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.
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.
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.
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.