A Complete Guide to Boa Constrictor Care and Breeding

The Boa constrictor is, without doubt, one of the most widespread snake species being kept by reptile lovers today. They are safe to keep and low maintenance pets. Hobbyist and commercial herpetoculturists are now breeding this once rare and exotic pet in large numbers to fill in the demand gap.

When most people think of the boa constrictor as a pet, they might imagine a massive, terrifying predator that will squeeze them to death. While it’s true that boas can grow quite large, they’re surprisingly friendly, docile, and non-venomous snakes, which are relatively easy to keep and care for. This makes them a perfect beginner snake pet.

Have you ever wanted to have a snake as a pet?

Or perhaps you do have boa pets and would like to know more about boa constrictor care and boa constrictor breeding? Well, this ultimate guide is specially curated for you.

Here, we will have a closer look at the natural history of Boa constrictor constrictor – or true red tail boas – and Boa constrictor imperator, their captive care, housing, feeding, breeding, health issues and raising healthy young boas. We shall also explore their fascinating types and color morphs and everything else you might need to know about these fantastic reptile pets.

1.1) What Are Boa Constrictors?

Boa constrictors are nocturnal, semi-arboreal species of constricting snakes indigenous to the tropical regions of South and Central America – extending from Argentina in South America to the southern parts of Mexico in North America. The name constrictor comes from their method of killing their prey. They usually firmly squeeze their prey until they die from restricted blood flow.

Hog Island Boa
Hog Island Boa are a dwarf species and make excellent pets!

The boa constrictors can be identified by:

· Their habitat

These snakes live exclusively in high-temperature tropical areas and can reside in woodlands, rainforest, and semi-arid regions.

· Their Size

Normally, Boa constrictors can grow massively up to 10 feet or even longer. Captive boas have been found to become bigger than their wild counterparts, with females being larger than the male boas.

· Their Markings

Wild or True Boa restrictors have reddish-brown saddles along their bodies, which grow larger and rounder around the tail, giving an impression of a red tail.
Unlike common misconceptions, boa restrictors do not grow large enough to eat humans. They only hunt small mammal, birds, and lizards.

1.2) Boa Constrictor Subspecies

The Boa Constrictor has nine majorly accepted subspecies.

· Boa Constrictor Constrictor, commonly known as Boa c. constrictor or “True” Red-Tailed Boa
· Boa Constrictor Imperator (B.c. imperator)
· Boa c. amarali
· B.c longicauda
· B.c occidentalis
· B.c nebulosus or nebulosa
· B.c ortonii
· B.c orophias
· B.c sabogae

Boa constrictors can further be identified with the localities where they’re most populated. Ideally, localities or locales are geographically-unique subclasses of the Boa subspecies that vary enough genetically to be acknowledged as being different. Today, most of the captive Boas are mutts of different subspecies and localities.

1.3) Boa Constrictor Localities

These subspecies are usually further identified by the countries/nations that they populate and are accepted by the majority of the reptile community – the localities. Due to their native localities, they will often have unique traits such as the number of scales and saddle patches that can help us identify them.

However, it’s important to note that since most of these countries border each other, you’ll find Boa intergrades that results from the interbreeding between subspecies and localities. Efforts are being made to differentiate different subspecies with their localities, hence allowing herpers and taxonomists to give them labels that are as accurate as possible.

Here are a few locales where boa constrictors are found:

1. Boa Constrictor Constrictor (True Red-tail Boa)

· Brazil: Belem, North Brazil
· Colombia: Leticia
· Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana: (Essequibo, Wekemon Island
· Suriname: Pokigron
· Peru: Iquitos, Pucallpa
· Trinidad, Tobago, Venezuela

2. Boa Constrictor Imperator (The Common Boa)

· Belize: Coco Plum Cay, Ambergis Cay, Crawl Cay, Wee Wee Cay, Cay Caulker
· Costa Rica: Western.Eastern
· El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala: Hog Island (Cayos Cochinos), Roatan Island, Guanaja, Utila
· Mexico: Tres Marias Islands, Cancun, Sonoran Desert, Yocatan Peninsula, Tarahumara Mountain
· Nicaragua: Corn Islan (Isla de Maize)
· Venezuela, Panama (northwest)

