Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Green Tree Pythons are popular in the pet trade due to their vibrant colors and unique arboreal habits.
- Native to New Guinea, some islands in Indonesia, and Cape York Peninsula in Australia.
- They primarily live in dense rainforest habitats, spending most of their time in the trees.
- Their main diet consists of small mammals and reptiles, and they have heat-sensing pits on their face to detect warm-blooded prey.
- They grow up to 4.5-5.9 ft (1.4-1.8 meters) in length and can live up to 20 years in captivity.
Shrouded in rainforest leaves hides a reptile so well-camouflaged you might mistake it for a vine. The green tree python (Morelia viridis) is a gorgeous snake native to the jungles of New Guinea, eastern Indonesia, and northeast Australia.
Renowned for their vibrant coloration, green tree pythons have also become popular in the exotic pet trade.
This article is an overview of these beautiful snakes, their habitat, diet, behavior, conservation status, and more.
Green tree pythons have smooth, bright green scales. Some specimens may have patches of white, blue, or yellow on them if they’re feeling fancy.
Their heads are triangular, and along their snouts are small holes known as labial pits. Labial pits act as heat sensors, allowing the python to hone in on prey when hunting.
Hatchlings aren’t green. In an act of defiance against their parents, juveniles are bright yellow, red, or brown hues. Eventually, the young snakes molt their skin, slipping into the standard green scale suit.
Actually, juvenile green tree pythons aren’t green because it helps them blend in better with the forest floor.
Bright green scales would make young pythons stand out like a patch of grass in the snow. And a python that stands out is an easy target for predators.
However, the green coloration of adult pythons better camouflages them amongst the leaves and vines of the rainforest canopy, where they spend most of their time.
Adults reach lengths of around 5 feet (1.5 m). They have over 100 razor-sharp teeth that curve backward. The backward-curved teeth help them to better hold onto prey.
Labial pits are pockets that line the snout of pythons, boas, and some vipers. They allow snakes to sense the infrared heat signatures of prey.
Warm-blooded animals give off thermal radiation or heat signature. The heat radiating off a mouse, for example, is picked up by the labial pits of a python. The python can then track the mouse’s movements better, honing in on it to make a kill.
But labial pits don’t just serve one function, that of locating prey. They also aid in thermoregulation.
Snakes are cold-blooded, so they can’t self-regulate their body temperature like mammals can. Instead, they must regulate their body temperature externally by finding warm or cool spots within the environment.
So, labial pits help in locating warm sites that the snake can use for basking to raise their body temperature.
Range and Habitat
Green tree pythons live in the hot, humid rainforests of New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia. They are believed to originate from southeast Asia, first arriving in Australia around 23 million years ago.
It has yet to be discovered precisely how they got to Australia.
For example, Australia split from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana around 180 million years ago. So the green tree python, or its ancient relative, arrived sometime after the continental split.
In any case, they somehow found their way to Australia and thrived there. And just in case snake-fearing people needed another reason not to visit Australia, green tree pythons are one of fifteen species of python living there. So Australia is actually the most python-diverse continent on the planet.
Finally, green tree pythons are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their lives in trees. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of a green tree python’s life is spent in trees.
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Diet and Hunting
Green tree pythons are ambush predators. They wait for food to come to them rather than actively seeking out prey.
Except they don’t rely on mere chance for feeding opportunities; green tree pythons use their tails to lure prey. Then, they strike when something like a small rodent or curious reptile gets close.
This masters-of-ambush primarily eats small rodents and sometimes lizards. They rarely, if ever, eat birds.
Green tree pythons have a unique way of hunting as well.
First, they flick their tails to attract prey. Then, they coil up from a branch in an S-shaped striking position. Like a bolt of lightning, they strike their prey, hanging from a tree branch with their tails, constricting the prey with the rest of their body before devouring it whole.
As previously mentioned, green tree pythons spend most of their time in trees. So they weren’t named tree pythons for nothing.
But instead of slithering through the canopy’s branches, green tree pythons are often stationary, coiled up on a tree limb.
