Green tree pythons are considered to be a difficult snake to care for. That’s why you probably shouldn’t have one as your very first pet snake. But why are they unsuitable for beginners?
To care for green tree pythons, you’ll need an enclosure, heat mat, a removable perch, and a rodent-based food source. Green tree pythons dislike being handled, and have longer fangs than other constrictors.
If you’re an experienced owner, you should be able to care for a green tree python easily. But they do still have certain requirements that you might not expect.
Green Tree Python Facts
Here’s a brief fact file that will help you care for your pet. This isn’t just for your records—it’s directly relevant to green tree python care, for reasons we’ll get into in a moment.
|Scientific Name:||Morelia viridis|
|Oviparous or Viviparous?||Oviparous|
|Hatchling Length:||Between 8 and 10 inches|
|Adult Length:||Between 4 and 6 feet (females are the longest)|
|Adult Weight:||Between 1,100 and 1,600g (females are the heaviest)|
|Lifespan:||Between 20 and 25 years old.|
The green tree python is from New Guinea, in the Pacific just north of Australia. Almost exactly half of the island is part of Indonesia, while half is its own country, Papua New Guinea. New Guinea generally is incredibly biodiverse, and contains between 5 and 10% of total unique species on the planet (the same proportion as the whole United States).
Much of the island is covered in dense jungle, which is where the green tree python lives. You can also find some along the north coast of Australia. They share the same range as another common pet, the carpet python.
The snake itself is thin for its length, and has a long tail for a snake. Its head is large and distinct compared to its neck. As its name suggests, it’s bright green, especially on top. Its underside fades to a lighter green. It also has small white spots mostly along its spine, and some along its side. Here is some information on the various green tree python morphs (colors) available.
While it’s considered to be a Species of Least Concern by the IUCN, illegal smuggling for the pet trade has put some pressure on the wild population.
How to Care for Green Tree Pythons as Pets
Green tree pythons are tough to care for. Far tougher than beginner snakes like ball pythons, boa constrictors or corn snakes.
For starters, they aren’t very comfortable around a person unless they’ve known them for a long time. Even then, it’s easy to get on the wrong side of them by not handling them properly.
Green Tree Python Equipment
Caring for a snake is easy, provided that you have the right setup. Before you purchase your python—or as soon as possible, if you already have—make sure to buy high quality, durable equipment. Let’s take a look at what you need, and why.
Enclosure for Green Tree Pythons
The first thing you’re going to need is a place to put your green tree python. Snake owners with just one or two pets will typically have a small starter enclosure for their snake, and then a bigger enclosure for when their pet is fully grown. That’s because snakes feel vulnerable in large, open spaces, such as an enclosure that’s too big for them.
We recommend starting with a basic plastic enclosure like this one from Koller. Start small with a basic plastic tank. Once they reach three feet, upgrade them to a larger tank, between 30 and 40 gallons in size. If you like, the larger tank could be plastic, glass, or wood—whatever you prefer.
Contrary to popular belief, their enclosure doesn’t need to be that tall, despite them being tree pythons. So long as there’s something for them to climb and sit on, they’ll be happy whether the enclosure is tall or not.
Heating for a Green Tree Python
Green tree pythons live in a warm, tropical part of the world. As such, you need to reflect that in your care for them. One side of the enclosure should be between 86 and 88 degrees, where they can bask during the day. The cooler part of their enclosure should be between 78 and 80 degrees.
At night, the temperature should be allowed to naturally drop. However, because they’re accustomed to a warm environment, don’t allow it to drop below 70 degrees. And because they’re quite close to the equator in the wild, the temperature and humidity don’t change all that much year-round. As such, you don’t need to cool them down in the winter for brumation. To heat your green tree python’s enclosure, you have many options.
You can choose between:
- A heat mat like ZooTerra’s, which sits underneath the tank
- A ceramic light bulb, which is the same as a normal light bulb, but which only gives off heat
- A heat bulb, which gives off both heat and light
- Heat tape, which is similar to a heat mat, but which is long enough to be used under several different tanks at once, especially in a stack
Whichever method you use to heat your python’s enclosure, pair your equipment with a thermostat to regulate the temperature inside.
Green Tree Python Lighting
There is a subsection of snake owners who are certain that some snakes need UVB lighting, to help them metabolize calcium/vitamin D. No research has shown this to be the case, but you may still choose to use UVB lighting in your snake’s enclosure.
