Green Tree Python Morelia viridis
The green tree python is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful snakes in the world. These arboreal pythons often exhibit a wide range of colorations. Babies are often maroon or yellow, and slowly change color and pattern as they mature. Most animals complete their color shift by two or three years of age. Adults range in color and pattern, but intense greens, yellow, and blues are the name of the game with this species, and their wildly diverse appearance no doubt adds greatly to their popularity.
Green tree pythons may be referred to by hobbyists as simply "chondros," which is simply an abbreviated version of their former genus name, Chondropython. Once considered a difficult species to maintain, chondros have proven to be fairly easy to keep once a firm grasp of their basic needs is obtained. In addition to our better understanding of their captive requirements, chondros are now being captive bred in large numbers, making them available to all, and much less tricky to care for than the imported animals of yesteryear.
These snakes are often labeled, advertised, and sold by their area of origin, sometimes called their "race." Some commonly available races include Sorong, Biak, Merauke, and Aru. These names simply refer to the local or island from which that bloodline originally hailed. In many cases, the keeper can loosely predict the snake’s adult appearance based on it’s race.
Size and Longevity
Green tree pythons are a small python compared to many of their close relatives. Adults may range greatly in size, but the average mature animal is between 3 and 5 feet in total length. As with many python species, chondros are long lived, and with excellent care can be expected to live well over 15 years.
These are tropical pythons, so the enclosure in which they are housed should be suitable for maintaining adequate levels of heat and humidity, without sacrificing ventilation. Traditional glass terrariums with locking screen lids work quite well, as do custom enclosures, and specially manufactured molded plastic cages.
Baby chondros can be comfortably housed individually in a standard 10 gallon terrarium for the first few months of their lives. As your python grows, it will require larger quarters in which to explore and properly thermoregulate. Due to their arboreal and inactive nature, even adult green tree pythons can be housed in relatively small enclosures.
Individual adults are often, and successfully, maintained in enclosures measuring 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet. While these "cubes" work very well for professional breeders who have many snakes to house, a slightly larger enclosure would be ideal in the home setting, if space permits.
Heating and Lighting
Green tree pythons require consistently high daytime temperatures and reasonably warm nighttime temperatures if expected to thrive. The ambient temperature within the enclosure should be in the upper 80's during the day with a localized basking area that approaches (but should not exceed) 90 degrees. In the evenings, temperatures may safely drop as low as 75 degrees with no ill effects, although a few degrees warmer is recommended for younger animals.
Heat can be provided in a number of ways, however, as arboreal snakes that spend little time on the ground, under tank heating pads may be less effective with chondros than with other species of snake. Instead, ceramic heat emitters, infrared heat bulbs, and standard basking bulbs are highly recommended primary heat sources. A new development in herp keeping, the radiant heat panel, is also an acceptable alternative, but these devices should always be used in conjunction with a trustworthy thermostat.
Temperature should be monitored regularly with the use of at least 2 high quality thermometers. Ideally, there should be a thermometer placed on both the warmest and coolest ends of the enclosure. This will ensure that the snake has a safe range of temperatures available to it without the risk of overheating or chilling.
While chondros do not seem to require full spectrum lighting at the level of some basking lizards and turtles, they do benefit from a regular photoperiod of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. A standard fluorescent bulb will suffice, however there is some merit to the idea of using low output full spectrum bulbs with these snakes. As mentioned above, UV light is not mandatory, but it may have positive psychological and behavioral effects on the animals over time.
Substrate and Furnishings
The substrate used for green tree pythons should be one that promotes healthy humidity levels, yet is resistant to mold and fungus. Commercially available reptile bark (orchid bark) is a popular choice, as are coconut husk products. Cypress mulch is ideal, and is highly recommended as a first choice if it is available to you.
Chondros are arboreal snakes that spend most of their time coiled among horizontal branches. A variety of branches and sticks of varying diameter should be used to furnish the enclosure. Perches should be arranged in such a way to offer the snakes multiple basking options, both high and low, and both near to and far from the heat source.
The inclusion of live or plastic plants helps to maintain a natural setting for your snakes, but additionally provides security for the animals and serve as natural places for water droplets to collect after the terrarium has been misted.
Patches of sphagnum moss are highly recommended, as it will not only act to beautify the enclosure, but will function like a sponge when it gets wet, and slowly release water during the day, subsequently raising the humidity within the cage.
Water and Humidity
Water should always be made available to green tree pythons via a large, sturdy water dish. These pythons will typically drink from the water droplets that form on their coils and perches after being sprayed. However, the addition of a water bowl ensures that the animals always have access to water, and additionally, said bowl will aid in maintaining adequate humidity levels.
In the wild, chondros live in lush tropical forests, where rain is frequent and humidity levels high. To reproduce this environment in the terrarium, regular misting of the entire contents of the enclosure with room temperature water is necessary.
The watering schedule will vary based on the type of enclosure, ambient humidity where you live, and the substrates used. Until you determine the regimen that works for your specific set-up, consider a twice a day schedule and modify it as needed.
Enough water should be sprayed that the enclosure walls, substrate, perches, and the snake itself have droplets on them. The cage contents should never become soggy, and if that becomes the case, consider spraying less often. Optimally, the substrate should be nearly dry before it is sprayed again.
The skin shedding process is a simple and effective way to gauge whether you have the humidity levels properly adjusted. If your python sheds effortlessly, and the skin comes off in a single piece, then you are doing well. However, if the snake’s skin seems to be flaking off in tiny pieces over the course of several days, you will need to increase humidity levels with more frequent misting and/or a larger water dish.
Wild green tree pythons feed on a variety of vertebrate prey ranging from rodents to birds to other reptiles. In captivity they will thrive on common feeder mice. Baby pythons will readily consume a newborn pinky mouse, while adults can easily handle a large adult mouse, or even a small rat.
The prey item should be just big enough to produce a noticeable lump in the snake after being consumed. With this species it is safer to feed slightly smaller food items than ones that seem too large. Chondros should be offered one appropriately sized food item every 7 to 10 days. These inactive snakes have relatively slow metabolisms, and over-feeding is a common issue among captive snakes.
These snakes are aggressive hunters, and care should be taken when feeding them. With most species of snake, the practice of feeding the animals in a separate container is encouraged to reduce aggression. However, since these pythons are rarely kept with the intention of frequent handling, and because they can be easily stressed by being pried from their perches, most keepers opt to feed their chondros in their primary enclosures.
When feeding chondros as mentioned above, the prey should be freshly killed or frozen/thawed and offered to the snake via long forceps or hemostats. Never feed a green tree python by hand!
In general, green tree pythons should not be handled. While the occasional specimen may tolerate handling to a certain degree, most are nervous animals that are quick to bite if they feel trapped or threatened.
Instead, think of these beautiful snakes as you would tropical fish. Enjoy them from a distance and through a pane of glass. If you must handle your snake for maintenance reasons, do so with caution and use a small snake hook. Also, take care to never forcibly pull a coiled chondro from it’s perch. Doing so may result in injuries to your snake.
© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2007