green tree python head

Green Tree Pythons

A Complete Guide for Keeping Green Tree Pythons in Australia

Last Updated 13 JUNE 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Nicole Wynne BSc BVMS MANZCVS (Unusual Pets).

The green tree python (Morelia viridis) stands out like a jewel due to their beautiful, striking colours and patterns. The green tree python lives in the rainforests of Queensland, New Guinea, and Indonesia, and they require tropical conditions to thrive in captivity. While green tree pythons are not large snakes, reaching up to 2 metres in length with a slender body, their stunning colouration makes them a satisfying reptile to keep.

However, bringing a piece of the jungle to keep in your living room does come with some challenges. These snakes are only suitable for experienced keepers due to several factors. They have very particular enclosure and husbandry requirements due to their rainforest habitat, and they become sick very quickly if these requirements are not met. They are also notorious for being temperamental and difficult to handle. You should only consider keeping green tree pythons if you have already kept more challenging species successfully, such as Carpet or Diamond pythons. The experience will help with handling and feeding a snake that is more prone to striking, as well as troubleshooting any enclosure issues you may come across.

Contents:
Reptile Licensing Requirements
Facts About Green Tree Pythons
Preparing for your Green Tree Python
Enclosures
Heating
Lighting
Furniture
Substrate
Diet
Hygiene
Diet
Caring for Your Green Tree Python
Handling
Natural Sunlight
Shedding
Further Reading

Reptile Licensing Requirements in Australia

All pet reptiles require a reptile keeping licence in Australia, and these differ from state to state, so ensure that you check your local requirements before getting any pet reptile. For Green Tree pythons, the licensing requirements are generally aimed towards intermediate keepers. 

Facts About Green Tree pythons

green tree python on white background

Size

Place of origin

Temperament

Medium

Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea

Aggressive

Life expectancy

Length range

Weight range

15-25 years

150-200 cm

1-2 kilograms

Enclosure size

Activity level

Active period

Medium

Medium

Diurnal as juveniles, nocturnal as adults

Are Green Tree pythons good pets?

While green tree pythons are a gorgeous addition to any reptile collection, they are only suited to intermediate to experienced reptile keepers. They are not as amenable to handling as some other species like Children's and Stimson's pythons, and are known for being aggressive and temperamental. These snakes must have an intermediate to experienced adult keeper.

They are also more difficult to keep in terms of husbandry and enclosure requirements as they are a specialist rainforest species. This means that they only tolerate a narrow range of parameters with enclosure temperature, humidity, furniture, and hygiene, and are more easily affected by inappropriate parameters. Green tree pythons in substandard conditions are more likely to become sick.

For intermediate and experienced keepers looking for a bigger challenge, green tree pythons make an excellent addition to the collection.

Are Green Tree pythons nocturnal?

Hatchling and juvenile green tree pythons are active during the day, and adult pythons are more active at night, but also can have periods of activity during the day. These snakes are arboreal and live in trees, and will curl up in their characteristic "saddle" position when resting.

What do Green Tree pythons eat?

In the wild, these snakes prey on small mammals, and occasionally small reptiles. They lie in wait hanging from tree branches, and strike when the opportunity presents itself. In captivity, they do well on appropriately-sized frozen and thawed feeder mice.

How big do Green Tree pythons get?

Large female pythons can get up to 2 metres in length and over 2 kilograms in weight, but most snakes will range from 100-150 cm and 1.5 kilograms.

Like all snakes, green tree pythons shed their skin regularly as they grow, and adults will still shed 2-4 times a year.

How long do Green Tree pythons live?

These snakes tend to live between 10-15 years in the wild, but can live up to 20 years in captivity with the proper care. They are prone to illnesses, particular respiratory, especially when husbandry requirements are not met.

Are Green Tree pythons aggressive?

Yes, these snakes are known for their temperaments, and can be challenging for even experienced reptile keepers to manage. While some individuals may be easier to handle than others, this species is generally more prone to striking and biting.

Preparing for your Gree Tree python

juvenile green tree python ready to strike

After getting your licence, the next step is putting together an enclosure for your python. As a tree-dwelling python, your snake will need a minimum of a 60 cm long by 90 cm high enclosure. Although you may be getting your snake as a juvenile, get an enclosure that suits an adult straight off, as it will save you from having to upgrade in the future. If your snake is still very small, you can house them in a plastic box within the main enclosure, which will allow you to keep the same heating and lighting system. An enclosure for a green tree python also needs to be made out of top quality materials, as it must be able to insulate well to reduce the load on the heating system. Extra insulation can be added with commercial insulating material or styrofoam as long as your snake cannot access it.

