Boa Constrictor

By Snaketracks / August 26, 2019
Boa Constrictor

Boa Constrictor Care Sheet

Boa constrictor care is not difficult due to the famous nature of the species. As one of the most popular snakes kept as pets, acquiring a boa constrictor is not a hectic process.

Additionally, expert help is easily accessible. As such, novice hobbyists can always acquire help when any problem arises. While they are easy to care, their large potential size means that experienced snake keepers are better suited to take care of them.

The boa constrictor species has at least nine different subspecies; however, the most popular subspecies is the common boa (also known as the Colombian boa constrictor). These are very docile and inquisitive. Characteristics that make them excellent pets.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Boidae
  • Scientific Name: Boa constrictor
  • Risk Factor: Nonvenomous, constrictor
  • Average Adult Size:  5.5 to 13 feet (1.7 to 4 m)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 35 years
  • Litter Size: 10 to 65 younglings
  • Gestation Period: 5 to 8 months
  • Food: Frozen mice, rats & small rabbits
  • Average Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • Humidity: 60 – 70 %
  • UVB Lighting: Optional
  • Average Price Range: $150 to $1000
  • Conservation Status: CITES Appendix I & Appendix II

Facts and Information

Boa Constrictor in grass
Boa Constrictor in grass

There are several subspecies of the Boa constrictor including the B. c. imperator, B. c. constrictor, B. c. longicauda, B. c. occidentalis, B. c. nebulosi, B. c. ortonii, B. c. sabogae, B. c. amarali, andthe B. c. orophias. Distinguishing characteristics among subspecies is largely by range and locality, rather than appearance although variation in coloration, size and form do occur.

Wild populations of this species can only be found in the Americas, ranging from north Mexico to south America where established populations can be found in Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia (which is home to the common boa constrictor).

The boa constrictor comes in a variety of colors and forms depending on the subspecies. however, they are usually brown, grey and patterned with reddish-brown saddles which are more prominent towards the tail. Their coloration is to help them blend into their environment.

This is helpful as blending into the environment hides them from predators and preys alike. The adult length depends on the subspecies as well as how much and how often the snake is fed before adulthood. Adult length ranges from 5.5 feet to 13 feet.

Boa Constrictor Habitat

Boa constrictors prefer habitats where humidity is relatively high such as rainforest clearings/edges. With that being said, they are also found in dry tropical forests, grasslands, thorn scrubs, woodlands, and even semi-deserts.

Enclosure

As large snakes, these boas require large and spacious enclosures specifically designed for snakes. It is also important that the enclosure is well ventilated. Additionally, if the terrarium has glass panels, it shouldn’t receive direct sunlight as glass absorbs heat very well which can cause overheating. High temperatures can cause heatstroke.

Start juveniles with a smaller enclosure with a length of about 30 inches and a width of 12 inches. A great example is the Exo Terra Terrarium which measures 24 by 18 by 12-Inch. When the boa reaches adult length, move the snake to a larger enclosure. Adults need a terrarium which is 48 inches long and 24 inches wide such as the Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium.

Hide boxes is a must as it allows the snake to retreat to the dark safe space. Clayey pots make excellent hides, they need to be overturned and have an entrance for the snake to enter.

Similarly, you can acquire commercially made reptile hides. The hide needs to be large enough to contain the snake. it is best to get two hides, place one hide at the warm side of the enclosure and the other at the cool end of the enclosure. That way, the snake can regulate its body temperature when hiding.

Hiding is essential since it keeps the snake from getting stressed. A stressed snake may refuse to eat. A great choice is the Pangea Reptile Hide Box. It is a black plastic box with a semicircular entry. If you want a more decorative hide box, the Exo Terra XX-Large Reptile Cave is an excellent choice.

Substrate

The boa constrictors do not have special bedding needs. Choosing the right substrate to line the enclosure with is easy and stress-free. For juveniles, using paper is the best choice because it is easy to clean/change. Additionally, you can easily inspect the fecal matter of a newly acquired juvenile for symptoms of ill health. As the snake grows you can switch to other substrate types.

A popular choice for adults is reptile carpet such as the Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner. Carpets are easy to clean and can be used for a long time.

We advise you to have several pieces of carpets. You can replace a soiled carpet with a clean one while you wash and dry the soiled carpet. Clean the bedding twice a week if possible. You do not want the enclosure to be very dirty before you change the bedding.

