Boa Constrictor Care
Boa Constrictor Care
Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor constrictor)
also known as red-tailed boa — there are 10 subspecies
Popularity: They make good house pets only for those who have a lot of time, resources and dedication to taking care of them. Those who do, really enjoy them.
Origin: The Americas and some parts of the Caribbean
Native habitat: Ranges from arid semi-deserts to tropical forests
Size: 10-12 feet and up to 60 pounds
Lifespan: 25-30 years
Appearance: The coloring of Boa constrictors can vary greatly depending on the locality; however, they are usually a brown, grey or cream base color, decorated with brown or reddish-brown “saddles” that are more evident near the tail. This is what gives ‘Boa constrictor constrictor’ the common name of red-tailed boa. The coloring is very good camouflage. Some boas are albinos. Boas have a triangular head with distinguishing stripes. One stripe runs dorsally from the snout to the back of the head; the others run from the snout to the eyes and then from the eyes to the jaw.
Diet: They eat a wide variety of prey: birds, rodents, large lizards and mammals as big as ocelots; as well as small mice, bats, and amphibians.
Activities: These nocturnal creatures are solitary animals. They sometimes bask during the day when nights are cold. They may climb trees and shrubs to forage, but they become mostly terrestrial as they age and grow.
Defense Mechanisms: Boa constrictors will strike when threatened and will bite in defense. The bite is painful from large snakes, but it is usually not dangerous unless infection sets in. Those from Central America are more aggressive and will hiss and strike multiple times to protect themselves. Those from South America have better temperaments and calm down quicker. When they are shedding, they are unpredictable because the substance that lubricates between the old skin and the new makes their eyes milky and the snake cannot see well, making it more defensive.
Misc characteristics: Boas birth live offspring rather than lay eggs. They can detect heat through cells in their lips. They have two lungs, a smaller non-functional left one, and an enlarged functional right one. This is contrary to most colubrid snakes, which have entirely lost the left lung.
Adult boas need an enclosure that is at least 75-85 percent of the snake’s overall body length. Thus, a 12′ long boa should have housing that covers no less than 9 square feet. Typically, this housing would measure 6-7 feet long by 2-3 feet wide. The housing should also be at least 3 feet tall to allow a shelf to be installed. Above all, everything needs to be safe and secure because the boa can easily force its way out of captivity.
The shelving discussed above gives the boa somewhere to climb. It also provides a thermal gradient if you place a heat lamp directed at an area of the shelf. You can use climbing branches instead of a shelf, but you must ensure they are very strong to hold the weight of the snake.
It is important for the boa to have a place to hide. Even though they are big and tough, they can feel defenseless at times. There should be at least two hides, one in a warm area and one in a cooler area.
Good substrates for the boa include newspaper, butcher’s paper, indoor/outdoor carpet, mulch, cypress and fir bark bedding, and commercially made animal cage beddings. Avoid cedar, which is toxic to them.
Temperature and Humidity
The ambient temperature in a boa’s housing must be maintained at around 85 degrees F. They also need an area for basking that is around 90 degrees F. At night, the ambient temperature can drift down to around 80, give or take a little. There are several ways to heat the housing: heat pads placed under a section of the enclosure’s base, a large rigid pig blanket, infrared bulbs, or ceramic heat emitters. Measure the temperature with two thermometers: one in the basking area, the other in the cooling area. Place them an inch over the substrate.
Keep the humidity inside the housing at about 60 percent. The exception is when the boa is shedding. It should then be kept at around 70-75 percent. Keep the housing humid by placing a large water bowl in the enclosure, misting a cypress mulch substrate, misting the snake itself, or adding a humidity box. Boas go through a 4-day pre-shed period when their eyes become cloudy. Mist the snake daily during the pre-shed period and increase this to 2-3 times a day after the eyes clear.
Provide supplemental UVB light for 10-12 hours a day for the boa. You can do this by using a fluorescent bulb designed specifically for snake enclosures. The boa needs day and night cycles to preserve their biological rhythms. Use a timer to set day/night periods. If a heat source is necessary for maintaining appropriate nighttime temperatures, don’t use regular heat lamps at night. Instead, use heat mats or strips mounted below or on the side of the tank, infrared heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, or some blend of these.
Boas are big eaters. Feed young boas a pre-killed pinkie feeder every five days. As it grows, give it an adult mouse or pre-killed fuzzy rat under 10 days old. Feed adults large rats, feeder chickens, and frozen and thawed rabbits. Do this once per week rather than let it gorge once or twice a month. If it won’t eat that often, that’s okay: Feed it every two or three weeks.
Always keep a large spill-proof bowl of chlorine-free water available for the boa. The snake will use it for drinking and soaking, which helps with shedding. Always make sure it is clean.
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