Green Tree Python Supplies Checklist

Green Tree Python Enclosures

Type of Enclosure

Glass enclosures are always better than plastic, especially since heat sources can melt plastic! Glass enclosures will also last, are scratch-resistant, and are much easier to clean. Enclosures should be easy to access for handling and cleaning, and avoid enclosures with small doors. Well-designed enclosures will have large front doors that often will open an entire side of the enclosure, along with top access. They normally will include mesh panels on top for ventilation and UV access, and have no potential escape routes. Doors should all be latchable, and some enclosures will have attachments for locks. Exo-Terra enclosures are high quality, and come in several different sizes and configurations to suit most species.

As green tree pythons are arboreal species, prioritise an enclosure with more vertical than horizontal space, but these pythons also need horizontal branches high up to move around.

Size and Location of Enclosure

Ensure that the enclosure you choose is large enough to accommodate your furniture, as well as allowing for enough space for your snake to stretch out and roam. This also involves planning where the enclosure will be located in your house, as you don’t want to get an enclosure that doesn’t fit in the location you’ve chosen. Your enclosure should be in a quiet room that isn’t a common area or thoroughfare. Remember that stress can cause injury or illness in reptiles, and signs of stress may not be as apparent as in mammals. 

Your enclosure should also be located in a room with as few temperature fluctuations as possible. For example, a room where the air conditioning is constantly being turned on or off is not ideal, or a room that gets strong sunlight for only a few hours each day. 

Finally, other pets in the household should not be able to access the enclosure, even if they can’t open it or get on top of it. Dogs and cats are predators of reptiles. 

Green Tree Python Heating

A proper, well-maintained heating system is vital for keeping your python healthy and happy. Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that they need to rely on external sources of body heat. All body functions are heat-dependent, including heart rate, digestion, and respiration. Pythons that don't get enough heat will suffer from suboptimal organ function and become unwell. This is particularly important with green tree pythons as they are a tropical species.

Although setting up a thermostatically-controlled heating system can be more expensive and tricky in the short run, a proper system should only require basic maintenance in the long run, and will be invaluable for ensuring your snake stays healthy.

Reptiles require a basking spot in the enclosure set to their preferred body temperature (PBT), which in our green tree pythons is 31-32 degrees Celsius, quite a narrow range compared to some other pythons. At the opposite end of the enclosure, they should have their "cool end", which is an area that sits around 25-27 degrees Celsius. Reptiles are great at sensing environmental temperatures, and having a "hot end" and "cool end" will allow them to regulate their body temperature by moving between the hot and cool end as needed. The basking area can mimic a natural spot in the wild, which would be slanted thick branches with some horizontal space for your python to adjust their distance from the heat source.

The great thing about a thermostat is that it will automatically monitor temperatures in the hot and cool end, and adjust the heating to account for that. This means that very little input is required to maintain an ideal temperature gradient for your python.

As green tree pythons are a tropical species requiring higher humidity than some other pythons, a hygrometer is also recommended to ensure that humidity levels remain within 40-70%.

Type of heat source

Heat lamps are much better than heat mats as they mimic heat from the sun, and often can be placed with less risk of thermal burns, but also more effective heating. Heat lamps can be augmented with heat mats in the basking area as long as the reptile cannot come into direct contact with the heat mat.

It is best to get separate heat and UV lamps, as combined lamps often do not do either job optimally. However, as pythons tend to have lower UV requirements than lizards, a good quality combination lamp may be acceptable. All heat sources should be inaccessible to your pet, and heat globes should either be out of the enclosure, or contained within a mesh cover. Without this, there is a risk of your snake coiling around the heat source and suffering from thermal burns, which can be very tricky to treat.

Green Tree Python Lighting

green tree python in enclosure

The importance of UV lighting in Australian pythons can be a topic of debate, as some keepers feel it is less important due to some species' nocturnal habits. However, there is no downside to providing UV light, and so we recommend ensuring that your python has a consistent source of UV as well as visible light.

UV lighting

Choosing a good quality UV globe is important and will save you money in the long run, as they won't have to be replaced as often and are less prone to failure. However, no matter how good your UV globe is, it cannot be filtered through glass or plastic, as this will filter a lot of the UV waves out. It is fine for it to go through mesh, but also be aware that UV light will decrease the further the animal is from the globe, and most globes require no more than a 30 cm distance between the globe and animal. The best globes in the world also won't match up to natural Australian sun, and it is also recommended that your python receive at least an hour of natural sunlight a week.