Now, they don’t coil around a branch like a vine might, as in spiraling around it. Instead, they coil up into a disc shape and droop their front and back ends over the sides of a branch.
Imagine if you had a green pancake that you balanced on a tree branch, its sides drooping over it like a saddle on a horse. It’s pretty much like that.
But green tree pythons aren’t green pancakes, and it would be a mistake to try and eat them. Because even though they’re nonvenomous, you do not want to be bitten by these long-toothed reptiles. They have a reputation for being aggressive, and bites are painful and may require medical attention.
Despite spending almost all their lives in trees, green tree pythons sometimes venture onto the ground. For example, while mating occurs in trees, females climb down to the forest floor to lay their eggs.
Adult green tree pythons are also primarily nocturnal. However, juveniles are diurnal and hunt during the light of day.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
When a female green tree python is ready to give birth, she will descend to the forest floor in search of a nesting sight.
Usually, pregnant snakes will look for hollowed-out logs to lay their eggs. However, any protected, hidden, damp site will work for nesting.
Once a nesting site is found, the mother snake will lay anywhere from 5 to 35 eggs. She wraps herself around her eggs and vibrates her muscles to produce warmth.
Finally, after protecting her eggs for over two months, the babies will hatch. The mother doesn’t eat during this time and leaves the nesting site soon after her babies hatch.
It’s a cruel, cruel world, and the vulnerable hatchlings must fend for themselves. Typically they stay on the forest floor, hiding in leaf litter and trying their best to remain undetected.
Then, at around 6 to 12 months, the juveniles change color to their signature green. Soon after, they take to the trees, where they remain for most of their lives.
Juveniles reach sexual maturity at around two years old. They’re pretty promiscuous creatures, mating with multiple partners throughout their lifetimes.
I’d imagine child support bills must be off the charts. But given that the mothers abandon their young after they hatch, I doubt either parent cares much for the wellbeing of their children.
Mate, lay eggs, make sure they hatch, and move on – such is the sex life of green tree pythons.
They also don’t have a specific mating season. So, breeding can occur at any time of the year.
Lastly, the average lifespan of a green tree python isn’t exactly known. However, it’s estimated to be about 15 to 20 years.
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Due to the popularity of green tree pythons as pets, poaching has led to a slight decline in their populations. Despite this, green tree pythons are listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The exact population numbers aren’t known, but they are believed to be stable for now.
Green Tree Pythons As Pets
Just because someone has a pet green tree python doesn’t mean somebody poached from the wild. Most pets are bred in captivity and sold through distributors or breeders themselves.
While they certainly make a neat pet, green tree pythons are not easy to care for. They need large terrariums with plenty of space to climb around. They also require specific heating and humidity control.
Moreover, green tree pythons can be aggressive. Aggression takes the form of biting, not sarcasm or tantrums. Bites from green tree pythons are painful and, in some cases, may require stitches. Therefore, handling should be kept to a minimum.
Avoid green tree pythons if you’re looking for a cuddly companion who likes interacting with you. Only someone with reptile care experience should consider buying these snakes.
If you are considering a green tree python as a pet, check out this care guide: Green Tree Python Owner’s Guide: Best Practices for Keepers! (reptile.guide)
Of course, it’s best to consult many guides and speak to reptile experts for more information if you can.
Is a green tree python venomous?
No, green tree pythons are not venomous. Bites are harmless, aside from their razor-sharp teeth.
Are green tree pythons good pets?
It depends. They can make good pets if you’re knowledgeable and have experience handling reptiles. But given their aggressive tendencies and specific terrarium requirements (heat, lighting, humidity, etc.), they are not easy to care for.
Don’t expect any tail-wagging or loving affection from these moody reptiles
Are green tree pythons hard to keep?
Yes, they are. Beginners should not buy a green tree python as a pet. Their terrarium requirements are demanding, and they can be aggressive toward their owners. Also, you need to commit to taking care of them because they can live for up to 20 years.
Does a green tree python bite hurt?
Yes, python bites absolutely hurt. They have 100 razor-sharp teeth in their mouth that can easily penetrate human skin. The teeth are curved backward, too, so prying them off might lead to further tearing and damage.
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