Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper)

Trimeresurus stejnegeri

Last updated: August 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

Pit vipers can strike accurately at moving objects less than .5 degrees Farenheit warmer than the background.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Viperidae
Genus
Trimeresurus
Scientific Name
Trimeresurus stejnegeri

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Conservation Status

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Locations

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Locations

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Facts

Prey
Frogs, lizards, small rodents, birds
Main Prey
Frogs, lizards
Name Of Young
Neonate, snakelet
Group Behavior
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Pit vipers can strike accurately at moving objects less than .5 degrees Farenheit warmer than the background.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown but believed stable
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction
Most Distinctive Feature
Red eyes and dorso-linear stripe
Other Name(s)
Stejneger's pit viper, Chinese pit viper, Chinese green tree viper, bamboo viper, Chinese bamboo pitviper, bamboo viper, and Chinese tree viper.
Gestation Period
Probably 6-7 months
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Frogs, lizards, small rodents, birds
Common Name
Stejneger's Pit Viper
Special Features
Triangular head, red eyes, dorso-linear stripe.
Location
Southern china, Nepal, Northeastern India, Taiwan, Laos, Vietnam
Group
den, nest, pit, bed, knot

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Length
Up to 30 inches
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
Medium

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Tree vipers are venomous pit vipers that live in Southeast Asia including southern China, Northeast India, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The venomous tree viper goes by many names, depending upon its location. The most common are Stejneger’s pit viper, Stejneger’s tree viper, bamboo viper, Chinese green tree viper, Chinese pit viper, Chinese bamboo pit viper, and Chinese tree viper.

Incredible Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Facts

  • Tree viper bites can be deadly, but if treated most victims survive with little problem.
  • 20+ species are called tree vipers or bamboo vipers.
  • They’re often confused with the harmless greater green snake.
  • Stejneger’s tree viper only grows to about 30 inches in length.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Scientific Name and Classification

Tree vipers are pitvipers in the Crotalinae subfamily of Viperidae. Trimeresurus is a compound word formed from Greek and Latin. The first part, Trimeres is Greek and means “of three parts.” The second part, -urus is Latin and refers to the tail. Many of the Tremeresurus genus snakes have tails of a different color, and all have prehensile tails.

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Their specific name, stejnegeri, honors Leonhard Stejneger, a herpetologist who worked at the Smithsonian Institution for over 60 years. There are two subspecies of tree viper (bamboo viper), T. s. stejnegeri and T. s. chenbihuii; the nominate subspecies is more widespread, while T. s. chenbihuii is isolated to Hainan Island’s Mount Diaoluo and Wuzhi Mountain.

These snakes have many common names, which include Stejneger’s pit viper, bamboo viper, Chinese green tree viper, Chinese pit viper, Chinese bamboo pitviper, and Chinese tree viper. There are certainly more that are likely local names given by the people who live near it.

Types of Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper)

Common names can get very confusing very quickly. This is yet another reason for the use of scientific names. There are at least a half dozen snakes that people commonly refer to as bamboo or tree vipers. It’s because there are several dozen vipers that live in trees, so a few of them were bound to be called tree vipers or bamboo vipers. Most of them are in the Trimeresurus genus, but a few are Atheris.

Atheris

Craspadocephalus

  • Common bamboo viper (C. gramineus)

Trimeresurus

Many of the 40+ species in Trimeresurus carry the “green tree viper” moniker in some form. Here are a few:

  • Chinese bamboo viper (T. stejnegeri)
  • Red-tailed bamboo pit viper (T. erythrurus)
  • Nicobar bamboo pit viper (T. labialis)
  • McGregor’s tree viper (T. mcgregori)
  • Central Nicobar bamboo pit viper (T. mutabilis)

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Appearance

This species, like most arboreal snakes, is light-bodied and fairly small. They only reach about 30 inches long, which includes a prehensile tail that often measures 5.7 inches long. Tree vipers (bamboo vipers) are pitvipers with a typically triangular head, a noticeable heat-sensing pit between the nostril and eye, and red eyes with vertical pupils. Their retractable fangs are nature’s version of a hypodermic needle and they’re able to inject venom deeply into a victim.

A Tree viper’s (bamboo viper’s) dorsal color can be bright to dark green; the ventral is pale green to whitish. A stripe separates the dorsal and ventral colors and runs the length of its body. In this snake, the stripe starts near the snout and runs between the lip and eye, all the way down the length of the body. The stripe is one way to tell males from females because males have stripes that are typically bicolored with red or brown and white. In females, it can be bicolored but is more often white. Juveniles have brightly colored tails that they use for luring prey. Colors and patterns can vary depending upon their habitat.

Bamboo vipers (Trimeresurus stejnegeri) often hide in crevices
This species hides in bushes and crevices when it isn’t in the trees.

iStock.com/yanjf

Tree viper (bamboo viper) Look Alike

Tree vipers (bamboo vipers) are sometimes confused with the greater green snake, a nonvenomous colubrid native to many of the same areas. One very large difference is the head shape and eyes. The greater green snake (Ptyas major) has a small head with large gold or green eyes and round pupils, whereas the tree viper (bamboo viper) has a big triangular head with red eyes and vertical pupils.