3. Boa Constrictor Amarali (Short-tailed Boa)

· South Brazil: Paulo
· Southeast Bolivia

4. Boa constrictor longicauda (Long-tailed Boa)

· Peru (Tumbes Area, Northwest)

5. Boa constrictor nebulosus (Clouded Boa)

· Dominica

6. Boa constrictor occidentalis (Argentine Boa)

· Bolivia
· Paraguay
· Argentina

7. Boa constrictor orophias (St. Lucian Boa)

· St. Lucia

8. Boa constrictor ortonii (Orton’s Boa)

· Northwestern Peru

9. Boa constrictor sabogae (Panamanian Island Boa)

· Pearl Islands
· Coiba Islands
· Taboquilla
· Taboga Island

1.4) Boa Constrictor Imperator vs. True Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor

The B.C. Constrictor and B.C Imperator are some of the commonly found, well-known, and popular kept Boa subspecies due to their placid temperament and ease to tame down. They are viviparous, meaning that their young ones are dependent on their mothers for nutrients transfer through the placenta, just like most mammals.

But, really, how different are the BBCs and BCIs? Are they easily identifiable? Well, let’s dive in and look at their unique features and how you can recognize them if you’re looking to keep one.

The Boa C. constrictor (BCC or “True” Red-Tailed Boa)

The true red-tailed boa, commonly traded as the BCC, is a big, thick, snake that has bright red-patterns on its tail. Often misconceived as dangerous, the B.C constrictor is, in fact, a very timid and docile boa, ideal as beginner pet. They can grow up to 12 feet (3.7m) long, but most of them will average at 7-10 feet (2.1-3m), especially when they grow naturally and are fed with moderation. Typically, female Boa constrictors are usually larger than males.

The B.C Constrictor has bat-shaped saddle patches, although some localities have been found to have more of hourglass-shaped patterns, and a brown/dark brown tail instead of a red tail. As earlier stated, the B.c constrictor is native of South America and can be commonly found in the Amazon rainforest. Some of its localities include Brazil, Belem, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname. Trinidad, Venezuela, Peru, amongst others.

Nicaraguan Boa Video

Argentine Boa Video

Interesting Facts about True Red Tail Boas

· They live in a broad range of environments, from tropical rain forests to arid environments.

· When they first became popular, the true red-tail boas were thought to be mean and aggressive since the majority were wild-caught. However, today’s most available red tail boas are captive bred and are much more docile.

· Central America Boas are more irascible than their South American counterparts. They’ll often hiss loudly and strike continually when agitated.

· The female true red tail boas deliver live young ones.

· They are quite common in captivity.

· Their eyes will turn milky blue/grey, and their skin will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen when they’re getting ready to shed.

· They become irritable when shedding.

· In captivity, their longevity runs from 20-30 years. They’ve been recorded to age up to 40 years.

· They are carnivorous.

· They reach adult size in 3-5 years under ideal conditions.

A Central American boa is another dwarf species.
A Central American boa is another dwarf species.

Boa C. Imperator (BCIs/Common Boa/ Central American Boa)

The Boa Imperator or the BCI is considered to be the most docile Boa and one of the most common snakes a reptile enthusiast can have. It makes an excellent beginner pet.

However, the B.C imperator can grow very large, making them a little bit more challenging to handle and to house than other “easy-to-keep” pet snakes.

On the brighter side, the common boa is reasonably hardy and will not fall ill easily. They have an immediate feeding response and are often inexpensive, selling for as little as $75 each, although morphs usually are more expensive. Occurring in Central America, Parts of South America and the south of Mexico, their localities include:

· Belize: Coco Plum Cay, Ambergis Cay, Crawl Cay, Wee Wee Cay, Cay Caulker
· Costa Rica: Western.Eastern
· El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala: Hog Island (Cayos Cochinos), Roatan Island, Guanaja, Utila
· Mexico: Tres Marias Islands, Cancun, Sonoran Desert, Yucatan Peninsula, Tarahumara Mountain
· Nicaragua: Corn Islan (Isla de Maize)
· Venezuela, Panama (northwest)

