English name: Golden Tree Snake (aka “Ornate Flying Snake”)
Scientific name: Chrysopelea ornata
Thai name: งูเขียวพระอินทร์ (Ngu Kieo Phra In)
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.
Relevant scale counts: 17 midbody scale rows of smooth or weakly keeled scales. The ventral scales are distinctly keeled on the outside, aiding the snake in climbing.
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, pits behind their nostrils, and lack the black coloration.
Range: India east through Bangladesh and Myanmar, throughout southeast Asia south to peninsular Malaysia
Habitat: Naturally a forest species, but has adapted well to agricultural areas, parks, yards and gardens. Is almost totally arboreal.
Place in the ecosystem: This snake eats lizards as well as bats, mice, and smaller snakes. The juveniles are eaten by 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 an accomplished climber, using its keeled belly scales to climb straight up and straight down trees, even purely vertical ones. It is also reported to be able to climb flat rock cliffs and buildings.
If frightened, Golden Tree Snakes can jump from impressive heights and glide to a safer place, thus the alternate name “Ornate Flying Snake”, though they are not as adept at it as their close relative the Paradise Tree Snake.
Ecology Asia: Golden Tree Snake
Thai National Parks: Golden Tree Snake
A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
A Field Guide to the Snakes of South Vietnam
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of Southeast Asia