Emerald tree boas are ever growing in popularity. As more people are choosing to house these beautiful animals, some issues should be made clear regarding the general temperament and handling of emerald tree boas. Each species of snake tends to have a general temperament ranging from shy, timid, and elusive to alert, aggressive, and active. Individuals within a species will also exhibit some variation of the general temperament. With emeralds, some tend to be naturally timid while others are quicker to display aggression. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; nature continually tests variations of physiology and it makes sense that behavioral variations would be dynamic as well. The point being, not every emerald is behaviorally identical, however some common tendencies of the species can be addressed regarding handling.
Emerald tree boas are nocturnal, spending daytime hours in a dormant state. Their green and white coloration allows them to blend perfectly into their canopy habitat and go unnoticed during the day. This camouflage tactic indicates that they would rather avoid danger than attack first. You may have noticed I tend to delve into physiological and behavioral aspects of emeralds as I explain my views on these animals. This is because once you understand how an animal is designed to survive in nature you can then understand why they look and act as they do. So, when you initially go to handle an emerald during the day, the animal will be lethargic and groggy. Emeralds are designed by nature to essentially be physically perceived as leaves and so they must act the part. As you touch an emerald to remove it from its perch, you will alarm the animal. Remember in nature, the last thing an emerald wants is to be noticed, let alone touched. At this point, you may get one of several reactions. The snake may do little at all and you can continue to slowly try to remove the snake from its perch. The emerald may exhale rapidly, making a slight hissing sound, and jerk its body to try to scare you. He’s basically saying leave me alone and giving you a warning. If you continue to try and remove an animal that does this, they may awaken further and be aggressive or they may be okay if you continue slowly. That is where knowing the individual nature of your emerald comes in. Some emeralds, not many and more so for wild-caught emeralds, will awaken rapidly and seek to bite upon being touched. If this is the first reaction you get from your emerald, let’s hope it’s a youngster as it will be easier to “tame”. The key handling tip in all these cases is to bring your hands underneath the snake to lift them off their perch. Grasping or touching their head, neck, or back area will alarm them. Some emeralds, mostly younger animals, may completely spring off of their perch altogether in an effort to drop, when they are disturbed. This is an escape mechanism but they tend to grow out of this behavior in my experience. Always move slowly as you pick up emeralds. In nature danger is normally a quick event, so moving and touching your emerald in a slow manner bypasses their instinctual alarm triggers. The rule to move slowly can be relaxed, or not, as you start to get a feel for your emeralds “personality”.
So you were able to get your emerald off the perch and out of the enclosure. You should still continue with slow actions as it can take a couple of minutes for your emerald to fully awaken. You always want to support the animal and make it feel secure. Remember they are totally arboreal and do not like feeling like they do not have a secure hold. Expect them to writhe around to get a good grip on your finger or arm. They may wrap quickly if they feel like they may fall, don’t be alarmed. Another key handling tip is try to continue lifting them from underneath as you manipulate their movements. Their bellies are much more desensitized to being touched than their sides or backs. Never grab, you will likely get an alarmed reaction.
As you handle your emerald, probably the most crucial thing to consider and understand is that an emerald’s head is loaded with heat sensing pits. Essentially, what you should know is that your emerald is instinctually programmed to strike at moving body heat and relies on this highly evolved mechanism for eating and survival. Because of this quality, emeralds can never be totally tamed and must always be respected while handling. Even an emerald with a naturally mild temperament could instinctually strike your hand if you were to inadvertently wave it past your emerald too fast. This is another reason to move slowly. Emeralds feed by striking at quick moving warm prey. The emerald may not even have meant to bite you; it is that instinctual for them to strike at moving body heat.
An emerald that is being handled successfully and properly with no problems can be a whole new issue should you decide to put the snake down, step away for a moment, and return. Snakes are not the brightest animals. They exist primarily by instinctual behavior. When you put your emerald down and leave, you must be extra cautious when you return. Your emerald is now active and alert, not dormant as when you initially removed it from its perch. The emeralds’ heat sensors are up and running and the snake is sensitive to any approaching danger, especially warm moving body heat such as yourself. When you return to your emerald, it has no memory of you and it does not know who you are. To the emerald you are now a very large moving image of a lot of heat. You are perceived as a huge danger. Expect that your emerald may recoil and strike at you as you approach. At this point you can get your snake hook, or approach ultra slow and slowly try to lift your emerald. Such a scenario is best avoided altogether by putting your emerald back in its enclosure if you plan to leave. Once you are more familiar with emerald tree boa behavior you can gain confidence with leaving and returning to your tree boa.
Also, an emerald that has become accustomed to handling due to be being handled frequently can revert to being less handleable. This happens if you stop handling the emerald for a while. The snake will take to being handled more easily than the first time; however, just be aware that your emerald may be nervous after not having been handled for a while. Lastly, if your emerald strikes at you and makes contact, try not to jerk away. I realize this is asking a lot, but you will hurt yourself more and possibly injure your snake. We do not need emeralds flying across the room. When you jerk away, teeth can break off and be left buried in your hand, arm, etc..
Emerald tree boas certainly are handle-able snakes with some being very docile. Emeralds also gain vital exercise and stimulation from handling. This information regarding handling has a cautious tone; however, the intent is to give those considering acquiring emeralds some perspective on what to expect. Some keepers choose not to handle at all. It is the individual’s choice and I hope with the notes written here, new emerald owners who would like to handle their emeralds can have a positive introduction. Amazon tree boa handling is a whole other issue — buy a snake hook!