One of the questions I get asked most often is whether or not a boa is suitable as a “first snake”, and whether a beginner to keeping snakes should choose a boa or not.
The most common answer given when someone asks what is the ideal beginner snake is a colubrid, such as the corn snakes or king snakes. There is good reason for suggesting something like a corn snake to beginners, they are quite hardy, tolerant to handling, they don’t get too big, they tend to be good feeders, and they are quite beautiful as well as being inexpensive.
Boas on the other hand have a reputation for being large, potentially dangerous, and in come cases difficult for a beginner to handle… and while there are some truths to these statements they are far from being the whole truth, and I want to set the record straight!
One of the reasons I often hear people say that boas are not ideal first snakes is due to their size. While it’s true that a large adult female boa constrictor may grow to 12 feet in length, this is far from the norm amongst boas. An averagely sized common boa (boa constrictor imperator) is around 6 – 7 feet in length, and there are a number of dwarf variants which are even smaller. Also there are other boa species such as the Rosy boa, or the Kenyan sand boa which are no bigger than a corn snake.
While a large red tailed boa might be considered too much for a beginner to handle, one of the smaller species are certainly beginner friendly. In addition to that, boas tend to be slower moving and less skittish than a corn snake which can actually make them easier for a beginner to handle!
The potential danger from a boa is again related to size. A small boa is not at all dangerous, while care must be taken with any large snake. A large boa is a strong and powerful animal, and so care must always be taken when handling one. Any snake over 6 feet in length should be handled with caution, and with a second person to hand in case you need assistance.
However, the smaller species are no more dangerous than a corn snake. A small boa such as a rosy boa is not at all dangerous, and while any snake can bite they rarely do and the bite is not dangerous…
So – is a boa a suitable snake for a beginner?
A large boa constrictor – no! They really are big and powerful, and I would certainly never recommend one for a child. A strong adult who is prepared to learn the correct way to handle them, has the space and time to care for it properly, and ideally has access to an experienced snake keeper for help could happily and safely keep a boa constrictor as a first snake, but for anyone else it’s not ideal.
But one of the smaller boa species, such as a rosy boa, rubber boa, or sand boa would make an ideal first snake in my opinion. The key though, as always, is taking the time to properly research the species and what is involved in caring for a snake like this. Any snake is a big commitment, with a boa quite capable of living for 20+ years, so do your reserach before making a decision! Read everything you can about the subject, speak with other snake owners, and if possible get some experience handling a boa before you make a final decision!
Further reading: Do boa constrictors make good pets?