The B.C Imperator is commonly available in the US and is the most popular for breeding due to its unique morphs that deviate significantly from the wild type. The B.C imperator has several trade nicknames, including:

· Colombian Boa
· Central American Boa
· Common Boa
· Island Boa
· Northern Boa
· Boa Constrictor

Fun Facts about Boa imperator

· The have parthenogenesis traits in which the young ones receive 100 percent of their genes from the mother but are not necessarily her clones.
· Taxonomists are not sure to classify B.C imperator as a distinct species or not.
· BCIs have fewer dorsal and anal scales that the BCCs
· Venezuelan boa imperators share a habitat with the B.C constrictors and have interbred, leading to a distinct mix of the two.

Hog Island Boa Video

Hog Island Boa Constrictor Care (Part 2)

1.5) How to Tell the Difference between the Common Boa and True Red-Tailed Boa

Both the common and true red-tail boas are both equally fascinating boa constrictors and make perfect pets. However, when looking for a specific snake pet online, the B.C constrictor and B.C Imperator can be somewhat confusing.

Some shops will mislabel the two subspecies either out of ignorance or as a marketing gimmick to fetch more for a lesser expensive species. It is, therefore, imperative to know how to identify either of these common pet snakes.

So, what are some of the indicators that you can watch out for to tell the difference?

· Color

Typically a true red-tail Boa (B.C Constrictor) tends to have a much lighter background than the common (B.C imperator) boas. The true red-tail boas are either cream in color, off-white or pale grey while the common boas are usually light brown or tan.

· Size

Unlike common boas, the red tail boas are significantly bigger, often attaining up to 9-10 feet long in captivity. On the other hand, common boas will grow up to 6-8 feet long. The common boas, unlike the red tail boas, are a little shorter and slimmer.

· Dorsal Markings

Both true red-tail and common boas have reddish-brown, saddle-shaped markings along their backs. However, these markings are distinct in common boas, which tend to be smoother and more rounded. True red-tailed boas have fewer saddles that have a little notch and a small point on each side.

· Tail Markings

While both the common and true-red tail boas often tend to have larger saddles on their tails that tend to appear red in their natural coloration, the markings on the common boas are a much darker red, similar to the mahogany brown color. True red-tailed boas, on the other hand, have more vivid red tails, hence their name.

· Head Shape

Both Juvenile boas tend to have similar head shapes. However, after one year, true-red boas’ heads start becoming more prolonged and their snouts more pointed, unlike the common boas. The true red-tail boas also have thinner necks, making their heads to appear larger.

1.6) Popular Boa Constrictor Morphs

Morphs are the genetic color and pattern variations in reptiles that are uniquely different from how the animal typically looks in the wild. B.C. imperator is the only subspecies available in “designer” morphs. If the color is an essential factor in your buying decision, be sure to ask the breeder for the pictures of the parents or those of the juvenile’s older siblings from previous pairings. Some of the commonly available morphs include:

· Hypo Boas: They contain less melanin; their body markings are, therefore, both lighter in color than in their natural, standard’ counterparts.
· Albino Boas: They are amelanistic, that is, these morphs completely lack melanin.
· Anery Boas: These morphs lack the red coloration and are usually silver in color with dark-grey saddle markings
· Snow Boas: These morphs contain both the anery and albino genes. They have a pale cream coloration, with whitish markings. However, as they age, they may tend to become yellowish.
· Ghost Boas: These morphs are a crossbreed of the anery and hypo morphs. They are almost like the anery morphs but are lighter in color.

Nicaragua boa care
Nicaragua boas are a dwarf species rarely exceeding three feet in length. This makes them easily managed pets.

1.7) Are Boa Constrictors Dangerous As Pets?

No! Boa constrictors are actually excellent, mellow giants that are fun ajnd fulfilling to own pets. Since they have a long lifespan of 20-30 years when well taken care of, they will grow with you for days to come.

Unlike common misconceptions, boa constrictors are non-venomous and don’t need to bite their prey to kill them. Instead, they strike their prey to immobilize them and constrict their bodies around the prey to kill. Unlike other snake species, all boas don’t have fangs and instead have small hooked teeth, which they only use to grab and restrain their prey when constricting.