In all cases, if you are not 150% certain of your species identification, do not handle the snake.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Behavior

These snakes are generally slow-moving and arboreal; in fact, many arboreal snakes move slowly so they don’t fall out of their treetop home. Tree vipers are nocturnal and more active at night and sometimes roost in bushes by day.

They aren’t aggressive in a traditional sense, but if cornered, tree vipers stand their ground and do not hesitate to bite. Although this is a trait shared by many arboreal snakes, these snakes tend to strike at anything warm that moves nearby. This species sits in one position, sometimes for many hours or days, to ambush its prey when it wanders too close. Their sense of smell is excellent, and they use Jacobson’s organ and their tongue to help track down prey when the ambient temperature doesn’t favor their heat-sensing pits.

Venom: How Dangerous is the Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper)

While fatalities are rare with tree vipers (bamboo vipers), they can occur. Their venom is primarily made up of hemotoxins that attack the blood. They don’t always envenomate when they bite, but when they do the symptoms begin with local pain that quickly becomes intense, requiring very strong painkillers. Victims of tree viper (bamboo viper) snakebites describe the pain as if they had been branded with a hot iron. It does not subside until about 24 hours after being bitten.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling around the bite.
  • Tissue necrosis of varying severity, depending on the bite depth and quantity of venom injected.
  • Kidney dysfunction.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Habitat

Found in Northeast India, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Southern China, the tree viper (bamboo viper) generally favors forested areas along trails, streams, or culverts. Historically, it avoided human-made habitats in favor of forested areas. However, in recent years it is increasingly found hanging around light poles and other areas close to homes and towns.

The tree viper (bamboo viper) inhabits forests at altitudes from sea level to 3,200 feet. Its coloration allows it to blend seamlessly into its habitat and isn’t always easy to spot.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Diet

Like many snakes, the tree viper (bamboo viper) eats a variety of small prey and frogs appear to be its primary source of food. However, it also takes rodents, birds, and lizards.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Predators, Threats, Conservation, and Population

According to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species, the tree viper (bamboo viper) is a species of Least Concern because it is widespread and probably isn’t declining quickly enough to be considered in a higher category. It’s presumed to have a large population, but no actual count is available.

It doesn’t seem to have any significant threats, except in some areas its numbers are decreasing in response to habitat changes.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Its breeding behavior is relatively unknown, but females give birth to litters of 3-10 babies that look like miniatures of their parents. The babies are small and only measure about 4.5 inches long when they’re born.

Next Up

  • Vine snakes of several species are native to the same areas where tree vipers live.
  • The dragon snake is also known as the Spiny bush viper. It’s native to areas in central Africa
  • Green tree pythons are native to some parts of Southeast Asia and Australia.

View all 85 animals that start with T

About the Author

Gail is a musician, author, and artist with more ideas than time. She loves learning about all things in the natural world. Her upcoming book, Pebble Worms and Fast Walkers is filled with all the random bits that kids love! She lives in North Texas with her husband, twin sons, dogs, cat, two red-eared sliders, and two ball pythons.

Tree Viper (Bamboo Viper) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the tree viper (bamboo viper) venomous?

Yes! Fatalities are rare, but anyone bit by this snake needs immediate medical care.

What does the tree viper (bamboo viper) eat?

They seem to prefer frogs; however, they’ll also eat birds, lizards, and small rodents.

Are tree vipers (bamboo vipers) aggressive?

Not traditionally, however, like other arboreal snakes, they tend to strike at anything that moves.

How do tree vipers (bamboo vipers) hunt?

They hunt by ambush. You could almost say that most snakes are lazy predators. This species hangs from tree branches and light poles, waiting for prey to wander close enough to grab.

Where do tree vipers (bamboo vipers) live?

In the forests of Southeast Asia! These arboreal snakes live at elevations up to about 3,200 feet.

Sources
  1. “Trimeresurus.” Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/Trimeresurus. Accessed 15 Aug. 2022.“Trimeresurus.” Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/Trimeresurus. Accessed 15 Aug. 2022., Available here: https://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/Trimeresurus
  2. Trimeresurus stejnegeri | Reptarium Reptile Database, Available here: https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Trimeresurus&species=stejnegeri
  3. Hong Kong Snake ID, Available here: https://www.hongkongsnakeid.com/stejnegers-viper
  4. Liao-Chun Chiang Wei-Jen Tsai Po-Yu Liu Cheng-Hsuan Ho Hung-Yuan Su Chih-Sheng Lai Kuo-Lung Lai Wen-Loung Lin Chi-Hsin Lee Yi-Yuan Yang Uyen Vy Doan Tri Maharani Yan-Chiao Mao. (2020). Envenomation by Trimeresurus stejnegeristejnegeri : clinical manifestations, treatmentand associated factors for wound necrosis. Journal of Venomous, 14., Available here: https://www.academia.edu/53878573/Envenomation_by_Trimeresurus_stejnegeri_stejnegeri_clinical_manifestations_treatment_and_associated_factors_for_wound_necrosis
  5. Stejneger's Pit Viper, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/192136/2045355

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