U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

April 1999


RODDA, G. H., T. H. FRI'ITS, M. J. MCCOID, and E. W. CAMPBELL 111. 1999. An overview of the biology of the Brown Treesnake (Boiga irregularis), a costly introduced pest on Pacific Islands. Pages 44-80 in Rodda, Gordon H., Sawai, Yoshio, Chiszar, David, and Tanaka, Hiroshi, editors. Problem snake management : the habu and the brown treesnake . Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 53413. Permission to use.


The 20-30 species of the genus Boiga (Colubridae, Boiginae) range from tropical Africa through southern Asia to Melanesia and Australia (Leviton, 1968). Collectively, they are known as catsnakes, mangrove snakes, or treesnakes (Obst et al., 1988; Greene, 1989). The common name "catsnakes" is sometimes used for snakes in the genus Telescopus as well (Obst et 1, 1988).

Members of the genus Boiga are nocturnal, oviparous, opisthoglyphic, euryphagic, and slender; they have vertical elliptical pupils (thus “cat” snakes) set in large eyes, and short, blunt heads that are noticeably larger than their necks. With one exception they are arboreal or semiarboreal (Obst et al., 1988), but they are found on the ground more frequently than some other arboreal snakes. Most inhabit forested areas, although the one terrestrial species, Boiga trigonata, ranges into the steppes of central Asia (Obst et al., 1988).

Little is known about the catsnakes. Not much has been published about most species other than basic descriptions (Leviton, 1968) and scattered natural history notes (Woodward, 1960; Jones, 196 1; Rosevear, 1965). Boiga dendrophila is sold commonly as a pet and zoo animal; its venom and habits have been studied, as have those of several other species (especially B. cyanea and B. blandingfi, mostly in captivity (Barach, 1952; F. Groves, 1973; J. D. Groves, 1974; Burger, 1975; Sakai et al., 1984; R. D. Howard, 1984; C. J. Howard, 1987; Minton and Dunson, 1978). The gut contents of Boiga museum specimens were tabulated by Greene (1989) and Shine (1991). Intensive field studies of snakes of the genus Boiga have been conducted only on B. irregularis (> 100 papers).