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Green Tree Pythons

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Green Tree Python Care

Introduction

The green tree python, Morelia viridis, is a small,  slender species of python, seldom exceeding six feet in length. This species is almost totally arboreal, preferring to coil over a tree branch than rest on the ground. Virtually all activities, from food and  water acquisition through breeding and probably egg incubation are  accomplished in the treetops.

Chondropythons are native to New Guinea, Indonesia and the northern tip of Australia. Until 1981, they were brought into this  country routinely. A high proportion of these animals were badly  stressed in transit and the losses kept the price of the surviving  animals fairly high. Most of these animals did not do very well in  captivity, as dehydration from the trip caused visceral gout, killing  many of the animals within a few months. However, animals that survived  this period adjusted well to captivity.

Unlike most other species of snakes, adult chondropythons are  quite variable in color. They are generally green, as their name  implies, but may also be partially yellow, or blue. The blue adults are extremely rare, and quite prized by breeders. Baby chondropythons do not look like the adults, but hatch out yellow, red, or chocolate brown. Between six months and a year of age, they change to the adult color.  This trasnsition may take place as quickly as a week, especially with the yellow babies, but many take three months or longer to change. The reason for their juvenile color is not known. As there are no venomous snakes in their range with similar colors, it is not likely that the colors are used for protective mimicry. The reason for the juvenile  color variation is also not known, as yellow and chocolate babies look  virtually identical as adults.

The animals have attained a reputation for being particularly  agressive and vicious captives. Though this may be true of wild-caught animals, chondropythons adjust quite well to captivity and are usually quite docile unless provoked. (Recently, chondropythons have been  imported from the island of Biak and, although are spectacular in color  (high yellow coloration), are particularly aggressive.) However, their  arboreal habits provide birds as a main part of their diet, and the long teeth associated with bird-eating snakes make chondropython bites  memorable.

Housing

Chondropythons are sedentary animals, content to sit immobile  on a branch. As such, they require significantly less cage space than other, more active species. Animals at this facility are maintained  individually in arboreal cages by Neodesha Plastics, with the overall dimensions (H/W/D) of 24/24/24 inches. Other breeders have found it just as easy to keep chondropythons in aquaria. The animals are provided  with full-spectrum fluorescent lighting ten hours per day year round. Natural wood perches are attached to the cage walls in such a manner that the animal can be removed from the cage, branch-and-all, which  allows for cage cleaning or manipulation of the specimens with minimal  disturbance. This is particularly important, as these animals are well-adapted to life in the trees, and it is extremely difficult to  remove a chondropython from a branch without a major effort.

Although the species comes from an area that reaches a daytime tem- perature of  95 F routinely, experience has shown that the animals do not appear to  enjoy this temperature. As the cage temperature is raised above 85 F,  both juvenile and adult chondropythons move as far away from the heat source as possible, frequently taking refuge on the floor of the cage. However, debilitated animals, appear to seek out higher temperatures.  Thus, the animals should be continually monitored, provided with additional heat if necessary, or given a large enough cage to provide an extended thermal gradient. There is day-night temperature cycling as well, with the mean cage temperature varying between 85-78 F in the  summer and 85-65 F in the winter.

Chondropythons do require some additional specialized care.  Being a tropical animal, they require favorable humidity conditions as  well as optimal temperature. The animals do very well with a daily  misting. This can be accomplished as easily as utilization of a spray bottle once or twice a day, but more elaborate methods can also be used. Here, the animals are subjected to a gentle rain once daily through the use of an automatic watering system and mist nozzles, the type generally used in greenhouses. This daily rain provides a number of  necessities for the chondropython. Being arboreal, they generally do not come out of the trees to drink. They satisfy their thirst by drinking  water droplets that accumulate on their coils. This is a particularly important point, as the animal may not find the water dish in a large  cage.

The second factor in misting the animals is their need for high humidity. With a daily rain in the cage, the wet substrate provides  humidity throughout the day. This high humidity is required for  shedding, and its presence avoids the tedious task of manually soaking  and shedding out a specimen. As with all other reptiles, constant exposure to damp conditions may lead to scale rot or other skin  problems. Care should be taken to allow the cage to dry out on a regular basis.

Feeding

In nature, chondropythons generally feed on birds, lizards and small mammals. As mentioned, being bird eaters, they have extremely long teeth in relation to their head size, to allow the teeth to penetrate feathers and hold the prey tightly. Prey is captured in a typical python strike- and-constrict manner. However, this is accomplished from a branch - the chondropython will remain anchored by the rear third of its body, and will constrict and eat while hanging head-down. Occasionally, captive chondropythons may be finicky feeders, preferring a diet of chicks. However, whenever possible, animals are fed warm dead rats  offered on forceps in the evening, when they are most active. Calcium supplement is added to the females' food items to replace calcium lost  during egg production.
Chondropythons are generally fed every 10-14 days. This is a little more often than most python species, and is done  because brooding females may be off feed for as long as five months, and male chondropythons are notorious for prolonged hunger strikes of six  months at a time or longer. This advice should be taken in perspective,  however. Being relatively inactive creatures, their body weight must be monitored to prevent the animals from becoming obese.


Breeding

In the early '80s, chondropythons had been notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. Although the animals paired off readily and it was not difficult to obtain fertile eggs, very few of these eggs hatched. It was speculated that special incubation conditions were  necessary for successful hatching, and this feeling had persisted until  about 1981, when both zoos and private breeders had increased success with this species. Since that time, some breeders have continued with  artificial incubation of fertile chondropython eggs, while others have  tried maternal incu- bation, allowing the female to coil around and incubate the eggs. Recently breeders have had improved success whichever method they chose and high hatch rates are becomming common. This facility went to maternal incubation in 1983, and has been successful in producing baby chondropythons virtually every year since then.


Discussion

Because of the specialized needs and unique habits of this animal, the chondropython does not make a good pet and is definitely a species that should be left to experienced hobbyists. But, due to increased success over the past few years, it is felt that the chondropython is not a problem animal to maintain in captivity if its  needs are properly addressed. When they were being imported, the animals were brought in by the hundreds, usually arrived in poor condition, and most died in a matter of months. Importation has now been restricted  for a number of years (although wild-caught fresh imports are again becoming available). The wild caught animals still in collections are survivors of importation and consequently are the healthiest of  specimens and well adjusted to captivity. They have had a number of years to adjust to their environment, have eaten well and are generally  in prime condition. It is these wild caught individuals and new generations of captive hatched animals that make up the current collection stock. These animals can be manipulated with less stress and  can be maintained far better than a fresh import. These superior animals plus increased correspondence between breeders have helped overcome most of the husbandry problems, making the chondropython a spectacular  and rewarding collection animal.

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