Regular lighting

Visible light should also be provided to ensure that your snake has a normal day-night cycle. An automatic timer can produce a day-night cycle of 14-16 hours of daylight, and 8-10 hours of darkness. If you want to have visibility in the enclosure during darkness, you can install a red light, which is visible to humans but not snakes.

Green Tree Python Furniture

Green tree pythons generally love to climb, and also require horizontal branches higher up, and not just vertical space. Green tree pythons need a horizontal branch to curl up in their classic "saddle" position. Branches should vary in thickness and texture to provide variety. They will also appreciate an elevated hide. Pythons particularly love a hide that makes them feel safe by being small enough that their sides contact the walls of the hide when they're coiled up inside, but do ensure that it is still large enough that they won't get stuck. This may need monitoring as your python grows.

An elevated water source should be provided if possible.

All furniture should be non-abrasive and easy to clean or dispose of. For example, natural wood is a great option for reptile enclosures, but will need to be thrown out when overly soiled as it can be difficult to clean properly. Imitation wood or rock has been designed to be easier to clean, but still mimic natural surfaces and be enticing for your pet.

Have a few spare pieces of furniture so that it is easy to swap out soiled items from the enclosure.

Green Tree Python Substrate

green tree python in saddle resting position

The substrate of your enclosure is the flooring or bedding material that you use. Substrate should never be used from the wild or from your garden, as this may harbour pathogens that can make your snake sick. Commercially produced substrates are a much safer option. Substrates should be absorben, non-abrasive, and suit your reptile's mode of transportation - this means that snakes generally prefer finer substrates, and lizards coarser substrates. They should also be easy to clean and throw out.

Substrate can be a good reservoir for humidity if damp, but a balance needs to be struck as damp substrate can also grow mold.

Your enclosure should be spot-cleaned of any soiled or wet bits every day, and a full clean should be done at least once a month, or after each bowel movement.

Keep in mind that green tree pythons require higher humidity, which is usually produced by misting the enclosure. Designing the enclosure so that excess water clings to furniture and doesn't drain excessively into the substrate will help reduce substrate turnover, maintain humidity, and encourage your python to drink.

Shop All Reptile Substrates and Bedding Now

Green Tree Python Diet

All pythons are carnivorous, and eat only whole prey. It is important to note that live prey feeding is illegal in Australia under animal welfare grounds, and live prey can severely injure or even kill reptiles. Frozen mice and rats are available in several sizes, and these are a great option for feeding, as they are free from parasites or diseases. Never feed any wild-caught items to your reptile. Your feeder mouse or rat should be about the same width as your python's head, and the size will gradually increase as your snake grows. Adult green tree pythons will take a medium to extra large adult mouse.

Ensure that your feeder mice are always kept frozen, and only defrost one mouse at a time, right before you intend to feed your snake. Feeder mice should be defrosted to normal body temperature, about 35-40 degrees Celsius, and this can be achieved with a warm water bath.

Feeding tongs should be used when feeding your snake to reduce your risk of injury. While your snake may not intend to strike you, a mis-timed strike may accidentally get a hand or finger. While pythons are not venomous, their teeth can still cause injury and infection.

As pythons hunt by smell, ensure that your hands are washed prior to any interaction or feeding. If you smell of mouse, your python may mistake you for a prey item! If you smell of something else, it may put your python off feeding.

Hatchling snakes can be fed weekly, and adults fortnightly. Your vet can help you condition score your snake and figure out the best feeding schedule.

Your snake should have a shallow dish of water available at all times, and water should be changed out weekly at least. It is important to spray the enclosure daily to simulate rainfall that they would normally get in the wild, and most pythons prefer to drink from water hanging from the branches. Ensure that the water fully dries before spraying again to maintain a proper dry-wet balance.

Green Tree Python Hygiene

Have hand sanitizer close to your enclosure so that you can clean your hands before and after handling your snake. This is important to ensure that you and your reptile stay healthy. For enclosure cleaning, ensure that you use a reptile-safe disinfectant, and always wipe down after spraying and leaving the disinfectant for the recommended time.

Proper hand washing should also be practiced, especially after a longer handling session, and before eating or drinking.

Caring for Your Green Tree Python

green tree python on branch

Now that you've set up your enclosure, most of the hard work is done! The next thing to do is allow your snake to settle in and relax. In this time, make a booking with an exotics or reptile vet, as an initial checkup is important to ensure that everything is set up appropriately, and that your snake doesn't have any issues to look out for. The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination of your snake, and if you don't know the gender, they will be able to perform probe sexing to tell you if your snake is male or female.