You may also choose to include regular lighting, so that you can see your pet. This is especially useful in wooden enclosures, where the back, the sides, and the top are wooden, and there is only one glass side.
Because this setup doesn’t allow much light in, you may choose to include a small light so that you can see inside; a heat bulb would work, but if you prefer using a heat mat, then a regular small light bulb would be fine. Make sure to place it behind a mesh or something similar to stop your snake from burning themselves on it.
Humidity for a Green Tree Python
Because they’re from the rainforest, green tree pythons need high levels of humidity. They prefer levels between 40 and 70%, which is quite humid. To maintain this level, you can purchase an automatic mister. This detects when the air gets too dry, and lets out a small spray of water. Alternatively, you could spray the enclosure with a small spray bottle every once in a while. Find the frequency at which you need to spray by experimenting a little.
Many new snake owners underestimate the importance of humidity. Too little, and the snake won’t be able to shed their skin. Too much humidity and they’ll sit in pools of water and develop scale rot, which can become fatal if left untreated. Don’t be that kind of owner!
In the wild, snakes prefer to drink fresh water droplets. These can either be from rainfall, or dew collected on leaves in the morning. Either way, what this means is that your python will prefer drinking water that you spray rather than water in a bowl.
But they should still have a bowl of fresh water, since they help to maintain the humidity in the enclosure at the right level. And if your snake is having trouble shedding, by instinct they know to sit in water until their skin absorbs some of the moisture. As such, a water bowl like this one from ExoTerra is a must-have for your green tree python’s enclosure.
A Hide for a Green Tree Python
All snakes like to have somewhere to hide. The point is so that they have somewhere that they feel safe. However, it’s important that your green tree python doesn’t have too many places to hide, or anywhere that they can get completely hidden.
That’s because they might not want to thermoregulate throughout the day, preferring to sit ‘indoors.’ This will cause them to become ill, as well as cage aggressive.
Substrate for a Green Tree Python
A substrate is what you line the bottom of a snake’s tank with. Your choice should be based on your snake’s preferences. Some snakes, for example, like to be able to burrow under loose materials—but green tree pythons don’t. Here are some of the best substrates for green pythons.
As such, you can use basic substrates like paper towels, or even newspaper. These are the cheapest substrates that you can buy, which makes caring for your snake a little easier.
A substrate is only good for your snake if it’s clean and dry (or at least not damp). As such, you’ll have to replace any that are affected when your snake goes to the toilet. This is known as spot cleaning. Your snake will usually go to the toilet two to three days after they eat.
When they do, you don’t have to get rid of all the newspaper: just any that’s damp or dirty. Replace the substrate as a whole after a month, or when it gets dirty/damp (whichever comes first).
How to Handle a Green Tree Python
The most challenging looking after a green tree python is handling them. But if you’re experienced with snakes, you should be fine.
Let’s take a look at a step by step guide on how to comfortably and calmly handle one.
- Lift them from their enclosure not by hand, but when they’re sat on a perch. Lift the whole perch out of the enclosure. Going in hands-first is a sure fire way to get them to strike.
- When you’re holding their perch, don’t approach them from the front, especially if they’re in the strike pose. Turn the perch so that they’re facing away from you, before putting your hand gently on their underside. They aren’t able to strike downwards, so should be more comfortable this way. From here on out, cup/hold them from the underside.
- Allow them to move around. With a little very gentle persuading, they’ll start to come off the perch on their own. Your goal is to encourage them to sit on your arm instead. Do this by gently stroking them in your direction, but not by tugging or pulling. Ultimately, it has to be their decision to come off the perch.
- Allow them to anchor their tail on your finger or hand. Their tail is long and slender, so it’s delicate; don’t pull at it. Let them wrap it around you so that they can find their balance.
- Once they’re safely on your hand—they’ve anchored themselves with their tail, and the majority of their body weight is on your hand or arm—slide the perch out and put it back. At this point, they should be completely on your hand.
- You should monitor their movements at all times. Since they’re easily startled, you could encourage them to strike at any time. Watch out especially for their striking pose, and don’t make any sudden movements when you’re handling your pet.
Yes, this is more complicated than handling other snakes. But there’s a good reason for that. Green tree pythons are notorious for not enjoying being handled, unless they know you very well. So, let’s find out a little more about their temperament and what makes them such a tough snake to handle.
Are Green Tree Pythons Docile?
