The boa constrictor is an interesting snake that differs from other types of non-constrictor pet snakes. Despite their size, they are relatively easy to keep as pets, and are amenable to being handled by people.
Interesting Facts About Boa Constrictors
The boa constrictor is a beautiful snake with a docile, calm temperament. Though people often think of them as one of the larger snakes on the planet, they actually are more in the medium range of sizes.
Facts About Boa Constrictor Biology
- The boa constrictor gets its name from the manner in which it captures and kills its prey. Once the snake has bitten its prey to hold on to it, it constricts its body around the animal to use its powerful body to kill the animal by cutting off its blood supply.
- The boa constrictor is one of the few animals that has the same "common name" as their scientific name, which is also boa constrictor.
- Other names for the boa constrictor are the red-tailed boa, the common boa, and "jiboia" in Latin America.
- Boa constrictors are a "primitive snake" which means they have two lungs instead of one and their skeletons still have a vestigial set of back legs and pelvic bones.
- Boa constrictors are one of the snakes with the longest lifespans. The oldest snake on record was 40 years old, but on average a boa constrictor can live about 35 years.
- There are over 50 species of snakes that constrict and these are known as "boas" but in fact, there is only one species with the name boa constrictor.
- There are between six and 11 subspecies of the boa constrictor including the Peruvian long-tailed boa, Argentine boa, Pearl Island boa and the Dominican clouded boa. Some of the subspecies are disputed by scientists because they may simply be the same snakes in different locations.
Boa Constrictor Physical Characteristics Facts
- Boa constrictors are among the largest snakes in the world and can range in length from 8 to 13 feet, although lengths over 11 feet are considered rare.
- Boa constrictors weigh between 60 to 100 pounds.
- Females are larger than males, with female snakes growing to about 10 feet long whereas males grow to about 8 feet.
- Boa constrictors tend to move in a straight line due to their size. Smaller snakes, by comparison, move forward in a zig-zag motion.
- Male boa constrictors have "pelvic spurs" which are remnants of hind legs.
- Boa constrictors use their tongues to move odor into their highly developed vomeronasal organ.
- Boa constrictors can see in the ultraviolet spectrum and perceive the body heat of animals with their "pit organs" located by their eyes.
- Boa constrictors have body colors ranging from tan and red to yellowish-green. Their bodies display distinct patterns such as diamonds, circles, and lines.
- A boa constrictor's color may change as it sheds and ages. Older snakes tend to have darker colors than younger ones.
- Albino boa constrictors are common in the pet breeding trade along with special color patterns created through breeding called "morphs."
Boa Constrictor Habitat Facts
- Boa constrictors can be found in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
- Boa constrictors can also be found in Florida and the Virgin Islands, although they are not a native species and are considered invasive.
- Boa constrictors tend to live in rainforests and prefer to live by water, although they can be found in other types of habitats.
- Boa constrictors are considered "habitat generalists" and can adapt to a variety of environments, even urban ones.
- While adult boa constrictors tend to live on or near the ground, their young are arboreal.
- Boa constrictors are considered a threatened species in their native habitat and are listed in the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).
Facts About a Boa Constrictor's Diet
- Boa constrictors in the wild typically eat amphibians, birds, bats, rodents and other small animals.
- Larger boa constrictors in the wild have been known to prey on monkeys, pigs, ocelots and even small deer.
- A boa constrictor will digest their prey over the course of about four to six days.
Boa Constrictor Mating and Birth Facts
- Unlike pythons, the boa constrictor is viviparous, which means they give birth to live snakes rather than laying eggs.
- Gestation for a boa constrictor is between five and eight months.
- When a boa constrictor gives birth, they can have up to 60 live baby snakes that can live independently of their mother right at birth.
- There have been recorded instances in the wild of female boa constrictors giving birth without mating to a male which is known as parthenogenesis.
- Females and males may mate with more than one snake during mating season, which is usually from April through August.
Boa Constrictors Make Good Pets
Boa constrictors usually have a calm nature and make good pets. There are several factors to take into consideration when choosing a boa as a pet. It is best to choose your snake from a professional breeder. You want to purchase a good, healthy snake, so look for the following signs:
- Firm skin and good muscle tone; feel the snake's body to check for signs of injury
- Well-rounded body
- Clear eyes
- Flicks tongue to assess surroundings
- Grips arm when held
Caring for a Boa Constrictor's Habitat
In order to keep your boa constrictor healthy and happy, it's important to have the right kind of habitat for them and ensure their temperature needs are met.
Habitat for a Pet Boa Constrictor
The ideal enclosure for an adult should be approximately 5 feet in height, 4 feet long and at least 3 feet deep. Boa constrictors are excellent escape artists, so the enclosure should be well-secured with no small openings. The enclosure should be durable and easy to clean. Additionl habitat considerations include:
- A suitable material, known as substrate, should line the bottom of the enclosure.
- Provide the snake with a "hide" where they can feel safe. Hides can be purchased at pet stores that are sculpted to look like caves or rocks, or you can use a simple box or plastic container with a hole cut in the side.