While not common, if a boa constrictor bit you, you wouldn’t become sick, and the bite is not fatal. They are much more placid and will only attack a human if severely aggravated. They are, therefore, safer to keep as pets than other venomous snakes.

The boa constrictors have a docile temperament hence their popularity as pets among herpers. They enjoy to be handled and love sitting with you to share your body warmth. They will only act aggressively when frightened, when sick or when shedding skin and immediately after eating. It is recommended that you do not handle your pet boa within 48 hours after a meal since during this time, they are usually in their eating mode and may mistake you for prey.

If you’ve recently bought a young boa, you might find it somewhat flighty, until it gradually bond and get used to you. It will gradually grow calmer with repeated handling sessions.

What About The Risk Of Constriction?

Well, the chances of a Boa mistakenly constricting you are very slim. As with most snakes, boas only tend to hunt prey that is a third smaller than their body and will go for smaller prey such as birds, mice, and rabbits.

Therefore, logically, a human would be far too big for prey. According to a Humane Society Report, there have been cases of pythons constricting young children to death. If you have a giant snake, it is important to restrict their contact with children and other pets. Do not leave them to free-roam in the house.

A large female Colombian boa constrictor.
A large female Colombian boa constrictor.

1.8) Important Tips before Buying You Pet Boa Constrictor

The most advisable way to get a pet boa is to buy from a reputable, professional breeder. This ensures that you get a healthy, captive-bred boa that is more likely to be docile than a wild-caught, imported boa.

While you can also get a “used” boa from a local reptile rescue center or through classifieds, it presents dangers since it might be less tame. If you’re a beginner snake herper, it is in your best interest to start with a young boa that is easier to house, and less expensive.

You can tell if the young boa is healthy if:

· It’s alert
· Its eyes are bright and clear (except when shedding)
· The nostrils are clear
· It is alert and is flicking its tongue when handled.
· It’s less defensive when handled.
· Has a smooth, firm and muscular body
· It grips firmly around your arm/hand.
· It has no scars, lumps or open wounds
· It is free of mites and ticks
· It has clear vents that are flush to the skin
· It has no loose folds of skin

Also, it is crucial to get as much bio data about the snake as possible. Some of the information that you should ask for should include:

· Morph
· Sex
· Feeding habits including prey size, mice or rats, and live or frozen-thawed prey.
· Birthdate
· Temperament
· Last feed
· Last shed date
· Previous shed issues

Male Hog Island Boa
A beautifully colored male Hog Island boa.

1.9) Boa Constrictor care: How to Set Up a Boa Constrictor Vivarium

Boa constrictors are safe to keep, and low-maintenance pets that tolerate regular handling. If you’ve decided to become a boa constrictor parent, your new pet will require somewhere to live in.

The enclosure needs to be functional and efficient to maintain the proper temperature and humidity. Since the boas are solitary animals, it is best to house each boa constrictor individually, except during breeding attempts.

Housing considerations should go beyond the little, cute 2-feet hatchling. Due to its high appetite, that juvenile boa will soon grow up to 4-5 feet within a year and 6-10 feet when it becomes an adult. It is, therefore, imperative to have an enclosure, commonly referred to as a vivarium, which fits the size of your snake. Let’s see how you can create a perfect home for your pet that will be closer to its natural habitat.

The Tank

The tank is the first and the most important consideration for a beginner snake keeper. Since boas are medium-large, semi-arboreal snakes, they usually require enclosures that give them ample floor space and adequate height for good health and well-being.

Based on the snake length, you can go for enclosures measuring:

· Baby boas (shorter than 2 feet) – 2 ft. L x 1.5 ft. W x 1 ft. H
· Juvenile (2- 5 ft.) – 4 ft. L x 2 ft. W x 2 ft. H
· Adult (6-8 ft.) – 6 ft. L x 3 ft. W x 3 ft. H
· Large Adult ( above 8 ft. long) – 8 ft. L x 4 ft. W x 4 ft. H

If you’re looking to make your enclosure, follow the method below to get your dimensions right.

Snake length x half-snake length x half-snake length = length x width x height.

