The White Lipped Tree Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)

These are one of the more common of the vipers found in the pet trade due to their large geographic range, being easy to keep, well tempered and having mild venom. These are pit vipers; they are called this because they have little pits just below the eye, which they use to detect prey through heat sensitive vision, so even in total darkness these snakes can view there prey. Whit-Lipped Tree Vipers and Pope’s Pit Vipers are they most well known representatives of the genus Trimeresurus which consists of 36 species known as the Asian Pit Vipers and the Bamboo Vipers.

They are sexually dimorphic with only the males having a white stripe running the full length of the body. They are electric green with a bright yellowish to green under-side. The tail is a brick red colour. The females are considerably larger than the males, up to 81cm and the males, 60cm. The males tend to stay rather skinny, while the females get quite fat and stocky.

Males are able to mate at a fairly small size, while the females will only give consent to mate once they are of adequate size. This could take up to two years. They breed in our winter months and while this is happening, males will stop eating completely. My male did not so much as look at food for four months, but as soon as it warms up they will start to feed, but as long as the male is kept with the female, he will refuse food even if it starts to warm up. Females generally drop at the end of November through to December. An average clutch can be from 12 to 15 young, but exceptional clutches of between 25 and 30 have been recorded.

Their geographic range is large, stretching from Northern India, Nicobar Islands, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Southern China, Fukien, Hong Kong to West Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Komodo, Flores, Sumba, Roti, Timor, Kisar and Wetar.

The habitat which they are found in is tropical bush where the humidity is high and temperatures are hot, between 27 and 30 degrees centigrade. In captivity, the same conditions must be provided, but it’s been found that they prefer the temperature to be slightly cooler, with the ambient temperature being between 27 and 28 degrees with it dropping down to 26 degrees at night. They do not like it to be wet, nor do they like it to be dry, so you should mist your terrarium about three times a week. This encourages the snake to drink the droplets off its body, as White Lipped Tree Vipers’ seldom venture onto the surface below in search of water, but fresh water must always be provided. These snakes are completely arboreal, so adequate perching spots must be provided. Terrariums do not have to be big. The best are the largest size of the Exo-Terra tanks, which are more than suitable for these snakes.

Trimeresurus albolabris isn’t deadly. It has hinged fangs and mild cytotoxic venom (cell destroying) which can cause tissue damage around the area which has been bitten. Fatalities are very rare even among people native to the snake’s habitat where there are little or no medical facilities. They’re receiving (more dangerous) bites to the upper extremities, often being bitten while tending to Banana trees. Trimeresurus albolabris is slightly less venomous than Copperheads as far as dangerous venomous snakes goes. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible for the snake to severely injure you, it just means it’s not very likely. They’re bite will however still cause you extreme pain and remind you that being bitten is not fun.

Feeding these snakes is simple once you get it right. White Lipped Tree Vipers prefer to eat at night as they are nocturnal but it’s not vital and usually these snakes will feed during the day. Feeding of new borns is slightly more difficult as they do not accept pinks straight away and prefer them to be scented. To do this you need to catch the right type of frog as you can’t just use your common Guttural Toad. The frogs that work the best are the Painted Reed Frog (Hyperolius marmoratus). In the wet season they are abundant in Natal being found in and around any surface water that has aquatic or semi aquatic plant life around it which provides shelter and a place for mating to take place, ponds, dams, wet lands and even large puddles along side roads will have these frogs in them. The easiest way to find these frogs is to listen for them. They make a very high pitched squeak or whistle and usually where there is one there is many. To scent you need to take your pre-killed pink and leave it to soak in luke warm water for 10 to 15 seconds (you know the water is to hot if the pink starts to change colour) then you have to take your Painted Reed Frog and gently rub it over the pink several times. Once you have done this you will need to use tongs which is vital for feeding any venomous snakes, and softly nudge the young snake on the body and tail. If the snake is bumped on the head repeatedly it usually will become disinterested and prefer to get away rather than strike. By tease feeding you are trying to get the snake to strike at the pink and most of the time when it does strike it will hold on and have a feeding response, but this requires a lot of time and patients and with a little perseverance your snake should be eating well.

There is no need to kill the frog as a freshly killed frog and one that’s alive smell the same to the snake. Its best to keep the frogs you have caught, which will make it easier in the dry winter months when these frogs disappear completely. The best way to keep these frogs is to use a small Exo-Terra tank with a fish tank pump to filter the water and some aquatic plants and a branch for the frogs to perch on. A plant grow florescent tube will be beneficial for plant growth but is not necessary for the frogs. They will feed on small crickets which can be bought at most pet stores. Maintenance is low with keeping these frogs and if they are in a nicely displayed tank they are quite rewarding.

Keeping these snakes is fairly simple and I’d recommend the White Lipped Tree Viper for those who would like to get into venomous as they are fairly docile, not deadly and when displayed properly are very beautiful to look at. Most of the information I have provided has been from my own experiences and findings and may vary from keeper to keeper.

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