There are maybe a handful of iconic snakes on the planet that get burned into peoples’ memories when they see them on tv, online, or, better yet, in person. One of these iconic species is the Green Tree Python or Chondro as they’re commonly called in herpetoculture. This species stands out from so many others with their bright yellow or red coloration as hatchlings to their stunning blues and various shades of green coupled with their trademark perching behavior. When one thinks of exotic species, I’m sure the chondro would be one of the first to come to mind. We’re lucky enough here in U.S. herpetoculture to have this species regularly available to us but there is still a lot of outdated information about keeping them floating out on the net.
The main bit of misinformation that will seemingly never die is that GTPs are hard to keep. I’ll admit my first chondro experience was horrible. I bought an imported (farmed, wild caught, whatever you want to call it) sub-adult biak and kept it in a tank that was too small with a heat lamp and in a manner that I thought that species was kept, admittedly, with little research on my part. Unfortunately, that animal passed away roughly a month after I got it and at that point I would fully regret spending the money. I told myself I would never get chondros again!
Years later I gave them another shot and now they are one of my favorite snakes to keep (now that I’m doing it right!) So what is the issue one might ask? Well the simple answer is they are extremely easy snakes to keep as long as you give them what they need. They were difficult snakes to have in captivity 30+ years ago before people figured out what they were doing wrong. Thankfully technology and our collective understanding of the species has vastly improved!
CBB vs Farmed/WC/Captive Hatched
I’m a firm believer that with chondros a captive born and bred animal will make your life so much easier. While there isn’t anything wrong with buying imports, I’m of the opinion that those are best left to people who have experience dealing with the issues that often come in with those animals (i.e. parasites). With good established CBB animals you’re eliminating the headaches of vet visits, the bills that follow, and the potential disappointment of losing your chondro. Yes, there typically is a large difference in price but if you take into account the price of a vet to look over your chondro plus meds it may need administered, you end up paying the same price you would have for a CBB chondro!
Disclaimer : Before I break down how I keep my chondros, I want to be clear that what works for me (here in the southeast U.S.) may not work for someone in other parts of the country. This should just be a starting point for you to adjust and manage your own set ups. Take into account your seasonality in your area as well as your room in regards to humidity, temps, etc.
Chondros are a small to medium sized python pending locality which means they don’t take up much space in a room. A 24” cube is a popular size for single adult green trees (check out our XC24) and a large majority of chondros will fit in one of these with no issues. However my personal preference is to shoot for something like our XT-3. I find that the 24” cubes don’t offer much in the way of a thermal gradient especially when you have a species that will make thinner perches at a higher placement more of a priority to temperature. With a longer set up and at least two perches, the animals have more control of their gradient with the same security. This might seem like the opposite of what you would want to do with an exclusively arboreal species like this one but they make just as much use out of length as they would height naturally.
For younger chondros (hatchlings to juveniles) an XR-16 rack with the V18 tubs will work well until they reach about the one year old mark at which point they will likely need to be upgraded to something like our XA - BIO-G. If you only have a few animals then a rack is probably overkill, in that case you can house them in something smaller like the XA12 with the main hurdle being heating these small enclosures.
Whichever enclosure size/design you choose be sure to offer thinner perches over thicker ones. Chondros are funny snakes that will choose a thin perch over just about anything else in an enclosure. They will even choose a hanging cord from a light over ½” pvc perches! The important thing here is ensuring that the perch is sturdy enough to have an adult chondro perched on it 24/7. With the longer enclosures some bowing in the perch is to be expected.
Quality perch holders are also important. For these I highly recommend the ones made and sold by David Brahms at Specialty Enclosure Designs (https://www.specialtyenclosuredesigns.com/). David makes a few different models for various sizes of perches with an anti-spin design that keeps the perch from spinning with the animal on it.
Recommendation: For adults - XC24 or XT-3. For Hatchlings an XR-16 with V18 tubs if you have a need for a rack or an XA12 if you can heat it appropriately. For yearlings to sub-adult roll with an XA-BIO-G.
Lighting & Temps
Lighting will always be in continuous debate in the hobby, specifically UV lighting in snakes and its necessity. UV, as it relates to chondros, I think it does have some benefit but needs to be monitored. If you decide to add something like an Arcadia Shade Dweller then I highly suggest that it be on a timer and only on for a few hours a day. There have been many studies across herpetofauna that show a lot of species (barring your extreme sun-loving desert species) will utilize UV while only exposing small portions of their bodies to it for short periods of time. If we look at the natural history of Green Pythons, it tells us that these snakes operate after dark, spend most of the day perched under a canopy where UV exposure is fairly minimal. So to say that these pythons need UV has been proven false in captivity given the decades of successful keeping and breeding. The real question is will they benefit from it? The answer is absolutely. You just have to make sure they aren’t exposed to it all day, every day, 4-5 hours a day is ideal. The other perk to UV lighting is it will usually make the colors on your animals pop a little more.
