children to the wonders of metamorphosis.  I could go on…please see the article below for more on this most unique amphibian.

“Tiger Dogs” and other Odd Fads

Apparently, “plain” animals are not interesting enough for many modern-day consumers in China and elsewhere these days.  Fishes confined to lockets are still being sold, and in the past few years the practice of coloring dogs to resemble tigers, pandas and other creatures has become fashionable (please see article below).

Reporting Animal Abuse

Please read my article on Reporting Animal Abuse (USA), and of course feel free to write in for advice; in most cases I’ll be able to direct you to an appropriate local authority if you have witnessed animal cruelty or abuse.


Further Reading

Video of Dyed Frogs Held under Terrible Conditions

African Clawed Frog Behavior

White clawed frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Museoftheviolets

Hatching Praying Mantid Egg Cases to Feed Tiny Amphibians and Invertebrates

Mantis Laying EggsDietary variety is the key to success in rearing many herps and invertebrates.  Unfortunately, options for newly-transformed frogs and salamanders, Poison Frogs and other small species and hatchling spiders are limited. A diet of fruit flies, springtails and pinhead crickets sometimes suffices, but as I learned when rearing the endangered Kihansi Spray Toad, other foods are often necessary.  Praying Mantid Egg cases (properly termed “oothecum”), which may be collected or ordered from commercial dealers, are a useful but under-appreciated resource for those who keep small insectivorous pets.

Foreign Mantids in the USA

The 2 most-commonly encountered mantids (or mantises) in the USA are both introduced (not native).  The largest and most widespread is the Chinese Mantid, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis, brought here in 1896 to battle insect pests.  The European or Praying Mantid, Mantis religiosa, arrived as a stowaway around the same time.  They and the world’s other 2,400+ species, consume vast numbers of beneficial and harmful insects…in fact, a single Chinese Mantid may consume 20,000 or more insects in its lifetime! Read More »

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Green and Black Poison Frog

Black and green PA FrogI’ve always favored the boldly-marked Green and Black Poison (or “Dart”) Frog, Dendrobates auratus, over most of its relatives.  This was a turn of good fortune for me, as this gorgeous creature is one of the largest and easiest of the poison frogs to maintain.  It is also not at all shy – while working in Costa Rica, I was surprised at how easy wild ones were to observe – and makes a wonderful exhibit animal.  Green and Black Poison Frogs have become almost common in the trade, yet many remain unaware of some surprising aspects of their lives in the wild.

Little-Known Facts

First a few notes that have surprised me over the years.

Hobbyists accustomed to seeing these frogs in terrariums may be surprised to learn that wild specimens sometimes venture into forest canopies over 100 feet above ground…quite a climb for a minute frog!  Read More »

Gulf Oil Spill Update – Sea Turtles and Other Wildlife Still Face Threats

Ridley’s TurtleFive species of sea turtle, all threatened or endangered, inhabit waters affected by the April, 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the 20 months that have passed since, many have been rescued, but problems still linger. Unfortunately, we cannot yet determine how this ecological nightmare has affected their survival prospects.

It is estimated that over 6,000 sea turtles of 5 species, along with 82,000+ birds, 26,000+ marine mammals and untold numbers of other creatures, were impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill. It is impossible to determine how many other turtles were killed as a result of fires that were set in order to burn off surface oil (the Center for Biological Diversity sued to force a change in that strategy, please see article below). Read More »

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