This means that the minimum length of your enclosure should be equal to the snake length, and the width and height of the enclosure should measure half the snake length. However, if you have enough space, a more extensive and taller tank is even better for your snake pet. This will allow your pet to stretch out to its full length and exercise without much trouble. The enclosure should also be large enough to create a suitable temperature gradient for your pet boa to thermoregulate.

Sometimes, it might be more economical to have your baby boa in a full adult-sized enclosure as this might make more sense financially. If you decide to go this way, be sure to provide enough hides/cover and enough burrowable substrate.
Types of Boa Cages

· Glass

While glass cages are expensive, heavy, not durable, and can present some trouble when providing consistent temperature and humidity to your pet, they are incredibly good since they discourage mold growth in the humid environment and also encourage the natural drying cycle in the enclosure. They are also beautiful and easy to clean.

· Plastic/PVC

Plastic is highly versatile and can be cost-effective if used for a DIY enclosure.

· Wood/Melamine

They are the go-to materials if you’re looking to building your enclosure since they are easy to source, fairly inexpensive, and relatively lightweight. However, melamine does not do well in humid conditions and may tend to crumble or encourage moss growth that can be dangerous to your boa’s health. If you choose to build your enclosure with wood, be sure to coat it with a waterproof sealant to keep it away from humidity. However, beware of sealants with volatile organic compounds as they may pose adverse health risks to your boa.

Also, since boas are strong creatures, ensure that you choose a secure tank made of strong materials.

Heating and Lighting

Boa constrictors are tropical reptiles. They thrive best in warm environments. Your pet snake can easily fall ill if placed in a cold vivarium. To maintain the right temperature, you can use:

· A ceramic heat emitter
· An under cage heating mat or heat tape
· Basking light

Most experienced herpers prefer under-cage heaters since they give a consistent heat gradient. Place the heater on one end of the enclosure to create a warm and cold heat gradient that will allow your pet boa to thermoregulate. The temperature gradient should be maintained at 90-95 degrees on the warmer end and 80 degrees on the cooler end.

Lighting in the enclosure is entirely optional. Importantly, boas do not need any special lighting, such as UVA or UVB, as they receive all their nutrients from their feed.

Water and Humidity

Boa constrictors need water to drink and bathe. You must include a big-enough bowl of water in the vivarium where the boa can drink and bathe in without feeling restricted.

Having water in the vivarium also ensures that the enclosure is adequately (60-75%) humid for proper shedding. To increase humidity in the vivarium, you can:

· Relocate the vivarium to a warmer, less drafty place
· Add a second water bowl or use a larger bowl.
· Use a moister substrate such as cypress mulch
· Frequently spray the substrate with water. Care should be taken not to leave the substrate too wet as this could cause scale rot.

The Substrate

What materials can you use to line the bottom of the tank? Well, there are several options ranging from newspapers, aspen shavings, coconut shavings, cypress mulch, paper fiber, and pet beddings/carpet. Be sure to go for a substrate that is comfortable to your pet, one that helps maintain the humidity levels in your vivarium, and one that is easy to clean.

Accessories

Adding accessories to the vivarium will make it highly attractive and make the pet’s life more comfortable by mimicking their natural environment. They also provide perfect spots to climb, explore, and hunt, hence reducing chances for snake obesity, which is becoming a common problem in captive boas.

A snake hide is one of the most important accessories to include in the vivarium. It can be a plastic pot, ceramic plant pot, cardboard box, or even a large-enough hollow log. Other accessories that you can also buy include:

· Rocks
· Tank decorations such as drops and sculptures
· Real or artificial tree branches
· Artificial plants and vines

Maintenance

Constrictor boas will often urinate and defecate in the vivarium, and therefore it’s essential to clean it spotclean regularly. Change the substrate frequently and disinfect the tank, the snake hides, and the decorations once in a while. Check out this article on reptile odor control. Air purifiers are a smart investment for reptile rooms.

Argentine Boa
A very young Argentine boa. These get big.

1.10) Feeding Your Boa Constrictors

Now that your pet has a place to live, you’ll now need to figure out what they’ll be feeding on. Let’s take a sneak peek and what, when, and how to feed your pet friends.

What and When Do Boa Constrictors Eat?