- Boas enjoy sturdy branches in their habitat, such as spiderwood or driftwood pieces.
- Clean the cage at least weekly to remove any urine or feces and prevent the growth of bacteria.
Common Boa Constrictor Tank Substrates
A variety of substrates will work well, but avoid using wood shavings such as pine or cedar, since they can become lodged in the digestive tract and cause health issues. Choose one of the following substrates:
- Fir bark
- Shredded aspen or cypress
- Corrugated cardboard
- Craft paper
Boa Constrictor Temperature Requirements
Snakes need external sources of heat since they cannot regulate their body temperatures. In the wild, they use the sun for this purpose. When keeping a boa constrictor as a pet, you will need to maintain a proper temperature in your snake's habitat. The snake needs to be able to move from warmer to cooler areas of the enclosure. During the day the temperature in the main part of the habitat should be between 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking area of about 95 degrees. Temperatures at night should be between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. There are several ways you can heat and maintain the temperature of the habitat. Heat the enclosure with:
- Ceramic emitters
- Heat lamps
- Heating pads
Heat lamps and ceramic elements can be mounted to the top of the enclosure to direct heat downward. Heat tape or adhesive pads can be placed on the underside of the glass enclosure.
Boa Constrictors Need Humidity
In addition to their temperature requirements, you need to maintain the right level of humidity in their aquarium. An ideal range is 60 to 75% which can be achieved with misters and a bowl of water in the tank. Your bowl should be one that is too heavy for the snake to knock over and ideally large enough for the snake to move its body through to cool off. Water should be cleaned and replaced often though as boas have a tendency to urinate in their water bowls.
Boa Constrictors Do Not Need UV Light
Boa constrictors do not require UV (ultraviolet) light to maintain their health, but you can use a light if you want. If you choose to use light, use full-spectrum lighting or a low-watt incandescent bulb during the day. Place the lighting in a way that the snake does not come into direct contact with the bulb. Snakes can be seriously burned if lights are placed incorrectly.
What to Feed a Boa Constrictor
Boa constrictors are carnivores and eat live prey. Typical food choices for a pet boa constrictor are mice, rats, chicks, and even small rabbits. Pet boa constrictors can eat pre-killed prey such as rats and mice. A good rule of thumb to remember when feeding is that the prey should be no wider than the widest part of the snake's body. Always provide your boa with a clean bowl of water.
How Often to Feed a Boa Constrictor
Boa constrictors can be fed once a week to a couple of times per month, depending on the age of the snake. Baby boa constrictors grow faster than adults, so they require more frequent feedings.
- Snakes up to a year old should eat every seven to 10 days, and then every two weeks until they reach their second year.
- After this, females can eat every three weeks and males, every two weeks.
- Once they reach age three, you can move to a final feeding schedule of every three or four weeks for a female and every two to three weeks for a male.
Feeding a Boa Constrictor Safely
It's best to use reptile tongs to feed your boa constrictor, as you do not want the snake to confuse your hands with the prey. This can lead to bites as the snake's vision is weak and it may confuse the heat coming from your body with the prey and bite you by accident. It's also very important to wash your hands thoroughly after handling their food as the scent can confuse them as well.
Handling a Boa Constrictor
While boa constrictors are not dangerous to adult humans, they can bite if they feel stressed or startled or during shedding season when they are irritable. Though they are a non-venomous snake, the bite can still be quite painful. Care should be taken to not allow children to handle boa constrictors as there is a risk of the snake getting around a child's neck and constricting if the snake feels stressed and uncomfortable. It's also a good reason to never let a boa constrictor wrap around an adult body as well. You should also avoid handling a boa constrictor after it has had a meal as there's a chance it will regurgitate its meal.
Veterinary Care for a Boa Constrictor
A new pet boa constrictor should go to the veterinarian for an initial examination, then follow up with routine visits to maintain its health. Boa constrictors can become infested with parasites that could eventually be fatal. Some infestations can also be transmitted to humans, so it is important to always cleanse your hands after handling your pet or its habitat. Boa constrictors are also susceptible to respiratory conditions and skin diseases. Boa constrictors can live 20 to 30 years in the wild, so with proper care and maintenance your boa can lead a long, healthy life.
Legality of Boa Constrictor Ownership
Boa constrictors are classified as exotic pets, and there are laws that vary from state-to-state regarding the ownership of exotic animals. For example, Florida requires boa constrictor owners to have a permit, while Pennsylvania has no specific laws regarding reptiles. Each state has different laws, so before getting a boa constrictor to keep as a pet, you should contact your local game commission or city or county animal control department to find out the legal aspects of ownership. Certain large constrictor snakes are prohibited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacey Act in Florida, but the boa constrictor was not included in the 2015 law.
Boa Constrictors Are Fascinating Pet Snakes
Boa constrictors are definitely on the larger side when it comes to pet snakes, but they are generally calm and docile. They make a great pet for an owner capable of handling a snake of their size and able to provide a large enough habitat with proper temperature and humidity controls.