the green tree Python

The Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)

Animal Scene - - FRONT PAGE - Text by NYZA FAUS­TINE HO Pho­tos by JEF­FREY C. LIM

If you’ve ever seen a green tree python curled around a branch, you al­ready know it’s a splen­did spec­ta­cle, whether in cap­tiv­ity or in the wild. This non-ven­omous ar­bo­real con­stric­tor has strik­ing col­ors that vary de­pend­ing on its lo­ca­tion, which ranges from Aus­tralia, Pa­pua New Guinea, and In­done­sia. It prefers to re­side in warm and hu­mid rain­forests, where it can drink the wa­ter droplets trapped in the coils of their bod­ies when they are on tree branches, where they pre­fer to spend their days. The green tree python’s pre­hen­sile tail en­ables them to curl around their perch ef­fec­tively. They usu­ally have seden­tary life­styles so they are of­ten vis­i­ble, but usu­ally mo­tion­less. The green tree python un­der­goes a unique color change as it tran­si­tions from hatch­ling to adult­hood. Hatch­lings are usu­ally yel­low, red, or brown; they change color as they be­come adults. Adult green tree pythons have dif­fer­ent pat­terns and col­ors, and their lo­cale has much to do with this. Only one known morph ex­ists, which is the al­bino. Full- spec­trum light­ing brings out the vi­brant col­ors of the green tree python, but such light­ing is not very nec­es­sary since green tree pythons are able to me­tab­o­lize cal­cium with­out full-spec­trum light­ing. Th­ese ob­li­gate car­ni­vores are able to de­vour prey such as small mam­mals, birds, and other rep­tiles. Ther­mosen­sory pits help the green tree python de­ter­mine changes in tem­per­a­ture, which al­low them to sense nearby warm-blooded prey. The green tree python’s av­er­age length when full grown is four feet for males and six feet for fe­males. The long­est recorded green tree python is 7.2 feet long. The bod­ies of the males are more slen­der than those of the fe­males. Hatch­lings are usu­ally 8 to 14 inches in length, and reach sex­ual ma­tu­rity at about 2-3 years old.

Green tree pythons in cap­tiv­ity have been known to live un­til their mid-30s un­der the proper con­di­tions. The old­est recorded green tree python in cap­tiv­ity lived for 35 years.

Fe­male green tree pythons are able to pro­duce 6-30 eggs in one breed­ing sea­son. They pre­fer to hide their eggs in tree holes or among epi­phytic plants grow­ing on the trees they in­habit.

Nat­u­ral preda­tors of green tree pythons in the wild are birds of prey which are able to find them and clasp the green tree pythons with great speed and pre­ci­sion. This kind of at­tack is un­avoid­able for the green tree pythons.

HEALTH CON­CERNS The green tree python is eas­ily stressed when its en­vi­ron­ment is not suit­able. Stress makes the green tree python sus­cep­ti­ble to op­por­tunis­tic pathogens which take ad­van­tage of their weak­ened im­mune sys­tem dur­ing such times. Ex­tremely low tem­per­a­tures and hu­mid­ity can eas­ily give rise to res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions. Th­ese can give the an­i­mal dif­fi­culty in breath­ing and cause the over­pro­duc­tion of mu­cus. If left un­treated, this con­di­tion can es­ca­late quickly and the an­i­mal may refuse food or wa­ter un­til it suc­cumbs to the sick­ness.

Anorexia, di­ar­rhea, con­sti­pa­tion, and re­gur­gi­ta­tion are com­mon dis­eases of the di­ges­tive tract in green tree pythons which can be caused by a change in diet, con­tam­i­nated food or stress. Cryp­tosporid­ium and nu­mer­ous kinds of pro­to­zoans are the pathogens re­spon­si­ble for th­ese in­fec­tions, and th­ese can greatly af­fect the health of the green tree python since th­ese are re­lated to their di­ges­tive sys­tems. Mal­nu­tri­tion can set in quickly and take a toll on the green tree python’s health.

In­clu­sion body dis­ease (IBD) is caused by a virus af­fect­ing snakes. This virus af­fects the ner­vous sys­tem, caus­ing re­gur­gi­ta­tion and com­pro­mis­ing the green tree python’s im­mune sys­tem, lead­ing to sec­ondary in­fec­tions such as pneu­mo­nia. There is no known cure, and de­spite the avail­able tests for de­tec­tion, eu­thana­sia is rec­om­mended in most cases.

A known skin health is­sue af­fect­ing green tree pythons is dysecd­y­sis or the ab­nor­mal shed­ding of the outer skin. This is pri­mar­ily caused by ex­tremely low hu­mid­ity, mite in­fes­ta­tion, poor nutri­tion, and im­proper han­dling dur­ing the shed­ding cy­cle. Af­fected snakes must be soaked in luke­warm wa­ter for 30 min­utes, and the mites or stuck skin must be re­moved care­fully by a towel.

Snakes can also be af­fected by can­cer; lym­phomas, lym­phosar­co­mas, and neo­pla­sia have all been re­ported in green tree pythons. Stress­ing snakes must be avoided as much as pos­si­ble to pre­vent all th­ese health prob­lems since th­ese health prob­lems only arise when a snake has a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem due to stress.

WHICH IS WHICH? The green tree python has a green coun­ter­part in the wild half­way across the world: the emer­ald tree boa. Th­ese two green snakes are of­ten misiden­ti­fied by un­trained eyes be­cause of their ini­tial ap­pear­ance which is some­what alike. Based on sci­en­tific re­search, it was con­cluded that this was the re­sult of par­al­lel evo­lu­tion, which oc­curs when two un­re­lated or barely re­lated species de­velop the same char­ac­ter­is­tics be­cause of sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors af­fect­ing their evo­lu­tion.

This re­sulted in two sim­i­lar-look­ing an­i­mals that adapted to sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors but are not closely re­lated to each other; this is also not due to hy­bridiza­tion in the wild, since they are in the op­po­site parts of the world and have no­table dif­fer­ences in their anatomy. Here are their dif­fer­ences:

SLITH­ER­ING TO THE TOP The green tree python is a ris­ing star in the rep­tile keep­ing hobby, though in the Philip­pines, it is not yet a very pop­u­lar snake among keep­ers. It is ex­pected that they will even­tu­ally be­come more pop­u­lar in the Philip­pines since they eas­ily thrive in our trop­i­cal cli­mate with­out many prob­lems adapt­ing to the en­vi­ron­ment.

The right tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity are the most im­por­tant fac­tors to care­fully mon­i­tor when keep­ing the green tree python. Even though the green tree python has been avoided by some snake keep­ers due to their de­fen­sive ten­den­cies, this is usu­ally be­cause of too much stress caused by their sur­round­ings and not be­cause of the snakes’ tem­per­a­ment as they nor­mally pre­fer to lie still and cam­ou­flage them­selves in trees. (With edit­ing by CHAR­LENE BO­BIS. Spec­i­men cred­its to NYZA FAUS­TINE HO)

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