Caring for your Boa Constrictor
Common Name: Boa Constrictor
Boa constrictor, constrictor
Homeland: Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Central America. Peru, Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela depending on the type of boa.
Size: some can reach up to 14 feet
Lifespan: 20-30 years
About the BoaNot every Boa is a red tail boa. Yes, there are many different boas just like there are different kinds of elephants. Ever see the ears on an Indian elephant in comparison to an African elephant? If you don’t know what to look for it is easy to confuse them. Also, most pet shops don’t make it much better calling every boa they have a red tail boa. So first,
"Boa Constrictor Constrictor”
If there ever was such a thing as a true Red-Tail Boa this was it. If you look at the tail pattern or “saddles” (usually less than 22 altogether) they look somewhat red compared to the saddles higher up on the boa. This often fades as they grow. They usually have an awesome shape like a bat!
I have never seen one bigger than 8 feet but I read that the female Boa Constrictor Constrictor can reach 12 feet and 60 pounds with the males around 8.
“Boa Constrictor Imperator”
This snake is mistakenly referred to as the Red-Tail Boa, heck, every Boa I hold at shows people call a Red-Tail Boa. Boa Constrictor Imperators are from Columbia and parts of Central America. The females will grow quickly to about 9 feet and the males get to be around 7 feet and about 30 pounds. They usually have more saddles than the boa constrictor constrictor.
Argentine Boa Constrictor
These guys are much darker in color. Usually dark brown if not black. Some have really defined pattern broken with almost white lines and this can be so beautiful.
They are much more active at climbing than the other two I have mentioned. From what I know these tend to grow the largest. 10 feet is not unusual if cared for properly. Mine is almost 9 feet now.
Now on to how I care for them…
TempermentBefore you take on a boa (I hope you are adopting one in need and not buying one) be sure your dedicated to caring for the animal. Large Boas can live to 30 years. That means 30 years of cleaning poop, feeding, watering and more. It's like having a child that will always need your care so don’t start if your not in it for the long haul. OK, I got that off my chest.
“Boa Constrictor Imperators” may be more popular than “Boa Constrictor Constrictor” because they have a reputation for being a bit tamer. I cannot confirm as to one being more aggressive than the other but every one of my boas were rescues and often come to me very ill and quite aggressive. The good news is given proper caging, heat, humidity, treated with care and proper diet they are all tame pets doing children’s shows with me…and a few naughty shows too!
Boa Constrictors are very common in the pet trade but I have always said “just because and animal is at a pet shop does not guarantee it will be a good pet’
They can deliver a nasty bite. A big bite from a big boa can require stitches. Lots of them. Just because you see me all snuggly with them does not mean they are 100% safe. Heck, snuggling with me is not 100% safe so be careful.
A baby boa hatches at about 14-22 inches and can grow up to 5 feet in length its first year. This growth will slow down in its second year but will continue to grow until it reaches its full length for its species.
ACquring your BoaIf you have the money, space and desire to raise a boa I hope you would look into adopting a boa in need before you purchase one. Drop me an e-mail and I will have my staff try to find a local rescue to help you but lets all work together to get boas in need a home before we give money to pet shops that take these beautiful creatures from the wild and force them into captivity or from a breeder that is most likley in it for the money and not the welfare of the snake.
Once you adopt your new Boa I highly recommend a vet vist. A standard check up is not to costl and taking in a stoll sample is recommended as well. If the snake was fed live food the snake may have to be de-wromed.
There are some things yu can look for yourself as well. Look over the skin for cuts or wounds possibly inflicted during a feeding or from another snake. This can happen when they keep more than one snake in a cage. It should be caged alone. If not, whatever illness its cage mates have it may have. Now look at his Vent, that’s the poop shoot! Is it clean? Look closely around the eyes and vent area for mites. Little white or reddish brown bugs moving about on the snake and under scales. These are killers to a boa if left untreated and can bring disease. Run your finger along the spine to feel for irregularities such as bumps or bends.
If you can gently open its mouth by pulling on the skin under his jaw. Look at and in its mouth for signs of “Gunk” is it clean? No cheesy build up or red spots. It should be very clean.
Check out its eyes. Do they respond to light the way your pupils do?