Yes, green tree pythons are docile—if you leave them alone. However, if you try to handle them, that’s when their more aggressive nature comes out. Since green tree pythons aren’t the most easily handled snake, they aren’t ideal for a beginner. There are a variety of reasons for that:
- They don’t seem to enjoy being handled, and are very easily startled
- They are ‘nippier’ than most other kinds of snake, meaning that they’ll try to bite more frequently (although they aren’t venomous). They feel like they’re having to defend themselves, even if you aren’t really a threat
- They have long fangs for a constrictor, and aren’t afraid to use them.
- They have a strong striking reflex, especially for things that are warm, like your breath
If you do handle your pet regularly, they will learn to like you a little more than other people. But even then, they’ll never completely lose their nature.
Handling Tips and Advice
Our first tip is to buy them a removable perch for their enclosure. Green tree pythons get their name from preferring to live in trees, and coiling themselves over a branch. By giving them a removable perch, you not only give them somewhere they’ll enjoy resting, but you’ll also make it easier for you to take them out of their enclosure when necessary. Instead of reaching in to pick them up, or using handling tools that might stress them out, you pick the perch up.
- Feel free to use protective gloves when you handle a green tree python. These are thick and strong enough that the snake can’t bite through them. You won’t normally need these to handle a constrictor, unless they’re feisty.
- Handle them during the day time, when they normally sleep. During the night when they’re active, they would naturally hunt, so they’ll be more aggressive than they would in the day.
- Don’t handle them immediately before or after they’ve eaten. When they eat, wait until they go to the toilet before you handle them again.
- Don’t handle them after you handle any of their prey items. If you do, your fingers will smell like their favorite food, and they’ll be even more likely to strike at you.
- Watch their body language as you’re about to handle them. If they’re in a classic strike position—an S-shape, ready to leap at you and bite—then leave them alone.
- Don’t pull or tug them off their perch. If you try that, they’ll almost certainly strike. Slide them instead, and offer your hand/arm for them to move onto instead.
Our most important tip, though, is to make sure you’re comfortable handling a different species of snake before moving on to a green tree python. Getting a green tree python as your first pet snake isn’t a wise move, because they’re so snappy. So get used to other kinds of snake first, so that you can understand better how snakes react to certain stimuli, and why.
How to Feed a Green Tree Python
Feeding a green tree python is different from feeding your average pet snake. They have a strong striking reflex that you have to watch out for. If you’re not careful, they could be eating you instead of the food you’re offering them. Let’s take a look, step by step, at how to feed a green tree python.
- We recommend using snake feeding tongs. These are just like regular tongs. They help you maintain distance from your snake when they strike. Not only that, but they prevent you from getting the smell of prey on your fingers. This is the safest way to feed them.
- If they refuse food, entice them by nudging them gently in the side of their mouth. This should encourage them to strike.
- Keep them on a regular schedule: one medium-sized mouse every week to ten days. Adjust their diet as necessary if they become overweight or underweight.
Don’t feed your green tree python before or after handling, as they will associate you solely with food. Handle them regularly outside of scheduled feeding times to prevent this.
What Do Green Tree Pythons Eat?
In the wild, green tree pythons eat small reptiles and mammals. Like all constrictors, they catch prey first by biting down hard on it to secure it, before squeezing it to death in their coils. They won’t go hunting per se, instead, they’ll wait, coiled on a tree branch, until suitable prey wanders by. That’s why they’re green-colored: for camouflage.
Either way, this means that your green tree python is easy to care for in captivity. You can feed them a basic frozen rodent diet. This is what the vast majority of pet snakes eat. You can buy bulk packs of baby mice, medium-sized mice, adult mice and rats at pet stores or online.
How Often Should You Feed a Green Tree Python?
A green tree python’s diet should change as they grow older. When they’re young, they should eat a small-sized mouse once every week, or more frequently if they display hunting behaviors.
As they grow to a juvenile/young adult, you can feed them medium-sized mice, but reduce feeding frequency to once every week to ten days. Adults should eat one full-sized rat or two adult mice once every ten days to two weeks.
As always with pet snakes, pay close attention to their health and behavior to see if any adjustments to their diet are necessary. If the snake is overweight, reduce portion size or feeding frequency accordingly.
Overweight green tree pythons are larger than average around the middle, and also around the neck, where you may be able to spot ‘scale spreading.’ This is where you can see the snake’s skin beneath their scales, as the scales are stretched out.
If the snake is underweight, increase portion size or feeding frequency. An underweight snake has concave signs and an obvious ridge running along their back, which is their spine.