There are several sub-species of boa constrictor that are found in the pet trade. The most commonly found is the Boa constrictor constrictor more commonly known as Red tailed boas. The Boa constrictor imperator can be found as well as other less common sub-species. Care for all of the sub-species is relatively similar. Taking on any boa constrictor as a pet is a huge commitment and a serious responsibilty. Anybody considering purchasing an animal of this size should be well prepared for a snake that can grow to 10 feet and live for 30 years or more in captivity. These animals, understandably, require a huge amount of space and demand a lot of care and maintenance. The financial commitments of owning such an impressive creature cannot be underestimated. As a general rule, for a constricting snake over 6-8 feet it is a good idea to have a second person present while handling the snake in case assistance is required.
|Pet Reptile (Boa constrictor) Care Information|
|Regions Found:||Tropical Central and South America|
|Years to Maturity:|
|Adult Size:||8-10 feet|
|Housing, Feeding and Climate of Boa constrictor|
|Reptile Lighting:||Are there any special reptile lighting requirements?|
|Breeding Boa constrictor|
|What are the reptile health concerns? Is pet insurance recommended? Is reptile health a common problem?|
|Recommended Pet Supplies for Boa constrictor|
nb. All of these can be purchased from an online pet store
Choosing your snake
Health checks for any snake:
- Firm rounded body.
- Clear eyes (may be a little cloudy if about to shed). There should be no sign of discharge.
- No evidence of mites - check especially around the head and eyes, check for faint specks on body and check your hands after handling the snake
- The snake should not have to open its mouth to breathe and should not appear as if it is gasping for breath.
- The inside of the mouth should be a uniform pink - reddened areas or cheesy looking matter may indicate mouth rot.
- Shiny smooth skin with no scabs or sores.
- Clean vent with no swelling in area
- Should move smoothly with no tremors
If you are unsure about the health of a snake, you can ask the vendor for a demonstration feeding, usually on pre-killed mice. If your new snake appears distressed or overly active, be patient but not ignorant, snakes will be agitated until they settle in to their new environments but if the problem persists it may be necessary to seek veterinary advice.
Boas are non-venomous constrictors found in tropical Central and South America. They are excellent swimmers, but prefer to stay on dry land, living in abandoned mammal burrows or hollow logs. Their bodies can be tan, green, red, or yellow, and display cryptic patterns of jagged lines, ovals, diamonds, and circles depending on sub-species and habitat location. Boas are primarily nocturnal creatures. All boa constrictors fall under CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) and are listed in CITES Appendix II (threatened in their native habitat). Additionally, the Boa constrictor sub-species Boa constrictor occidentalis are listed on CITIES Appendix I - endangered - and requires permits to buy and sell. Fortunately boa constrictors breed fairly readily in captivity.
Boas should be individually housed, except during breeding attempts. Enclosures for juvenile boas should be at least 61 cm (24 in) long and 38 to 61 cm (15 to 24 in) high. Adult boas should be housed in enclosures at least 1.8 m (6 ft) long, 61 cm (24 in) wide, and at least 61 cm (24 in) high. Larger cages provide better opportunities for establishing a proper thermal gradient. All snakes are escape artists and thus enclosures should be secure with a well fitted lid that is too heavy for the snake to lift. It is recommended to fit a lock to your enclose to make sure your snake can’t escape
Newspaper or butcher paper is good substrate since it is inexpensive and easy to change when it becomes soiled. Astroturf, mulches, and various wood shavings may also be used, It is advised not to feed the snake on this substrate as some may be ingested and the snake could become inpacted. However this is rare but should still be observed when feeding.
Basic essentials in any boas enclosure are adequate hides, one in the warm end and one in the cool end of the enclosure. Hides can be anything from empty cardboard, plastic or wooden boxes to specially made hides from a reptile equipment retailer. Hides ensure that the snake feels secure, as stress can result in health problems. None essential items such as strong shelves or secure branches are often provided so that boas can climb. Fake plants and other natural looking decorations are also commonly provided, but again they are not essential.
Providing the proper thermal gradient is critical to the well being of the snake. The preferred optimal temperature zone for a boa during the day is between 27-29°C (80-85°F), with a basking spot up to 35°C (95°F). Night time lows can be between 21-27°C (70-80°F). An under the tank heating pad designed for reptiles works well for providing the cage heat, with an incandescent bulb or ceramic heating element used to provide the basking temperatures. Never use hot rocks, and the bulb or heat element should be placed or screened off to prevent contact with the snake or burns may result. Use multiple thermometers to monitor the temperatures in the cage (one at the bottom of the cage and one at the basking spot).
To successfully maintain the desired humidity conditions for your boa constrictor you are going to need a hygrometer. A hygrometer is a device used to measure relative humidity within the enclosure. The relative humidity for a boa should be between 50-70%. Another alternative is to provide a humidity retreat or humid hide, which similarly uses a covered container with an access hole lined with damp sphagnum moss to provide the moisture (a water dish is still provided outside the retreat). Boas have been known to develop scale rot on their belly scales if left in conditions that are too humid, although this is also associated with lack of cleanliness in the substrate.