And don't forget to listen for any sound such as a “wheeze” or gasp. Respitory infections are common and can kill a snake if untreated. Sometimes you can get rid of it with heat and antibiotics and other times they will live with it for a very long time.
The best thing you can do is ask to bring it to a qualified reptile veterinarian. It may be worth the 50 or 60 bucks to insure your rescue gets back on the path to a healthy life.
Now on to what to do when you have it in your home…
Let it sit in its new cage for a week and leave it alone. Give it time to adjust. I know the temptation to play with your baby is powerful but you may stress him out. So I suggest you spend your free time looking at my pics in the member’s area (because you did join my site…right???) for the first 7-10 days. The 8th day is a good time to feed him a small meal. Give him a couple of days to digest and on the 10th or 11th day take him out for 10 minutes.
If you have a large snake cover his head gently with a spare towel then reach to his midsection to pick him up. Pull him out from under the towel and let him do the moving at first. Let him treat you as if your furniture. Just let him climb. Remember in the wild when something picks them up it is to eat them. You will need to get him used to the fact you mean no harm. This may happen in a day or two or a few weeks. It's up to your new baby to decide. Don’t rush or get discouraged.
Move slowly; never move your hand directly at the face. Always come from under and behind the snakes head. If you do get bit, baby snakes scare you more than they hurt, but it does hurt. If you’re holding a big guy you should have someone there to help dial 911. Just kidding about the 911 part but it is strongly advised not to handle any boa over 6 feet long alone. A bite could require stitches or if it gets you on the face or eye you will be in need of help. Yes they CAN bite but I told you that already didn’t I?
You will get to know your snake’s temperament and you can decide the pace to progress. This is only a guideline I suggest.
CagesIf your boa can reach a size of 12 feet how big do you think your cage should be? This is such an important decision to make before you get the snake. Do you have the space for such a large snake? If yes then I would suggest you give it as much space as you can. A 12-foot snake would use a 15-foot cage if you give it to him so if you can please do. I’m not the boss of you (although I should be) but if I was I would say the minimums should be a size I have called the “L” size.
I hope I get this across right if your snake is 10 feet long then a cage that is 5 wide x 5 deep would be fine. Or a cage 4 deep by 6 wide, get it? A 12-foot snake would be somewhat comfortable in an 8x4 and so on. Of course longer than the snake is best. As for height I suggest again all you can give it. Boas will climb if given the space. My 8 and 9-foot boas (especially my Argentine boa) are often found on the top shelf of their cages or climbing across tree limbs I have placed on the top of the cage. Mine are all 5 feet high. Give it some thought. At least 4 feet high. You can make it so you get him out from the front and use the top for a table for cleaning supplies or handling area.
SubstrateI went over that on my general care page. You read it right? I only recommend Dri-Dek rubber mats.
Inside the cageA hide house is a must. Two would be better if you have the space.. They need a place they can retreat to and feel safe. A dark, cave like spot, not too big, where the reptile can feel the walls while they sleep. Being able to touch all sides give them a feeling that nothing can sneak up on them while they rest. Place one on the hot side and one in the middle range. Avoid having it on the cool side. Boas will often retreat to a hide house after eating to relax and digest but if it is on the cool side it can lead to problems. A hide house can be any kind of tight enclosure in the cage a snake can go into and be completely out of sight. A cardboard box, a half log or as I use for my big boas the top half of a Kennel Carrier. It is plastic, strong and easy to disinfect. Small private areas to hide are very important if you have a small snake in a big cage.
Heating your boa cage
A proper temperature is life and death to a Boa. Don’t be negligent here. You can get hot looking at my pictures but Boas need a reliable and safe heat source.
Your boa needs to be kept at a temperature between 78-88 degrees with a basking spot up to 90 degrees. Try not to let it get hotter than 92, if it gets too hot your snake may not use it at all, which may lead to health problems
Since you HAVE a large enough cage you will make a temperature gradient allowing the Boa to move to the temperature he needs.
This is done by placing your infrared heat panel, (see my general care page) not a bulb or heat tape, but a safe heat panel on one side of your cage near a shelf to create a basking spot that reaches 90 degrees. Set your thermostat to the proper temperature and check the temperature on the farthest side of the cage. Is it at 78 degrees? Then your set.