The enclosure can also then be layered with a loose substrate such as reptile bark (Zoo Med Repti Bark is an excellent choice) which can easily be changed whenever the substrate becomes dirty.

Other excellent choices include aspen snake bedding, coco coir, and cypress mulch. Spot clean the bedding often. This requires you to remove portions of the substrates that get soiled as soon as you notice it. The entire bedding can be replaced every two months if possible.

Temperature

As with other snakes, you need to create a temperature gradient/range which allows for thermoregulation. The enclosure must have a warm end and a cool end. The heat source/warm side should never be in the center of the cage but rather at one end. This will create a gradient where one end is warmest and the temperature gradually falls until you reach the coolest end.

The warm end must be 85 F with a hot spot/basking spot of 90 F provided by an under tank heating pad. this is better than a heat lamps boas prefer to coil over the warm spot.

The cool end should have a temperature of at least 75 F. there are many heat pads/mats on the market. One of our favorites is the Fluker’s Heat Mat. A heat pad alone is not enough; you need a heat pad temperature regulator such as the BoHoFarm Heat Mat Thermostat Controller.

Also, acquire thermometers to continuously monitor the temperature of the enclosure. As a beginner, this is important so as to ensure you get the temperature gradient right. As you gain more experience you will need the thermometer less and less. An excellent thermometer is the Etekcity Lasergrip.

Humidity

Young boa constrictor
Young Boa Constrictor

Since this boa prefers to live in rainforests, they prefer high relative humidity. The humidity levels should be between 60 and 70 percent. The use of humidity gauge will ensure you easily track the humidity levels in the enclosure.

If the boa soaks in the water bowl provided before shedding, then it is likely that the humidity is not high enough. Additionally, if the snake spends all its time in the water bowl, then the humidity level is definitely too low or the temperature is too high (so the snake is trying to cool off in the water).

The water bowl contributes significantly to the relative humidity level. As such you need to provide a large and sturdy water bowl. For juveniles, the bowl needs to be large enough to soak in but shallow enough so they don’t accidentally drown in it.

Lighting

We do not recommend special lighting for the reptile. The boa constrictor does not need it. If you wish to provide overhead lighting, it should be over the heat mat area. This overhead lighting can then complement the heat provided by the heat mat. However, it is not advisable for overhead heat lamps to be the sole heating device.

Since the boa requires a day/night cycle for the snake, a light source such as the sun or a florescent light is required. If the cage has access to indirect sunlight, a day/night cycle will be automatically created. If the enclosure doesn’t receive any sun, you can use a low-wattage fluorescent light such as the LUNO A19 Dimmable LED Bulb. To regulate the snake’s circadian rhythm, the light should be on during the day, and off during the night.

While UVB lights are optional since the snakes get all the nutrients and vitamins they need form the preys they eat, some reptile keepers believe UVB lights are beneficial. An excellent UVB light for the enclosure is the MyComfyPets UVB and UVA Reptile Bulb. This bulb warms the enclosure so the heat produced needs to be taken into account.

Feeding the Boa Constrictor

Boa Constrictor on bananas
Boa on bananas

In the wild, these boas feed primarily on terrestrial vertebrates such as small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and also eggs. In captivity, they accept small mammals such as rats and mice. Since they are constrictors, these boas constrict, their meals before eating even if the meal is already dead.

Feed the boa dead prey. This is safer as dead prey can’t fight back. Additionally, storing dead prey is easier. All you need to do is keep them frozen until it is feeding time. Wait for five days before you feed a newly acquired boa constrictor. If the constrictor throws up after its first meal, wait for 14 days before feeding it again.

The move to a new enclosure can be stressful for the snake. For young boas, ensure the prey is not larger than the boa’s mid-body girth. There should be no bulge after eating. For adults, a small bulge is acceptable. Do not overfeed the boa as it can lead to regurgitation, improper growth, and obesity which can lead to premature death.

  • Feed a boa that is 2 years or below, one appropriately sized rat or mouse (no larger than its girth) every 7 to 10 days.
  • Feed adults, one small rabbit / or a large rat every 10 to 14 days. You can reduce or increase the frequency of feeding depending on the snake’s weight.

Start with small mice, and as the boa grows, increase the size of the prey until you are feeding it a small rabbit.

Frozen prey can be purchased at pet stores all over the world. To ensure the prey is free of parasites, buy from reputable pet shops only. If the boa is used to eating live rodents, present the dead prey to the reptile with a pair of tongs.