Preparing for your vet visit

There are a few other things to prepare apart from ensuring that you have a suitable transport enclosure or bag for your snake. Take a few good photos of your enclosure to show your vet, including brands and models of your equipment. Ensure that you bring any records including weight, feeding schedule, and temperature. While this may sound a bit gross, save your snake's most recent stool to bring to the vet, and you can do this in a double sealed plastic or ziplock bag, then refrigerate until your appointment. Your vet will be able to examine the sample for parasites or infection.

Your vet will ask some basic questions about husbandry and source including:

  1. Where did you get your snake from?
  2. What reptiles have you kept before?
  3. What is the temperature at the hot and cool ends of the enclosure?
  4. When and what did you last feed your snake, and did they strike and swallow normally?
  5. What substrate are you using, and what is your cleaning schedule?
  6. What disinfectant do you normally use for cleaning?
  7. When did you last change your UV bulb?
  8. How often does your snake get direct natural sunlight?
  9. Do you know if your snake is a male or female?
  10. Do you have any other pets at home?

Your reptile should have a vet visit at least yearly, even if they appear completely healthy. Signs that your reptile needs to go to the vet include inappetance, failure to produce faeces after feeding, lethargy, change in colour, injury, swelling, or bleeding.

Reptiles do not require regular parasite prevention, and book a vet visit if you are concerned about parasites, as they will be able to prescribe an accurate and safe treatment.

Handling Green Tree Pythons

Regular, gentle handling is the key to helping your snake feel comfortable being handled, reducing the likelihood of your snake striking or biting. Green tree pythons may never become easy to handle, but most will become amenable to short periods of handling. Snakes can be handled up to twice a day, but ensure that each session does not last longer than your snake's comfort. In the beginning, handling sessions should last no more than 10 minutes.

It is imperative that green tree pythons be handled gently, slowly, and not restrained excessively to ensure that all handling episodes are a positive experience. Green tree pythons are more likely to become difficult to handle and aggressive after negative experience.

Approach green tree pythons from below, and ensure that they are not surprised. Always support their entire body weight, and allow them to come to you.

Signs of comfort include slow, deliberate movements, and regular tongue flicks. Tongue flicks are your snake’s way of assessing their surroundings by smell, and slow, regular flicks indicate that your snake is curiously figuring out what’s going on. Signs of discomfort include rapid movements or your snake trying to escape into a dark place, such as a sleeve. Rapid, irregular tongue flicks may indicate that your snake is unsure or concerned about what is happening. 

Never allow children or people inexperienced with reptiles to handle your snake unsupervised, as injury or escape may occur. They can be surprisingly fast when they’re worried! 

Natural Sunlight for Pythons

Regular exposure to natural sunlight is good for all reptiles, and this can be a positive handling experience for you and your snake! On sunny days where it is not too cold, it can be enjoyable to sit outside with your snake and a good book. Ensure that your snake can't get out of the area easily, and can't get away and hide or become lost.

At least an hour a week is a good minimum for natural sunlight, and there's no such thing as too much natural sunlight for Australian reptiles.

Snake Shedding

All snakes will shed regularly, and young snakes may shed as often as every 3 weeks when they are growing rapidly. Signs that your snake is going into shed include duller colouration, behavioural change, and cloudy eyes. The cloudy eyes are the "spectacles", or clear scales over the eyes, starting to separate from the new scales underneath in preparation for shed.

If it looks like your snake is preparing to shed, the best thing to do is ensure that the water source has been freshly cleaned and refilled, ensure that the temperature is optimal, then leave your snake alone until they have finished shedding. This includes stopping feeding and handling. If your snake is due for a feed, they can be fed after the shed is complete.

Handling or feeding your snake when they are coming into shed is stressful, and it can also lead to dysecdysis, or a pathological/abnormal shed where the shed doesn't come off in one piece. If you are concerned your snake hasn't shed properly, book a vet visit, and do not attempt to peel off any shed. This may make the problem worse.

And finally, the most important thing to remember when starting your reptile-keeping journey - enjoy! Reptiles are unique, interesting pets that have a lot of joy to give, and individuals will develop their own special personalities as time goes on. Pythons are rewarding pets, and many will become friendly and interactive, and learn to recognize their keepers as they grow.

Further Reading

Want to know more? Take a look at our other reptile articles:

Beginners Guide to Reptile Care

5 Reptile Facts for People Who Aren't Herpetologists

Reptile Supplements

Carpet and Diamond Python Care

Stimson's and Children's Python Care