Boa Constrictor Care
This care sheet is a basic guideline for keeping Colombian Boa constrictor imperator (BCI) and is designed for beginners to the world of boas. Any of the BCI localities can be kept under the following conditions; however, some require and prefer a few adjustments. Gather all information possible before buying a boa and be sure you are committed to owning an animal that may live forty years and reach an adult size in excess of ten feet with a potential weight of sixty pounds or greater. The guidelines below also apply to other Boa constrictor subspecies, but consult a specific care sheet or breeder for their individual needs. Feel free to contact Goss Reptiles with any questions. We have experience and knowledge of several localities and subspecies of Boa constrictor, as well as other “boas”.
Scientific name: Boa constrictor
Natural habitat: Central America and South America (see BOA TAXONOMY page)
Adult size: 3'-12' (subspecies/locality dependent)
Life span: 20-40+ years
Reptile keeping experience: beginner to moderate
Below are the basics for keeping boa constrictors.
Caging- Many caging options are available such as plastic cages, rack systems, and custom enclosures. Aquariums can be used, but aquariums are designed for fish, not reptiles. Boas should be kept in enclosures designed for boas. Plastic cages have been developed in recent years. They are made from high quality plastics that keep proper humidity and are much more suitable for boas than anything else. A rack system is something to consider should you advance into boas and have many boas living with you. These racks consist of shelves that hold appropriately sized plastic containers and usually have heat incorporated. Custom enclosures, such as many of the plastic caging systems on the market, are also available. You can order specific sizes, colors, heating options, etc. Some companies build large, furniture quality cages that can be great additions to your home living area. Researching boa caging can lead to ideas for your own, homemade cage, but I suggest beginning with enclosures from a company that specializes in reptile caging. Do a quick search on any internet search engine and you will find multiple companies that specialize in boa cages and racks. Feel free to contact us for recommendations.
Young boas have simple needs. A large, beautifully decorated cage is very nice… for us. Many young boas will not appreciate such lavish surroundings. While a new boa is acclimating, simple housing is preferred. The enclosure should be prepared prior to arrival. An appropriate first cage for a young boa should be no larger than 30”L x 12”W. Most breeders use small plastic containers (14"L X 8" W X 4"H) to house babies in set-ups called “racks”. The babies feel very secure and thrive in these conditions. As a boa grows, a larger cage is required. Snakes of the genus Boa are terrestrial and floor space is more important than height. While young boas may climb, as they grow they will climb much less. Adult boas should be housed in cages no smaller than 4’W x 2’W. Larger boas appreciate more room. Taller cages can be used if the floor space requirements are met.
Boas control their body temperature through thermoregulation. The cage should have a warm side and a cool side. This is very important! Do not place the heat source in the center of the cage. Place it at one end of the cage. If he gets too warm, he will move to the cool side. If he is too cool, he will move to the warm side. This is a simple definition of thermoregulation.
A hide box/shelter will be appreciated by your new addition. A hide allows the boa to feel safe and secure. Several companies offer hides/hide boxes. You can find them at your local pet shop or online. Two hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool side, are ideal. A stressed baby boa may stay on one side of the cage if only one hide is provided. This may discourage him from thermoregulating.
Temperature/Lighting- The temperatures in a boa cage should not drop below 78◦ F on the cool side. The warm side of the enclosure should be 85◦ F with a hot spot of 90◦ F. The best presentation for a hot spot is “belly heat” (heat from under the snake). This can be accomplished using various equipment. Under tank heaters (UTHs) are the most readily available. Heat cable and heat tape are other possibilities. I recommend controlling any heating device with a proportional thermostat or rheostat. Some heat sources, especially heat tape) get too hot for most enclosures and must be controlled for the safety of the boa, as well as you and your family. If using these devices, especially on glass, be sure some ventilation is provided around the heat source. If heat builds up, it can bust the bottom of a glass tank or could cause other caging materials to melt or overheat and possibly cause a fire. Heat from above is not necessary if belly heat is provided. If a basking bulb is used, it should be placed directly over the belly heat and be sure to check the temperature of your hot spot while the bulb is on. A low wattage fluorescent bulb can be used to provide a photoperiod (day/night cycle). This light will also allow you to better observe your boa. Full spectrum bulbs with UVB may provide physical and physiological benefits to boas, but this has not been proven. UVB lighting is not needed for the proper care of boas. The vast majority of boa keepers do not use UVB lighting, but you may provide it.