Place several thermometers in the cage. On the ground at both sides, at top and bottom. Keep an eye on these. If you can keep this temperature gradient constant you eliminate most of the health issues your boa may have to deal with.
I am not against under cage heating, just no hot rocks please, but again do have a thermostat or rheostat to be sure it does not get too hot and be sure the snake cannot lay right on the heat source. For example, heat tape on a glass tank where the snake lays on the glass can burn the snake. Also, don't let this be your only heat source. Imagine you are in outside in the winter and all you have is a heat pad to sit on. Your bum will be warm while the rest of you shivers. I have never used under heat sources as the panels create an ambient heat that warms the cage and my cages are large enough where I get that tempertaure gradient the snake needs.
HumidityThis can be a hard one. The above-mentioned boas need humidity to reach 50-60%. First go to my general care page and read my section on humidity.
Now, if you have a large boa I would prefer you have a water bin in the cage large enough to let the boa soak. Rubbermaid storage bins do fairly well but when it comes to emptying and cleaning the weight of the water is problematic. But this large surface of water is what can create the humidity your boa needs. A couple of water bowls wouldn’t hurt to raise the humidity in the cage. I have an inexpensive steam vaporizer going 8 hours at night to bring my humidity to the level I need, you may want to look into this. There are also misting systems you can use. They even come with timers so you can set it to spray throughout the day. Of course a simple spray bottle from the plant department of Wal-Mart or Home Depot work fine as long as you do spray once or twice a day.
Now that you have the humidity you must remember that humidity can help germs breed so clean often. Wipe down those walls. I just use a sponge with a veterinary disinfectant. One wipe and I am done. Mold can cause terrible lung problems so please keep it clean.
Feeding your Boa ConstrictorFirst, go back and read my general care page about frozen/thawed food.
Boas can be fed mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rabbits. Rats are more of nutritional values but I have fed all at some time depending pn what my suppliers have in stock. Variety is always better. You would do best to offer rats and rabbits. Guinea pigs are high in fat, I use those to fatten up snakes that are under weight. But too many feedings with Guinea pigs can be bad since the hair is so think. Just like with rabbits. So alternate between appropriate sized rats and rabbits and you should not have a problem.
Boas are usually active at night. Often they like to feed at night but I feed any time of day. I don’t seem to have a problem but it is something to keep in mind if you have a problem eater. How big of a rat? Feed food that is no larger than the largest part of your boa’s body. A newborn boa would be eating a small mouse. Don’t go too large, it can make them reguritate. Sure it's funny when your friends puke, but a snake can be seriously hurt from it. Remember since they swallow food whole, teeth claws and all, they can hurt themselves when they vomit. Toenails can scratch or even cut them on the inside since vomiting is more violent than the slow way it goes down. Add the stink of a half digested rat and you may puke too. Just a reminder do not handle the boa or any snake for at least 48 hours, if not more, after eating.
Do not over feed. Young snakes should get one food item of appropriate size every 5-7 days. Once they reach 3-4 feet in length you can feed them every 10-14 days. Over feeding or under feeding can shorten the lifespan of your boa and cause other health risks.
Water for your Boa ConstrictorHopefully you read my general care page about water.
This is so easy for boas as babies. You can use Rubbermaid bins large enough for the snake to soak in. I have since dropped in large plastic car oil type bins built into the cage and added a drainage system. Non-built in bins are fine though and they are removable which make them easy to clean because you are going to change the water and clean often, every day right? Ok, now you got that down but what to do with a 20 pound boa. You will need a huge water bin. This means a lot of work to change and disinfect but you must. Water is a great place for bacteria to grow and if you don’t clean you will end up with a sick snake, really sick. You would not leave a bath full of water and then use it every day, right? So don't do that to yur snake. Also, I find all my snakes only drink fresh water. Sometimse they come down while I'm refilling it and start drinking. No one likes stagnant water. Cleaning is very important. Some people keep small water bowls like the heavy ceramic kind for dog’s drinking water and give their snakes a soak weekly in their bathtubs. Hope this helps, let me know how you do?