Boa constrictors do not reqiure any special lighting, but should have approximately 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness every day to simulate their natural environment. Either a bulb on a timer or natural light can be used to provide such conditions. A snake left in constant bright light will become stressed which can manifest itself in many ways from aggression, to not eating, to various health problems.
A bowl of fresh water must be available at all times. Your snake will use the water for bathing drinking and soaking itself. The snake may also defecate in the water occasionally. Therefore regular checks are necessary and the water should be changed as necessary. A warm bath in your bathtub will also be welcomed when your Boa is ready to shed.
In the wild, boas feed upon a variety of prey such as amphibians, lizards, birds and mammals. However, in captivity they should be fed pre-killed mice, rats and when adults, rabbits and chickens. Young Boas are usually voracious eaters and can take fuzzy mice straight from birth and should be fed weekly. As boas reach adulthood, it is acceptable to decrease the feeding interval to once every ten to fourteen days. As with all snakes, feed prey items (preferably dead and defrosted) that are the same diameter as the largest point of the snakes body. Be sure the food is correctly thawed all the way through, with the food being at body temperature if possible. The use of microwaves for this is not recommended as this will partially cook the food. Moving the snake out of its cage into a separate enclosure for feeding is a good idea and will help in the taming process. The snake will associate eating with the other enclosure, and is less likely to confuse your hand for prey when you put your hand into the cage. This will make it easier to reach into the cage to get the boa constrictor out for handling. As with all snakes, keep the handling of a Boa to the absolute minimum for 24 hours after it’s eaten. Rough handling after a meal may cause regurgitation and could damage the snake’s digestive tract and prove fatal. Do not worry if your boa constrictor does not eat for weeks as all boas have periods like this as part of there normal behaviour. You only need to take your snake to the veterinarians for not eating if it loses approximately 15% of its regular body weight or shows other visible signs of illness.
The Boa Constrictor family are not renowned for aggressive behaviour. Young boas can be a little snappy, but if handled on a regular basis quickly grow out of this. Boas can be easily handled although some of the sub-species have a reputation for being biters. This is normally because they are wild caught specimens which are understandably more aggressive. Any snake will bite if it feels sufficiently threatened, so when faced with an unfamiliar boa, remain cautious until you establish a calm, trusting relationship. As previously mentioned for a constricting snake over 6-8 feet it is a good idea to have a second person present while handling the snake in case assistance is required. Boas hunt primarily by smell so to avoid being bitten always thoroughly wash your hands after handling snake food before trying to handle your boa. Boas in captivity have been observed to go through several weeks of inactivity as the weather changes throughout the year. This behaviour mimics how wild boas get through periods of extreme cold or drought.
Regular visits to a veterinarian reptile specialist is essential especially for new-born and juvenile specimens. A sample of faeces should be taken and sealed in an appropriate container, noted with details such as the time and date. The vet will then screen the matter for parasites and signs of infestations and infecions that can prove fatal to your pet. This practice is not only for the sake of your snake, most parasites that can infest snakes and reptiles are easily transmitted to humans and can prove equally if not more devastating.
Inclusion Body Disease (IBD)
Inclusion body disease (IBD) has been increasingly diagnosed in pythons and boas (“boids”). It is believed to be a retrovirus and it is highly contagious. Signs of infection in boas include inability to strike or constrict, regurgitation of food, extreme weight loss and central nervous system disorders such as being unable to right itself when turned over and paralysis. The disease is rapidly fatal in young and juvenile boas. At this time there is no treatment for the disease and it is always fatal. Euthanasia is the recommended course of action. Cases of this disease are becoming increasingly frequent and it is strongly recommended to quarantine all new boids for at least 3-6 months to prevent other boids from catching the disease. You should also take precautions when visiting, pet stores, veterinary’s and expos/swaps.
There are generally two types of bites: a strike and a feeding bite.
A strike is a warning that you have exceeded the bounds of what the snake will tolerate. It will shoot out, mouth open, then retract just as quickly, leaving you with a series of teeth marks.
A feeding bite is just that: they think they have prey, and are not going to let go; the more you move around, the more they try to 'kill' your hand. The easiest and fastest way to disengage a snake's mouth from your body is with grain (not rubbing) alcohol; in a school setting, you can use Listerine or, if none is available, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. The latter can be toxic, so you must make sure that the snake's mouth is not flooded with it. Always tilt the snake's head downwards so that the fluid does not run up into its nose; from there it can get into its respiratory tract, causing infections. Compressed air can also be an effective way to coax a snake into releasing their bite. A quick burst or two into the mouth (not the nose or eyes) should do the trick, but long sprays must be avoided as they can cause frost bite both to the snake's mouth and to the person's skin.
Wash bites thoroughly with soap and water. Apply povidone-iodine (Betadine) or hydrogen peroxide, and let dry. Then apply a topical broad spectrum antibiotic ointment. Do not bandage. It should be noted that a snake will always signal when it is going to strike or bite; you just need to learn new body language. Once you see the snake stiffen and slowly retract, head held slightly above the ground or body, be alert and ready to move.