Common Boa Constrictor
Boa Constrictor Imperator (BCI)
Other species covered by this caresheet: (Common Boa Constrictor, Red Tail Boa, Columbian Boa Constrictor…)
The Boa Constrictor is one of the best known snakes, and also a snake which is quite commonly kept in captivity. There are several subspecies, with the Common Boa being Boa Constrictor Imperator. They tend to be slightly smaller, and the tail markings tend to be browner than on the Boa Constrictor Constrictor or “Red Tailed Boa”. Boa constrictors are a large snake, and it should never be forgotten that they are very strong and agile animal. However, if properly cared for and handled they can be kept and handled quite safely, and captive born specimins are often quite docile.
Growth and longevity of boa imperator
On hatching, a newborn Boa Constrictor will be approximately 15 – 20 inches in length, and can reach lengths in excess of 10 feet. In fact the longest recorded specimens measured over 13 feet, but this is the exception rather than the norm. Typically an adult female might reach 8 – 10 feet, with the males a foot or two shorter and slightly less bulky.
The life expectancy of a Boa Constrictor is unknown in the wild, but captive specimens can live for well over 20 years if cared for properly.
The Boa Constrictor is a nocturnal hunter, and in the wild will feed on lizards, birds and mammals such as bats, squirrels and opossums. In captivity such a varied diet isn’t required and Boas can be safely fed on a constant diet of rats or rabbits depending on size. Hatchlings can be started on small ‘fuzzy’ mice and the prey size increased as the snake grows, working up through small to large mice, rats and then rabbits for large boas.
The prey size should be no larger than the girth of the snake to avoid digestive problems. Young boas (up to approximately 5 foot in length) should be fed every 5 to 7 days. Larger specimens feeding on large prey items (large rats or rabbits) can be fed every 10 – 14 days. Overfeeding should be avoided as the snake’s growth rate will be unnaturally fast, and this can reduce life expectancy.
As a large snake, an adult boa obviously needs a large and sturdy enclosure. As a rough guide, an adult boa constrictor would need a vivarium at least 6′ x 2′ x 2′, but larger is obviously preferable. Adult boas don’t tend to climb much, but juveniles will appreciate some height and sturdy branches, as they tend to be quite fond of climbing.
A glass fronted wooden (melamine laminated) or plastic vivarium is ideal. Boas, like all snakes, are expert escape artists so ensure that openings are secure. The vivarium will need to be kitted out with the following:
Substrate – The floor of your vivarium needs to be lined with a substrate of some kind. Various substrates are used each with their own merits. Newspaper is a very cheap and effective substrate. Soiled paper can be replaced very quickly, but many keepers don’t like the look of paper. Loose substrates such as aspen bedding, bark or wood chippings give a more natural look but are more expensive and also more difficult to keep clean. Other options are “astroturf” or paper towels.
If loose substrate is used then care needs to be taken when feeding that the substrate cannot be ingested. This can lead to impaction in the gut and even death in extreme cases. It is recommended that when loose substrate is used the snake is removed from the vivarium for feeding in a suitable container.
Heating – In order to stay fit and healthy a boa needs to be able to thermoregulate, that means to adjust their body temperature by using their environment. Therefore the vivarium needs a thermal gradient – warmer, and cooler areas.
The ambient temperature should be around 28 – 30 C (82-90 F) with a basking area (hot spot) of around 32 – 35 C (90 – 95 F). At night this temperature can drop by a couple of degrees. The heat can be provided by heating pads, and/or incandescent or ceramic bulbs. Whichever heat source is used a thermostat is vital for ensuring that the correct temperature is maintained. At least 2 thermometers should be positioned in the enclosure, one to measure ambient temperature, and one in the basking area both positioned approximately 1” (3cm) above the floor. Ideally a third should be positioned close to the branch where the snake can bask. Heat bulbs must always be protected with a mesh guard to prevent burns.
Lighting – Boa constrictors are nocturnal so no special lighting is required. Small incandescent or flourescent bulbs can be used to light the vivarium if required. Note that incandescent (standard light bulbs) give off quite a lot of heat and so should be used only in conjunction with a thermostat and mesh guard.
Hiding places – Hollow logs, bark, cardboard boxes… whatever you choose to furnish your snake’s vivarium with you should aim to provide places for hiding and climbing. You want to provide hiding places at both the warm and cooler end of the enclosure, and ensure that branches and climbing furniture is secure and will take your snake’s weight. While rocks can be used to fashion caves, care must be taken to ensure that they are secure and won’t fall and cause injury if dislodged.
Water – A bowl of fresh water should always be provided. Replace the water every other day, or immediately if soiled. Many boas like to bath in water, especially if they are about to shed, so the water bowl should be large enough for them to coil into.
Handling your Boa Constrictor
One of the reasons that the Boa Constrictor is such a popular choice with reptile enthusiasts is that they are often very docile and handleable. While a newly acquired, or young snake may be shy and aggressive, with patience and persistance they will get used to you.
Start slowly, first placing your hand in the vivarium near the snake, then touching it, then picking it up for short periods. Always move slowly and calmly, and over time your boa will come to realise that you are not a threat. Even a young boa is quite strong, so avoid allowing it to coil around your neck. If the snake wraps around you, simply unwind it gently from the tail. Remember that a large boa can be quite a handful so for safety always have another person nearby when handling a large snake.
Breeding snakes is a very rewarding experience but is a specialist subject matter which goes beyond the scope of this boa constrictor care sheet. Check the breeding section of this website for an in depth discussion of the topic.
Newly acquired snakes should be checked by a vet. Not all vets are experienced with snakes so try and find a reptile specialist in your area. It is also a very good idea to invest in a good book on snake health which will help you to spot any potential problems early. I highly recommend “What’s Wrong With My Snake?” by Rossi and Rossi.
Other resources : A guide to the common boa