What Is a Tree Viper?

C. K. Lanz

The term tree viper can refer to any one of a varied number of snake species of the family Viperidae that dwell in trees. Vipers are poisonous snakes that use hollow fangs to penetrate prey and inject it with venom. These snakes are found throughout Asia, Africa and South America and while the length varies widely between species, the coloring is fairly consistent. Many are a shade of green or yellow with some yellow, white or green on the head or belly. Arboreal Frogs, small mammals, birds and lizards are all typical prey.

Tree vipers sometimes eat frogs.
Tree vipers sometimes eat frogs.

Most species are short tailed with keeled scales and a head that is triangle shaped. The long and hollow fangs of these vipers distinguish them from other snake species. The fangs attach to the maxillaries or upper jaw bones that move and are released only when the viper strikes its prey or in self defense. Venom is injected through the hollow fangs from glands inside the viper’s mouth. In the case of self defense, the bite is often dry and no venom is injected.

The venom from many tree vipers can destroy red blood cells.
The venom from many tree vipers can destroy red blood cells.

Tree viper species range in length from approximately 12 inches (30 centimeters) to more than 10 feet (3 meters). They generally give birth to live young and hunt arboreal mammals, birds, frogs and other small reptiles. These snakes are often nocturnal, hunting and ambushing their prey at night, and drink water as it collects on leaves or on their own bodies.

Tree vipers can be found in Kenya and Uganda.
Tree vipers can be found in Kenya and Uganda.

African tree viper species include Nitsche’s tree viper, the Rungwe tree viper and the rough-scaled tree viper. Nitsche’s viper has distinctive black markings and typically inhabits papyrus reeds that border lakes in Uganda, Malawi and DR Congo. The Rungwe viper prefers low bushes in Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi while the rough-scaled species, a bright yellow variety, can be found perched atop flowers in Kenya, Uganda and DR Congo.

Asia is also home to many arboreal viper species. The Chinese or bamboo viper is bright green and inhabits not only China but also Nepal and India. Also found in India is the Pope’s viper, a snake with distinctive red and white striped markings down its sides and a bright yellow belly. Malcom’s pitviper is found near the Sungii River in East Malaysia. The majority of tree vipers are hemotoxic because their venom can destroy red blood cells.

Some individuals keep these snakes as pets despite the risk of venomous snakebite. In some cases, the snake is venomoid or subjected to a surgical procedure that inhibits the reptile’s venom production. Most of these vipers sold as pets require a large glass enclosure, weekly soaking, and mice and frogs to serve as food. Keeping a tree viper as a pet may require a license.

Vipers are poisonous snakes that use hollow fangs to penetrate prey and inject it with venom.
Vipers are poisonous snakes that use hollow fangs to penetrate prey and inject it with venom.

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Discussion Comments


I think the tree viper snake and all snakes serve a vital role in nature, but we should let them remain in nature and do their jobs. I am not in favor of making a pet out of any wild animal, but definitely not one as deadly as a poisonous snake.

I have heard too many horror stories about "pet" snakes attacking and killing people. Leave the snakes where they belong and these tragedies can be avoided.


People generally have a bad understanding of tree viper snakes. I think they make great pets. I find them much more interesting than a dog or cat. Yes, they are capable of causing injury or killing, but then so is a dog. And you are much more likely to be attacked by a dog than a tree viper.

Snakes are like any other pets in that when you take care of their needs they are not likely to harm anyone or cause any damage in your home. As mentioned in the article, you need to set up a good cage for the snakes and make sure they have the necessities. Aquariums make the best houses for the snakes, but they can also be kept in large boxes and in gallon jars, depending on the size of the individual snake.

Feeding the snakes has to be one of the primary concerns of a pet owner. A hungry snake is a dangerous snake. As long as you keep him fed and in a safe cage you can sit back and enjoy watching your pet.

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