Lastly, stick to a schedule. This ensures you can track the feeding habit of the snake with ease. With that, you can easily spot when there is a loss of appetite which can be a sign of illness.

Boa Constrictor’s Temperament

This species is known for its docile and curious nature. They are also very smart snakes and as such, can easily be domesticated. After a while, they will learn your scent and become used to you. It is important that you handle them regularly as they grow.

They will crawl around when you hold them until they find a nice spot to relax. Do not handle your boa right after it has eaten. It takes about 3 days for the boa to digest a meal fed it. As such, do not handle the snake for up to 3 days after you have fed it.

Boa Constrictor’s Lifespan

Boa constrictors generally live long lives with an average of 20 years. however, it is common for them to live up to 25 to 35 years in captivity. On rare occasions, a specimen can live up to 40 years. In captivity, they live much longer than in the wild. They can live as much as 15 years more in captivity.

Breeding Boa Constrictors

Common Northern Boa Snakes
Two common Northern Boas

Since this article is more concern with caring for boa constrictors, we wouldn’t cover breeding into details. Since the species is popular among snake keepers, they have successfully and repetitively been bred with little to no issues.

These snakes are ovoviviparous and as such the eggs develop inside the snake. Females usually reach sexual maturity at age 2 to 3 but it is best to wait until they are 3 years. Additionally, the female must be at least 8 pounds before you breed them.

Males reach maturity at 18 months. They usually breed when the ambient temperature is between 82 and 85 F from June to October. In October, you can reduce the temperature down to 75 to 62 F. after breeding gestation lasts for 5 to 8 months depending on the temperature of the enclosure. They produce an average litter size of 25 younglings.

Popular morphs include hypo (less pigmentation), albino (lack of pigmentation), anery (lack of red pigmentation), ghost (lighter in color), and snow (a mix of albino ad anery genes).

Health Issues

Boa Constrictor

As with other boas, the B. C. imperator is a hardy snake that rarely falls ill or suffers from health complications. However, when it does, these are the most common health issues. With proper husbandry practices, you can avoid any major health issues throughout the snake’s 35-year lifespan.

  • Respiratory infection is common among snakes and the B. C. imperator is no exception. This is caused by insufficiently heated enclosures. symptoms include wheezing and nasal discharge. A trip to the herp vet is advisable when it comes to respiratory infections.
  • Scale rot and blister disease are usually down to poor husbandry. Blister disease is called by overheating and/or low humidity levels.  Scale rot is down to a compromised immune system.
  • One of the most common health issues is improper shedding. This is most often caused by low humidity. Ensure, the humidity of the enclosure increases. A warm soak for an hour will also help the snake shed. Place the snake in quarter-inch warm water in a container with a lid. This is to prevent the snake from leaving the water. The lid needs to have holes in it. Position the container in the enclosure in a way that ensures that the container has a warm and cool end. Soak the boa for about an hour. Keep an eye on the boa while it soaks. After the soak, remove the snake, enter the container, place a dry towel in the container and return the snake into the container so it can rub on the towel and help shed the old skin.

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Pricing and Availability

Acquiring a specimen is easy as these snakes are quite popular. The b. c. imperator is the most popular subspecies on the market. They reach manageable sizes and are easy to care for. As with other snakes, there are several morphs available. There are increasingly many more morphs being discovered. The price usually depends on the morph. The average price range of this snake is $150 to $1000.

Some excellent online sites to acquire specimens include Snakes at Sunset, Reptile Rapture, Underground Reptiles, XYZ Reptiles, and Morph Market.

Conservation/Threats

Although the wild populations are yet to be evaluated by the IUCN, most of the subspecies are on the CITES Appendix 2 list, while one subspecies is on Appendix 1 of CITES. The wild populations of various subspecies are endangered due to over-collection for the pet trade and harvesting for meat, body parts and skin.

Conclusion

As one of the most popular snakes in the world, the boa constrictor is easy to care and easy to acquire. They come in many colors and patterns. Another great characteristic of this snake is their docile and curious nature.

This makes them a delight to handle and keep. However, they require long term commitment since they can live to be over 40 years old. If you wish to keep a boa constrictor as a pet, be prepared to care for them for several decades. If you wish to leave a comment about these majestic creatures, kindly do so. Thanks.

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