Water- A water bowl is a necessity. This allows your boa a place to drink and helps provide the proper humidity for your boa. The humidity in the cage should be 60%-70%. A hygrometer will give you this measurement. The water must always be clean and should be changed multiple times each week. Some boas will defecate or urinate in the water. The water must be cleaned immediately if this occurs. Be sure to scrub and rinse the bowl. Use an anti-bacterial dish soap and hot water to clean water bowls. Be sure to rinse thoroughly. Run the bowl through a dishwasher monthly if possible. Young boas will often soak before or during a shed cycle. This aids them in shedding their skin, but occurs only when proper cage humidity is not being met. A boa who is constantly in the water usually suggests the humidity is too low, the temperature is too high, or the boa has mites.
After a shed, be sure to check the tip of the boa’s tail. Young boas will sometimes retain a small piece of shed there. If caught soon after shed, this old skin is easy to remove. You may simply be able to pull he skin off. Always be careful when attempting this, but it is not a major process. Usually a simple dip in warm water will provide sufficient assistance. This skin retention does not necessarily mean you have husbandry issues. Sometimes the skin simply tears before the shed is removed completely. If you notice retained skin on other areas of the boa, you may need to adjust your boa’s environment. Shedding issues are usually a result of insufficient humidity. A soak or two during his shed cycle will greatly help if you are experiencing low humidity issues. Place the boa in a plastic container with a secure lid. Place a ¼” of warm water in the container and place it on the cool side of the cage. This will keep the water warm and the humidity high. A couple holes in the lid or sides of the container will provide ventilation. If using this method at the end of a shed cycle, place a small towel in the container. The boa can rub on this and it will help him shed his skin. You can soak your boa for up to an hour (two hours if combating a tough shed) and can repeat as necessary. Be sure to check on him regularly as they will often defecate while soaking. The water should be changed and the container cleaned if this occurs.
Substrate- Boas can be kept on several types of substrate. Newspaper, aspen, white or brown butcher/wrapping paper, and cage carpet are the most often used substrates. When using aspen or carpet, the cage can be spot cleaned often, with a full change occurring as needed. If using paper, the entire substrate is changed each time cage cleaning occurs.
Diet/Feeding- It is very important to allow your new boa to acclimate to his new surroundings before feeding. Never attempt to feed a new boa for at least seven days after he arrives. I assure you he will be fine without food during this time. If you feed him too soon and he is still stressed from the move, he may regurgitate. If this occurs, be sure the husbandry is optimal and do not attempt to feed him again for three weeks. The most common cause of regurgitation is temperature. Be sure your cage temperatures are not too low. Never feed your boa a meal that is larger in girth than the mid-body girth of your boa. In other words, your boa should never have a bulge after eating. Especially in young boas, a meal that is too large may lead to regurgitation. Boas in captivity should be fed only quality rodents (mice or rats) and need no other food or supplementation. Be sure you buy your rodents from a good source to prevent disease and mites.
Boas two years old and younger should be fed one appropriately sized food item every 7-10 days. Do not feed them more often. Excessive feeding may lead to regurgitation, improper growth, and even premature death. Once boas near adulthood, they will thrive while being fed every 7-14 days. Some boa keepers feed adults 2-3 times each month and the boas are perfectly healthy. As long as your boa is muscular, healthy and not thin, your feeding regimen is fine.
Most boas available will be eating frozen/thawed prey. If you purchase a boa that is eating live, they will often take frozen/thawed prey that is presented from a pair of tongs. Pre-killed prey is always best, whether it is frozen/thawed or freshly killed. Live prey may harm your boa. If the boa does not kill the prey, the rodent may bite or even kill the boa. Even if the boa does constrict the prey, the rodent may bite before it is killed.
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