English name: Golden Tree Snake (aka “Ornate Flying Snake”)
Scientific name: Chrysopelea ornata
Thai name: Ngu Kieo Lai Dok-mak
Description: To 140cm long. A long, somewhat slender snake. Is unusual in that it has keeled ventral scales, which help it to climb trees. Body is green to greenish-yellow with black markings. Head is black and green above the eye and light green below. Underbelly is greenish-yellow to light green.
Similar Species: Whip snakes (Ahaetulla nasuta and Ahaetulla prasina) have a characteristic pointed snout and more slender bodies.
Green pit vipers (Cryptelytrops albolabris and Cryptelytrops macrops) have a triangular head and pits behind their nostrils and lack the black coloration.
Habitat: Naturally a forest species, but has adapted well to agricultural areas, parks, yards and gardens. Is almost totally arboreal and can climb to significant heights in trees or even the walls of buildings.
Contribution to the ecosystem: This snake helps control Bangkok’s lizard populations, and also feeds on bats, mice, and smaller snakes. The juveniles provide food for birds of prey and larger snakes.
Danger to humans: The Golden Tree Snake bites aggressively when captured and is another one of Bangkok’s mildly venomous rear-fanged snakes, but its venom appears to pose no danger to humans. One should always be careful not to confuse it with the more venomous vipers.
Conservation status and threats: No known conservation issues. This species has adapted well to human encroachment and is one of Bangkok’s more common snakes. However, they are often killed by people who mistakenly believe them to be dangerous. I found a dead adult Golden Tree Snake on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia that appeared to have been killed by a human.
Interesting facts: The Golden Tree Snake is one of the few “flying snakes”. These snakes cannot actually fly, but glide to some degree by flattening out their body, forming a U-shaped cavity with their underbelly, and twisting in the air as they jump from high branches. It is believed that this behavior is used to move about the forest, catch prey, and as a defense mechanism against predators. They can cover as much as 100m in a single leap if they start from a tall enough tree.
Siam-Info: Tree Snakes
Nature Malaysia: Golden Tree Snake
Snakes of Thailand: Golden Tree Snake
Ecology Asia: Golden Tree Snake
Thailand Office of Environmental Planning and Policy: A Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles in Thailand
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Snakes of South Vietnam