Reptiles are versatile creatures. Some have legs, others do not. Regardless of limbs, many reptiles, across different orders, can be found living in and on trees.
So, what are some reptiles that live in trees?
Most reptile species that can be found living around trees belong to the order Squamata, or snakes and lizards. Many of these species include leaf-tailed geckos, anoles, green basilisks and Iguanas, emerald tree skins, as well as emerald tree boas, green tree pythons, flying snakes eyelash vipers, green vine snakes, and green mambas.
Trees, while full of life, can be dangerous places to live. Reptiles that live here not only need to find food and avoid predators but also find mates in this crowded metropolis.
Read on to discover some of the reptiles that live in trees.
5 Lizards That Live In Trees
Let’s start with the tree-dwelling lizards first!
1. Leaf Tailed Gecko
Madagascar is the home of the weird and wonderful.
Approximately 80% of life there can be found nowhere else on Earth.
And that is no exception for the leaf-tailed gecko.
These geckos, with their long, flat bodies and leaf-like tails are the masters of camouflage.
Their skin coloration is a mottled mix of green and gray shades. Now, couple these colors with fringed flaps along their lower jaw and flanks of their bodies, and you get a near-invisible body shape.
During the day, when the gecko is at its most vulnerable, the frilly flaps help keep their body flat against the lichen-covered bark of a tree. Motionless, the leaf-tailed gecko blends into its surroundings with ease.
The leaf-tailed gecko can be found in humid primary rainforests of lowland Madagascar.
There are over 400 recorded species of anoles across the Americas.
With such a huge diversity of anole species, it comes as no surprise that different species occupy different ecological niches.
The small green anole, native to southeastern USA, and the ground anole, found in Costa Rica, are two such species.
The green anole is mostly arboreal, living in open pine communities with high shrub density. Perched high, the green anole can bask in sunlight, catch insect prey, and keep a lookout for potential rivals coming into their territory.
The ground anole, on the other hand, prefers to stay at lower elevations within the forest ecosystem. It is common to see the ground anole on large buttress roots, which hold a lot of leaf litter and, consequently, a lot of insect prey.
Although found in different areas of a tree, both species of anole use trees to gain advantages – whether it’s foraging purposes or mating areas.
Most anole species are characterized by a dewlap. This is a brightly colored, often red, yellow, or orange, flap of skin that is used in mating displays and other forms of communication.
3. Green Basilisk
In mythology, the basilisk was a serpentine-like creature, capable of taking life with just a stare.
But not the green basilisk.
This reptile, found across Central America, is also referred to as the Jesus Christ lizard.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn water into wine. However, it does run on water – an impressive adaptation that, arguably, is cooler than the wine trick.
Despite its aquatic running abilities, the green basilisk is an excellent climber and spends much of its life in the trees above a water source. Their green coloration allows them to camouflage in with the surrounding leafy vegetation.
However, at the first sign of danger, the green basilisk will drop down into the water below, and run up to 15 meters. This is made possible by the presence of long toes and skin fringes on their feet that increase their surface area.
4. Green Iguana
The green iguana is one of the biggest lizard species in the Americas.
Despite its size, measuring lengths just shy of 2 meters, the green iguana is a competent climber and spends a lot of time in the trees.
As juveniles, green iguanas often stay in sibling family groups. There is no parental care, but siblings keep watch for predators. Juveniles are a vibrant green color, allowing them to blend into the vegetation.
Green iguanas reach sexual maturity at about 2 years of age. At this time, their vivid coloration fades and they develop large dewlaps and a spiny ridge down their spine.
Not only do the spines break up the body outline of the iguana, but also aid in defense against predators.
5. Emerald Tree Skink
Now, you might be starting to see a running theme with reptiles that live in trees and the color of their skin.
Of course, it makes sense for arboreal species to blend in with their surroundings. It allows creatures to remain hidden – either to avoid predators or sneak up on prey.
And that is no exception with the emerald tree skink.
Or is it?
Native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, with a high abundance in Indonesia and the Philippines, the emerald tree skink is an arboreal lizard. However, they seemingly prefer bare tree trunks of large trees with no or limited climbing vegetation.
It has been observed that certain individuals seem to have a preference for what tree they reside on. For periods spanning several days, emerald tree skinks under observation did not change trees. This could suggest a dietary motivation. The skink stays where a food source is, moving only when it is depleted.