Temperatures are another major misconception when it comes to Morelia viridis and their northern kin. It’s a common thought that the environment of West Papua and the surrounding islands is a jungle very similar to the Amazon in South America. Truthfully, their native range is fairly stable with daytime temps typically in the mid 80s and occasionally highs in the low 90s F (depending on the time of year) and nighttime lows dipping into the low 60s, sometimes even lower! This species does fine kept in the lower 80’s F with a nighttime drop into the 70’s F. Neonates I aim to keep in a similar way but will have the warmer end of a small tub in the mid 80’s with no drop at night. If kept consistently too hot you end up with lethargic snakes. Personally, I see no reason to keep this species any higher than 85 F, even at this temperature I usually end up dropping them down a little to 82 F. This works well for me but keep in mind that if you live in a cooler area then you may need to run them warmer to compensate for the cooler ambients!
Recommendation: Definitely add an LED in your BlackBox setups. UV isn’t required but isn’t a bad thing to offer either. For that the Arcadia Shade Dweller T5 12” light, just be sure to limit it to a few hours a day. A 40 watt RHP with a thermostat is the best option for consistent temps.
I’m lucky that living in the southeastern U.S. means humidity is rarely an issue even during winter! I know for a lot of folks living out west or up north this can be a trickier part of husbandry to nail down. Humidity is another part of chondro husbandry that is often done wrong with new keepers. Just like with temperatures, people assume this is a jungle species that experiences high humidity day and night. This leads people to keep their green trees wet a lot of the time to keep the air humid. On an annual basis West Papua gets roughly 80 - 160 inches of rain a year with a very clear wet and dry season (instead of what we experience with summer to winter). Overall, rainfall seems to play a big part in triggering feeding, breeding, drinking, and defecating in this species. The most important part if you are misting on a regular basis is that the animal and the enclosure get to dry out before being sprayed again.
Once again if we look at the habitat that these snakes call home we see that the normal humidity ranges between 70 - 90%. If you live in a naturally humid area (like Florida) then humidity is rarely a problem with this species. For myself, I bump up humidity when I see one of my chondros going into a shed cycle which is when I mist them at night allowing them to dry out during the day and repeat until they shed. Another simple trick I use to help give a boost in humidity is to have an easy to grow houseplant like pothos in the enclosure.
There is a very big difference between keeping things humid and keeping things wet! Shed issues in snakes often arise from dehydration more so than being kept too dry. Keeping fresh water in your chondros enclosure and giving them the occasional misting will play a big part in making sure you get complete sheds from your animals.
If you have kept any species of Morelia then you are already well aware of their enthusiastic food response. Carpet pythons and chondros alike are rarely ones to turn down a meal which is great in a number of ways but can be problematic in others. I’ve learned over the years that healthy chondros won’t refuse food unless they are adults in breeding mode. When I have a chondro refuse a meal that ordinarily is an absolute monster with food, that is when I start looking at what might be off in my care.
I feed my GTPs the same way I feed most of my other snakes, an appropriately sized frozen-thawed mouse though I will tend to feed slightly smaller or larger depending on the size of the individual animal. For adults that I’m basically just wanting to maintain their current physique, I will offer them something a little smaller than what they would normally eat. For younger animals that I’m pushing a little more for size, they get something a little larger. Some GTP keepers will offer rats to their bigger animals but I don’t see why they need anything other than adult mice which are leaner.
Where feeding can be problematic for newer keepers of the species is that because chondros rarely refuse a meal means they act hungry all the time! I have literally had sub-adult chondros finish eating a meal, go back to perching, and start caudal luring (where they wiggle the tip of their tail like a worm to attract food) for more! You could offer food to these snakes every day and they would eat. Chondros are a species that were never meant to be obese. Their overall lazy lifestyle coupled with too much food makes for overweight snakes that ideally should be on the leaner side.
For a feeding schedule my young chondros get fed once a week to every other week. As they grow I scale that back more and more until they are adults where I only feed once or twice a month sometimes longer. These, like so many other species of snakes, are an animal built to run off very little intake. You would be amazed how well these pythons store fat even in the wild where they are realistically only eating a few meals a year.
Chondros have a bad reputation for being defensive, bitey snakes when, truthfully, I think they are evenly split. Biak locality greens have the worst reputation of them all and in my experience it is normally accurate especially for imported individuals. That being said I have some “designer” chondros that are less trustworthy with handling than my CBB biak. I really think it boils down to the individual animal and not the species as a whole. Mellow chondros are a real joy to handle on occasion. Overall they aren’t a python I take out and handle as much as I do other snakes in my collection.
Caution must be taken with young chondros and handling because they are considerably more delicate at the smaller sizes. The general rule of thumb is to not handle them until after their first year or so to allow the parts of the spine and vertebrae to develop more. Any damage to the disks between the vertebrae at this small size can later develop into kinks or deformities in the spine as adults.
Green Tree Pythons are enjoyable captives albeit not the most exciting. To me their beauty and unique behavior more than makes up for their lack of excitement. They are a species a lot of people overthink when it comes to keeping them but slowly the idea that they are a difficult species is fading. They are a lot tougher animals than we give them credit for, if you are willing to give them a shot I’m sure you won’t regret it!
For adults - XC24 or XT-3. For Hatchlings an XR-16 with V18 tubs if you have a need for a rack or an XA12 if you can heat it appropriately. For yearlings to sub-adult roll with an XA-BIO-G. Definitely add an LED in your BlackBox setups. UV isn’t required but isn’t a bad thing to offer either. For that the Arcadia Shade Dweller T5 12” light, just be sure to limit it to a few hours a day. A 40 watt RHP with a thermostat is the best option for consistent temps.