Green tree pythons have predators, so they need to be able to defend themselves from attack. But not all snakes use the same methods to avoid detection, being killed, and eaten in the wild.
The main defensive attribute of the green tree python is being hard to spot. Camouflage makes it hard for predators, such as rufous owls and black butcherbirds, to find them. They don’t use venom or constriction to defend themselves, but will bite with their long, sharp teeth.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about a green tree python’s defense mechanisms and how they manage to survive in the wild. You’ll learn more about how green tree pythons avoid detection by opportunistic predators, as well as the times when they’re most vulnerable to attack.
How Do Green Tree Pythons Fight Off Predators?
Green tree pythons (Morelia viridis) are a green constrictor snake that is native to Australia and New Guinea. They use the following methods to protect themselves in the wild:
- Green-colored camouflage. They use their color to hide in among tree branches.
- Lashing out and quickly biting. If a predator tries to attack them, they will strike out from a defensive position.
But what about other methods of defense like hissing, hiding and more? Let’s find out how green tree pythons defend themselves from predators.
Do Green Tree Pythons Bite Their Predators?
Biting is a natural instinctive reaction on their part of all pythons that are threatened by predators. That applies to green tree pythons as well as other more common captive species.
When a predator attacks them in the wild, a green tree python will strike to chase them away. In many cases, the sudden movement and sting of their bite will discourage predators. Most snake species do the same.
To strike out, they first have to be in a position to do so. This is the defensive position. Green tree pythons naturally sit in a striking position anyway, so that they can strike at passing prey.
Other snakes will coil their head and neck into an S-shape. But green tree pythons are different. They drape themselves over a branch in loops with their head in the middle. If prey walks by, or a predator tries to attack, they’re ready to strike out.
However, this shouldn’t be confused with them trying to eat you. The nip reflex and the eating reflex are two related but different things. Crucially, if a python wants to eat you, they will coil around you after they bite. That’s what they do to prey.
But if a predator attacks them, they don’t want to cling onto them and squeeze. More than anything, they want the threat to go away. So they’ll nip and let go, not coiling around them, in the hopes that they’ll run away.
Are Green Tree Pythons Venomous?
Green tree pythons aren’t venomous as pythons don’t possess venom. They lack a number of the things that venomous snakes have:
- Venom. This is a fluid that the snake stores, and can use to kill prey. In dangerous circumstances, it may also use the venom to defend itself.
- Venom glands. Venom glands are where the venom is created and stored. Pythons don’t have venom glands.
- Fangs capable of delivering venom. Venomous snakes have two hollow fangs. The venom is pumped from the venom gland, through a tube, and the fangs. From there it gets into the bite wound.
Some snake species don’t have venom glands, but slightly venomous spit. But green tree pythons don’t have this either. If they bite you, they don’t have any venom or poison they can hurt you with.
Even if they were venomous, snakes try to avoid using venom in defensive situations. That’s because they need the venom in order to hunt. If they have none, they’ll starve.
How Do Green Tree Pythons Kill Their Prey?
Green tree pythons are ambush hunters. They sit still and wait for prey to come to them, rather than searching for it. This conserves energy and makes them even more challenging to spot.
Rather than use venom to kill prey, green tree pythons use constriction. Constriction is where the snake squeezes the prey to death.
They start by biting at passing prey. Constrictors have special teeth that prey can’t wriggle free from. If a green tree python sinks their teeth into their prey, the snake will then quickly move towards it. They will coil once or twice around the prey to begin constriction.
The snake doesn’t asphyxiate its prey. Instead, it squeezes hard enough to stop the prey’s heart from pumping. The prey’s blood pressure gets so high that the heart can’t pump blood.
When this happens, the prey quickly loses consciousness. If the pressure is taken off, the prey might still survive. Once the prey stops moving, the green tree python will eat it. They swallow their prey whole, like all snakes (i.e., they don’t chew).
After they swallow their prey, the green tree python will head back up to their branch. There they will sit until they need to eat again. Because they’re ambush hunters, the time between meals is longer than for other snakes.
Green Tree Python Temperament
Green tree pythons have an unfair reputation for poor temperament. The first people to keep them as pets would say that they’re beautiful, but can be aggressive. They would nip at their owners and refuse to be handled. However, this is similar to any other newly captive snake species.
