The boa constrictor (which encompasses a variety of localities and colour morphs) is a large snake that requires a reasonable amount of space as an adult so must be researched and carefully considered. The lifespan of those in the boa constrictor family is typically 25-30 years, so a boa constrictor is a lengthy commitment.
It is important when purchasing a boa constrictor to understand that the common name can often be confusing. There are two main species of boa constrictor referred to as “boas” and their care is very similar. The main species, boa constrictor imperator is a Columbian species and is sometimes called the Columbian Boa, Common Boa, or Columbian Red Tailed boa. This gets confusing when you consider that boa constrictor constrictor, a separate species, is known as the True Red Tailed Boa, or frequently refers to the locality, for example Guayana Red Tailed Boa constrictor.
The above is a picture of a boa constrictor constrictor - the Guayana Red Tailed Boa Constrictor.
What’s the difference? You might ask. The first difference is that boa constrictor constrictor, or “bcc” as it is shortened to commands up to 10x the price. As such unscrupulous dealers often refer to their common boas as “red tailed boas”. If you are spending the full price of a bcc it’s important to be sure you are getting what you are paying for. BCC’s also reach larger sizes than boa constrictor imperator (BCI) and are known for their striking colouration and red / cream contrast on their tail. Care (other than size) is the same for both species; but it’s important to have an idea of the potential size of your animal before purchasing so that you can be sure you’ll have enough space to house it as an adult.
The above snake is a nicuarguan T+ Sunglow boa constrictor. Whilst a BCI, this dwarf male will only reach four foot as an adult.
So now let’s talk about the BCI – the common boa. The average size is from six to ten feet in length, with females being on the upper end and males on the lower. However, there are now a wide variety of boa constrictors in captivity that fall within the same species but are from dwarf colour lines, and also from dwarf localities. It is now possible to get captive bred boas in the UK that will reach as little as three to four feet as adults – but it’s important that you are buying these from a reputable source as once again, it’s easy for unscrupulous sellers to mislead and the last thing you want to do is buy an animal labelled as a dwarf reaching four feet in length and find out as she grows that she’s going to hit nine feet! Always buy from a shop or breeder with a good reputation and that you trust.
When it comes to colour morphs there are now an amazing variety of different colour boa constrictors available in captivity; the care is considered to be the same.
Due to the massive variety in sizes it can be hard to determine exactly what size an adult boa will need for an enclosure until they have attained some adult growth. Generally speaking a 6 foot x 2 foot x 2 foot is considered adequate for most adult boas; although very large females may need larger. Dwarf boas are usually fine in a 4 foot x 2 foot x 2 foot as adults. Hatchlings or juveniles can start in much smaller enclosures – just make sure you have the space and finances to upgrade to their adult size within two to four years.
The above snake is a common boa constrictor - BCI. As a female, she will probably reach 6 to 8 foot in length, but could be bigger!
Boas originate in tropical and subtropical areas around the world, and the vivarium should be set up to reflect this. Whilst a simple enclosure can be created with just a newspaper and a few hides, we strongly recommend you try to create as natural an environment as possible. A substrate that will hold some humidity is good, such as orchid bark or a coco fibre mix, although many people keep boa constrictors successfully on aspen as well – just make sure if aspen gets wet you change it. Whilst adult boa constrictors will rarely climb due to their girth and weight, hatchlings are quite happy to explore their surroundings. Generally speaking one or two sturdy branches or logs will be adequate. Hides should be provided on both hot and cool ends, allowing the snake to thermoregulate. A large water bowl should also be provided.
Whilst it is possible to heat hatchlings with a heat mat, we strongly recommend the use of ceramics with boa constrictors. This is because, as a weighty snake, their body pressed down on the heat mat can cause heat burns or malfunction even when used with a thermostat. Ceramics can be in the form of bulbs, or in heating systems such as the AHS or Reptile Radiators. Whatever heat form you provide should be guarded and thermostatted to avoid overheating or potential contact burns. Whilst boas do not require any specialist lighting, providing a realistic photoperiod will result in a more active snake. There is also increasing evidence that UVA lighting can result in increased activity and appetite.
The above snake is a Kahl Albino Boa - but is still a boa constrictor imperator - just a different colour morph!
Your ambient temperature should be between 80-85F with a hot end of 90-95F. A night time drop can allow the enclosure to fall to 75F. Humidity should be 50-60% which can usually be obtained with a large water bowl.
Boa constrictors are usually ready feeders on defrost mice or rats from birth. As growing youngsters they can be fed every 7 to 10 days, but as adults they can be fed every 2 or even 3 weeks on a single large meal. Very large boas may need frozen guinea pigs or rabbits to provide one meal, but the majority will be fine eating adult rats. Boa constrictors are prone to obesity in captivity, from both overfeeding and lack of exercise. It’s good to provide a large enough enclosure for exercise, plenty of handling and a moderate diet as an overweight snake will have a reduced lifespan and a multitude of potential health problems.
Hatchling boa constrictors can sometimes be defensive, including making loud hissing noises to deter you from approaching. This is because they are frequently prey in the wild. As they grow, with the right care and frequent handling most adult boa constrictors turn out to be fairly docile. Never pick them up by the head or the tail and always be sure to support the body to help them feel secure whilst handling and make sure you are not handling after feeding; a snake will need several days to digest a meal.
Overall the boa constrictor is easy to care for in captivity but you must be absolutely sure that you will be able to house, handle and care for it, even if it should reach the higher end of the size scale.