Boas are carnivores and will only feed on other animals. In their natural habitats, they can eat just about anything they can easily catch and swallow – from lizards, mongoose, iguanas, rats, bats, birds, to rabbits and other small animals.

If you’ve just brought home a juvenile boa, give it a few days to acclimatize to its new home and the start it off with a small mouse. The sex, age, and size of your constrictor boa will determine how frequently to feed it.

A well-balanced boa diet should consist of appropriately sized frozen rodents, which has been thawed/warmed to slightly above room temperature. Feeding your boa with live rodents is not advised as the rodents can harm your pet and would also potentially make them more aggressive.

Other meal options can include rabbits, duck, hamsters, quail, guinea pigs, or even blanched chicken for large boas. These feeds can be sourced from local pet stores, local breeders, or at reptile expos. You don’t have to feed your boas with additional supplements or vitamins as they already get them from the feeds.

Here are a few things to remember:

· Feed juveniles once a week and adult boa every one or two weeks.
· You can feed your pet in a separate tank to avoid accidental feeding-response bite where the snake associates your hand or vivarium being opened with feeding.
· Avoid handling your pet for 48 hours after feeding since this can cause regurgitation of food.

1.11) Breeding Your Boa Constrictors

Breeding the boa constrictor can be exhilarating and can bring great excitement to the keeping of this fantastic reptile. The boas are live-bearing snakes. Here are a few easy-to-follow steps that will see you breed your boas successfully.

i. Before you start the breeding process, choose healthy, and standard-sized female boa that is at least three years old. You’ll also need a male that is at least 18 months old, and at least 4 feet long that exhibits good muscle tone.

ii. To induce the breeding cycle, shift their vivarium temperature to mimic their seasonal breeding season. First, you’ll need to introduce a cooling period by maintain the vivarium temperature between 75-85 degrees (F) from June until October and gradually lowering it to between 75 and 85 degrees (F) in October.

iii. From October to March, introduce males to the female’s vivarium and maintain the temperatures at 88 degrees (F) to allow for adequately sized follicles and to prevent respiratory infections. During this time, continue feeding the boas with smaller, less frequent meals. Be sure to maintain the necessary cleaning procedures.

iv. For best breeding success, do not separate the male and the female during the entire breeding season.

v. Beginning from March through May, start raising their enclosure temperatures gradually. The male can be removed from the enclosure in May.

vi. During the breeding season, the female will ovulate and become gravid. She can also ovulate after the male boa has been removed from the enclosure. Some tell-tale signs of a gravid female include:

· an increase in girth,
· refusal to all feeding attempts,
· She might even coil herself on the warmer sides of the enclosure and stay there for several days.
· After ovulation, she will have 15-20 days of shedding cycles, which is a good indicator that she’ll have a litter of boas soon.

vii. After 4 months, a litter of baby boa will be born enclosed in amniotic sacks. An average little can have between 16-50 babies.

viii. Separate the baby boas and place them in a 90 degree (F) warm and humid enclosure with sufficient drinking water.

ix. After 10 days, the baby boas will start to shed, after which it’s advisable to place them in separate enclosures.

x. You can start feeding the babies with one small mouse, 2 weeks after their birth.

1.12) Common Health Issues With Boa Constrictors

Routine veterinary screening for newly acquired snake pets is essential. Your pet boa can develop health issues that can be caused by unclean, cold, and damp habitats. If you notice any of the symptoms below on your pet, consult your veterinarian.

· Ticks and mites
· Stomatitis: Symptoms are white, cheese substance in the mouth, loss of teeth and poor appetite. Also known as mouth rot.
· Respiratory disease: Evidenced by labored breathing and mucus in nostrils and mouth.
· Dermatitis: Symptoms are rapid shedding and blisters. Also known as scale rot.
· Inclusion body disease (IBD). This is a fatal retrovirus like HIV in humans.

Conclusion

There you have it! A complete guide to boa constrictor care and breeding! If you have the love and passion for snakes and adequate time, resources, and dedication, boa constrictors are rewarding reptiles to keep as pets. They are easy to take care of and to maintain and are usually remarkably tame, making them a highly desirable pet. Find a reputable and professional breeder and get a captive boa morph of your choice to spice up your life.

A Complete Guide to Boa Constrictor Care and Breeding

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