For the majority of boa species commonly kept in captivity, rodents are an ideal food source. Relatively cheap and readily available to purchase, or simple to breed, rodents of all sizes from day old ‘pinkie’ mice, to rabbits, form the staple diet of almost all boas in captivity. Since the prey are swallowed whole this diet, even when only offering a single type of prey animal (mice, rats etc.) contains all the nutrients a snake requires so not additional vitamin or mineral supplement is needed.
Newborn boas (neonates) can be offered a single suitably sized prey item once every 5 – 7 days. Large boas being fed on large rats or rabbits, and particularly inactive species, should only be fed every 2 – 3 weeks. Since digesting large prey takes a long time, it is generally preferable to offer smaller prey items more regularly, than very large ones. If a meal takes too long to digest, usually if the prey is very large and the temperature is a little low, it can turn rancid in the stomach.
Frozen and defrosted food has many advantages over feeding of live prey and is the best method for feeding boas where possible. These days frozen rodents are readily available in many pet shops and are inexpensive. If you don’t have a supplier locally they can also be purchased mail order, where they are normally sent by overnight courier, packed in Styrofoam and dry ice.
Apart from the convenience of feeding boas on defrost, there are also advantages to the snakes. Even a large boa can be easily injured by a cornered rodent. Mice and rats have sharp claws and teeth, and it’s not unknown for a rodent which hasn’t been eaten, and is left in an enclosure, to cause serious injury and even death to a snake. For this reason, if you have to use live prey never leave it unattended in a vivarium.
Snakes have an amazing sense of smell. On the rare occasions when snake keepers are bitten, it is very often as a feeding response. Bites of this nature tend to be more severe than defensive bites, since the snake intends to hold on!
Following some simple guidelines will mean you do not get bitten.
- Never offer prey by hand, always use forceps.
- Never put your hand into a vivarium if you’ve been handling rodents, or even if you have one defrosting in the same room.
- Don’t handle your snake for 48 hours after feeding.
Follow these simple guidelines and you can feed your snakes safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to mistake your hand for food!
The safest way to feed frozen prey items is to allow them to defrost slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Place them in a sealed plastic tub, and after 24 hours they can be removed and warmed ready for feeding. Prey can be warmed slightly under a spotlight, or on top of the warm end of the vivarium.
Be very careful to ensure that the prey item is fully thawed, but also avoid over heating which can promote bacteria. Once the rodent is at least up to room temperature offer it using forceps.
If you use a loose substrate such as bark chippings, you will want to transfer your boa to a separate enclosure for feeding, such as a large plastic tub. If you feed directly on substrate you risk some of it being ingested which can lead to compaction and digestive problems. If you use a substrate such as newspaper it is better to feed the snake in the vivarium. This will mean you don’t have the issue of having to handle a snake which has recently fed to get it back into the vivarium.