THE URBAN GECKO

caring for a boa constrictor

16 Name/Common Name: Boa constrictor
Scientific Name: Boa constrictor

General Information

The name Boa Constrictor is often the first name people say when they think of a snake and is one of the most commonly kept snakes in captivity. The combination of their docile nature, ease of care and the seemingly endless number of colour and pattern morphs have made them popular with everyone from the beginner snake keeper right through to avid breeders and collectors.
Boas are semi arboreal snakes that are indigenous to a large geographic range that runs from northern Mexico, right through to Central and South America. There are approximately 10 identified sub-species of Boa Constrictors. Some sub-species are based on locales such as the Columbian Boa (Boa constrictor imperator) and others on biological differences such as the St Lucia Boa (Boa constrictor orophias). Boas found in the northern areas are typically smaller than their South American relatives, and are somewhat darker in overall colouration. Availability of food and temperature differences has been attributed to these differences.
Adult females typically reach 8 to 9 feet long, and being a heavy bodied species can weigh as much as 60 pounds. Males are usually between 6 and 8 feet long and also tend to be considerably lighter than the females. Boas have been known to live for upwards of 40 years.
The colouring of Boa Constrictors can vary depending on their original locality, but are typically identified by a cream coloured base with brown or reddish saddle markings that run along their back that become more pronounced with red as they progress towards the tail. The colouring works very well as camouflage in the jungles and forests of its natural range. Snakes in captivity have been selectively bred for many years and there are now numerous different color and pattern morphs.

Enclosure

Regardless of whether you are a hobbyist/breeder or a pet owner our advice is the same and that is to keep it simple. For pet owners your best option for caging is a glass/plastic enclosure while the hobbyist/breeder who will be keeping several Boas should look to a commercial rack system or large cages.
Glass enclosures can be used to provide a naturalistic and visually appealing environment for a hobbyist. For those looking to house several Boas a rack system is an excellent option. These systems can be built by the hobbyist or purchased from a caging company. The benefit of a rack system includes: ease of cleaning, efficient use of space and provides a secure space that is conducive to the humidity requirements of a Boa. Hatchlings are best started out in a shoe box sized enclosure, but will need to be upgraded to their larger enclosure as they grow to adult-hood. Large adult females will require at least a 5 foot long tub. The enclosure should be well ventilated and securely closed at all times. Outside of breeding, it is recommended to house Boas separately. Stress levels can quickly rise if Boas are kept together.
Within either of these types of enclosures there are four basic fixtures required to provide an environment that your Boa will thrive in; they are heat/light, humidity/water, substrate and shelter.

Heat and Light:

We believe it is best for the heat to be provided from below. In the case of a glass enclosure one can use an under tank heater, while the breeder’s best option for a rack system is heat cable or heat tape controlled by a thermostat. Because Boa Constrictors are cold-blooded, they rely on their environment to control body temperature. The enclosure’s heat source should remain at approximately 90F and be situated at one end of the enclosure to create an overall ambient temperature within the enclosure of 80 F to 85 F. This will give the snake the ability to thermo regulate by moving from the heat source to a cooler area of the enclosure. In other words do not heat the entire enclosure. Also it is important not to guess or estimate the temperature – an accurate thermostat is a must. Night time temperature drops are not required and a minimum ambient temperature of 80 F should be maintained at all times.
Boas natural habitat extends around the equator and as a result should be exposed to a cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Because they are nocturnal they do not require a UVB light.

Humidity/Water:

Coming from the rainforest means that Boas must always be exposed to humidity and require an environment that has a 60% to 80% humidity level. Humidity can typically be maintained by misting the substrate so at it is damp but not wet. Humidity should be watched very closely. Too dry of a habitat may result in repository infections while too wet can result in bacterial or fungal infections. But with proper care and monitoring this humidity level can easily be maintained, Rack systems lend very well to creating this humid environment – however glass enclosures with screened tops can create some challenges in keeping the humidity level up. In this type of environment a humid hide shelter is a great idea.
Fresh water must be available at all times and can be provided by utilizing a heavy bowl that will not be easily overturned by the snake.

Substrate:

Boa Constrictors can be kept on many different types of substrates such as: Cypress mulch, Aspen shavings, Jungle Bark, Melaleuca mulch, newspaper, butcher/packing paper or paper towel. Here at The Urban Boa we use shredded aspen shavings. We find it to be the easiest substrate to keep clean, and can also tolerate light spraying to help raise humidity during the breeding season. DO NOT use cedar products as a substrate – cedar contains toxins which can cause serious health problems in Boas.
All substrates should be spot cleaned of fecal matter/urates as soon as possible. Additionally the entire enclosure should be completely cleaned and sanitized about once a month, including a complete change of substrate.

Shelter:

Boa Constrictors are nocturnal and in the wild spend a lot of their time in a secluded area waiting for prey for their next meal. Because of this, shelters are a very important component of their enclosure as they provide the snake with a natural sense of security. The shelter can be as elaborate as you like or can be as simple as a plastic container turned upside down with a door cut into it to allow the snake passage. The shelter should create a dark environment and be sized to provide a snug space for the snake to coil up in – if it is too large it will not give them the same sense of security.

Food

In their natural environment Boa Constrictors feed primarily on mammals, but will also take birds and lizards. They are excellent ambush hunters, utilising their camouflage to surprise unsuspecting animals. They are also known to use their brighter coloured tail to bait passing prey into coming closer.
In captivity a Boa can feed exclusively on rodents. Babies typically take fuzzy or hopper mice, and as they grow they can easily be switched to rats. The vast majority of baby Boas will readily accept frozen thawed mice, but there are always some that will need a live mouse to entice them into eating. A good schedule for baby Boas is to feed one mouse per week, the food should leave a small lump in the mid body of the boa, although it may still ‘act’ hungry, it is advisable to not feed young boas too much. Their metabolism can easily be overloaded, which results in regurgitating, and a decline in overall health. A properly fed boa will have perfect proportion and superior muscle tone to one that has been overfed.
Adult boas can be fed every 10 to 14 days. Our adult females are given jumbo rats and our males get a large rat. Rabbits are another option for feeding large females.
It is vital to note that live prey should never be left in unattended with any snake. Live rodents can cause serious injuries or death within a matter of minutes. After a feeding we recommend not handling your Boa Constrictor for a 48 hour period to allow proper digestion to occur.

Shedding:

Prior to each shed the snake will start to appear dull in coloration, their eyes will appear milky and their belly will turn a pinkish tone. It is a good idea to slightly increase the humidity level of the snake’s enclosure during this period by spraying more often or by having a humid hide area. We do not offer food during the shed cycle,
We developed this care sheet based on our experience of keeping and breeding Boa Constrictors. But, while this information has worked for us over the years we still recommend watching your snake closely as you may have to make your own “tweaks” based on the specific needs of your Boa and the unique features of your location. We hope this care sheet has provided you with some useful information and insights into Boa Constrictors. We are always available to support our client so please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail if you should have any further questions.

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