6 Snakes That Live In Trees
Now it’s time to explore all the snakes that enjoy their life in the trees!
1. Emerald Tree Boa
The emerald tree boa is a nonvenomous constrictor found in the wet lowland rainforests of South America.
This species of boa is strictly arboreal, rarely coming down to the forest floor. Even from birth (boas give birth to live young), the emerald tree boa has a strong instinct and ability to climb. To do this, it holds onto the tree trunk or branch with its lower body. Then, reaching up with its upper body, hooks onto another tree limb, pulling the rest of its body as it goes.
By day, you may see the emerald tree boa coiled in a ball on the top of a branch. It relies on camouflage to remain undetected – their yellow-green skin, mottled with white spots, mimics certain species of plant.
The emerald tree boa becomes active at night.
Using heat sensors, located at the side of their jaw, this ambush predator is able to detect warm-blooded arboreal animals, such as bats, birds, and small monkeys.
With its head extended, it quickly strikes out at any unsuspecting prey that wanders too close. The emerald tree boa uses its sharp teeth to draw its prey into its body where, like all boas, suffocates it via constriction.
Contrary to belief, constrictors do not crush their prey. They kill their victims through asphyxiation.
2. Green Tree Python
Remarkably similar, yet totally unrelated, the green tree python resembles the emerald tree boa.
Through a process known as convergent evolution – where two unrelated species evolve similar traits, such as body forms, colorations, and adaptations – both the green tree python and the emerald tree boa are well adapted to life in the trees.
Both species are green, both species are nonvenomous and both species use heat pits to locate warm-blooded prey.
However, there are some differences between the two species.
Firstly, hunting techniques.
While the boa and the python are both ambush hunters, the green tree python actively lures prey towards itself. To do this, it drops its tail and starts wiggling it. To a bird or small mammal, this wiggling green object could be easy prey, such as a caterpillar. When their prey gets close enough, the python strikes.
The green tree python can be found in Oceania and East Indonesia. While they prefer tropical rainforests with high humidity, they can also be found in gardens. This python will also come down to the ground more often than the emerald tree boa.
Like all pythons, the green tree python lays eggs. Using hollow trees, or any protected area with high humidity, females lay a clutch of up to 35 eggs. Boas, on the other hand, give birth to live young.
3. Flying Snake
There are 5 known species of flying snakes, all of which are nonvenomous and found in the South Asia and Indonesia archipelago.
No, these snakes didn’t drink a load of Red Bull and suddenly got wings.
In fact, they can’t really fly. Instead, they strategically fall. Or, more graciously, perform guided gliding.
To do this, the flying snake is able to move its ribs and muscles to extend the width of its underside. They can also draw up their ventral scales. This new, almost concave, body structure redirects airflow, turning the entirety of the snake’s body into a parachute-like device.
Well, flying snakes have adapted to life in the trees. If they need to get to another tree, either to escape a potential threat or to find another food source, it is incredibly energetically costly, and risky, to climb down a tree, slither across the forest floor, to climb back up another tree.
To save energy, the snakes opt for the gliding method. Incredibly, they are able to glide up to 100 meters through the air. And, by performing a series of undulating motions, are able to change the direction of travel.
The only thing they can’t do is generate lift. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
The largest of the 5 species of flying snakes, the Moluccan flying snake, can grow to lengths of up to 120 cm. It is a diurnal species, foraging a range of species – from small mammals to other reptiles.
4. Eyelash Viper
The eyelash viper is one of the smallest dangerous noodles of Central America, measuring no more than 80 cm.
However, for what it lacks in size (in comparison to other venomous species in the same geographical area), it certainly makes up for in appearance.
The eyelash viper gets its name from the bristly scales above their eyes which, apparently, resemble eyebrows. However, these eyebrows are not cosmetic. They are thought to help aid with camouflage, breaking up the viper’s outline within its arboreal home.
Unlike most other snakes, which typically have smooth scales, the scales of the eyelash viper are keeled and rough. This may help them navigate through the foliage without getting damaged.
However, the eyelashes are not the only distinguishable feature of this snake.
Depending on the morph, some individuals may be yellow. Others may be green. There are some that have a pinkish hue and others that look like lichen-covered vegetation.