When the only captive specimens of a species are wild-caught, you’re only exposed to threatened snakes. Wild-caught snakes are less familiar with people than captive bred ones so can lash out. Use these care tips and handling advice for green tree pythons as pets.
This is where their reputation originated. Today, while many are still wild caught, most are captive bred. So, if you buy a green tree python, it’s not likely to be nearly as aggressive.
Besides that, though, juvenile green tree pythons are still quite defensive. This applies both to wild-caught and captive bred. That’s because they’re much smaller than adult specimens. If you were approached by an animal many times your size, you would feel threatened too.
Like all snakes, if cared for correctly, they will reward you with calm behavior. When handling, be delicate, especially with juveniles as their spines are easy to damage.
During handling, you may notice that they coil around your hand or arm. That’s behavior which is common to pet constrictor species.
If you notice that, they aren’t trying to constrict you. They’re coiling around your arm to get some purchase, as if it’s a tree branch. Here’s some advice on how to stop a constrictor constricting.
Are Green Tree Python Fangs Dangerous?
The description of constriction above does sound dangerous. But we’re talking about small prey items such as small reptiles and rodents. A green tree python is dangerous to a little mouse, but not to humans.
To be clear, they can still bite. But since they don’t have venom, there’s no real danger in their bite. If you know what you’re doing with snakes, then there isn’t anything dangerous they can do to you.
And green tree pythons aren’t strong enough to constrict a person. The worst that they could do is wrap around your neck when you handle them. But if they do that, they can easily be disengaged. Take the tail and unwrap them slowly. Humans are much stronger than they are.
The only exceptions are people inexperienced with snakes, children and pets. Children are still too big for a green tree python to attack. But a child won’t know how to react if a snake starts constricting around them.
Does a Green Tree Python Bite Hurt?
If a green tree python bites you, it will certainly sting. It will hurt more than the bites of other pet snakes like ball pythons, for example. That’s because their teeth are much longer.
Green tree pythons have longer fangs because they frequently prey on birds. They need long fangs to bite through feathers and reach the bird’s skin. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stop the bird from getting away.
When they bite you, you’ll bleed and it will hurt immediately. But since they aren’t venomous, the bite isn’t dangerous. The only danger is that of infection.
You can avoid infections by treating the bite with care. Start by cleaning the area of any remaining spit and blood using a tissue. Run the bite under water. Then apply a mild disinfectant to clean the area more thoroughly.
Finish off by covering the area with a bandage. If you notice the area swelling up, that’s not venom. That’s an infection. If you notice a slight infection, repeat the disinfection process. It should clear up but if it doesn’t, see a doctor.
Can Green Tree Pythons Escape Predators?
What eats pythons? Green tree pythons are large snakes (between four and six feet as adults.) This dramatically reduces the number of natural predators they have. However, juveniles are frequently preyed on by many species due to their smaller size. These species include:
- Dingoes (in Australia)
- Black butcherbirds
- Rufous owls
- New Guinea quolls
- Mangrove monitors
These species are ground and air predators. Since they spend most of their time in trees, any predators that are uncomfortable climbing can’t catch them.
However, green tree pythons sometimes have to move from one tree to another. It’s at this point that they’re most vulnerable. Green tree pythons aren’t fast, either. So, if something tries to prey on them when they’re on the ground, they won’t be able to escape.
And while they are camouflaged, green tree pythons are still vulnerable to birds of prey. A bird of prey that spots them will make an easy meal of them.
Another disadvantage for green tree pythons is that they aren’t burrowing snakes. In the U.S., most snakes you encounter can burrow. Or if they can’t burrow by themselves, they’ll find an abandoned mammal den to hide in. This helps them avoid predators. Green tree pythons can’t do that.
Green Tree Python Camouflage
According to the Royal Society, the primary way that green tree pythons avoid predators is through camouflage. In the wild, they live in New Guinea and northern Australia. Here, they live in or near rainforests. Their green scales make them difficult to spot against the foliage.
Their behavior makes the most of their camouflage. They sit on tree branches, as still as they can. The tree cover above them makes them difficult to spot from the air. Their color makes them blend in with the leaves above them, so they can’t be located from the ground.
They aren’t completely invisible. Predators can still find, attack and eat them. But their camouflage does reduce the number of attacks they will have to survive.