It all depends on the habitat they live in.
Yes, eyelash vipers live in trees. However, the type of habitat they live in varies. Yellow morphs tend to live in areas close to banana plantations, whereas olive-green eyelash vipers tend to live at higher elevations with higher densities of moss and lichen covering the vegetation. Pinkish morphs tend to live around bromeliads and hunt amphibians, such as frogs.
Unlike their terrestrial viper cousins, such as the fer-de-lance, the eyelash viper weighs considerably less. An adaptation for life in the trees.
5. Green Vine Snake
Endemic to Central and South America, the green vine snake is long and slender – the perfect adaptation, along with its green coloration, to life in the trees.
The green vine snake spends most of its life within the trees of tropical moist forests. Staying high within the canopy, it angles its head to look down towards the ground.
When a prey species, such as small mammals or reptiles, is located, the green vine snake will track it using its keen sense of smell.
Once within striking distance, the vine snake will bite the prey and immediately lift it into the air. This is to prevent the prey from overpowering the delicate snake.
The green vine snake is mildly venomous, capable of immobilizing small prey.
Once ingested, the green vine usually searches for a resting place, usually high in the tree canopy, to start digestion.
6. Green Mamba
Cousin of the infamous black mamba, the lesser known green mamba is equally as dangerous.
Native to coastal regions of East Africa, green mambas can be found in dense and shaded vegetation. Unlike the black mamba, which is strictly terrestrial, the green mamba lives in trees of lowland tropical rainforests, as well as coastal bushlands and montane forests.
There are 3 known species of green mamba, all of which are smaller than the black mamba.
But don’t let their smaller size fool you.
Their short fangs are capable of delivering a potent neurotoxic bite, which can cause paralysis and death in as little as 30 minutes.
Like all snakes, green mambas are carnivorous. They feed on a variety of small animals, as well as the eggs of bird species. Typically, they will forage within the trees. However, in times of food scarcity, the green mamba will forage on the ground.
Turtles That Live In Trees
Hear me out with this one.
You hear the word turtle, and what do you think of? Marine turtles? Perhaps freshwater snappers?
You wouldn’t expect any turtles to live in trees, right?
Well, the order in which turtles belong to, Testudine, is home to turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.
Tortoises lead a terrestrial lifestyle and turtles and terrapins lead an aquatic or semi-aquatic lifestyle.
So why on earth would you find any species from this order in the trees?
Like other reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded. They rely on the solar energy of the sun to warm up and kick start their metabolism.
Sometimes, a fallen tree branch is the perfect basking place for a turtle.
In Costa Rica, it isn’t uncommon to see a variety of freshwater turtle species basking on tree branches that are jutting out of the waterways. Such turtle species include the common slider and black wood turtle.
So, although these turtles aren’t necessarily found within the tree canopy, they certainly rely on tree branches within the water to provide resting places, away from the clutches of potential predators.
Cheating? I don’t think so.
What Is The Biggest Tree Lizard?
The largest tree-dwelling lizard is the Green Iguana. Native to Central and South America, the Green Iguana spends a significant portion of its life in trees, especially near water sources. Adult Green Iguanas can reach lengths of up to 6.5 feet, with over half of that length being attributed to their robust tail.
That may come as a surprise, but despite being this large, the Green Iguana is an adept climber and can often be spotted basking on tree branches. When threatened, they can make a quick escape by leaping from the trees into the water below.
It’s essential to note that while they are popular in the pet trade, their size, and specific care requirements make them suitable for advanced herpetologists. If you want to know more about the kind of care Iguanas require then make sure to check our complete care guide!
Life in the trees can be a successful one if you know how to exploit the resources.
Many species of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and even turtles, have evolved specific adaptations that allow them to not just survive, but also thrive in this arboreal world.
Some species use camouflage to blend into their environment, such as the green skin of the emerald tree boa or the leaf-like mimicry of the leaf-tailed lizard. Others, such as the eyelash viper, have thick skin (or scales) to prevent damage from exposed vegetation. Then, there are the freshwater turtles that simply use fallen trees to get a bit of extra sunbathing time.
Whatever the use, one thing is for certain. Trees are an incredibly valuable asset and we must protect them. Countless species, including reptiles, use them to survive.