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Boa Care Sheet provided by Reptifiles

Boa (Boa spp.)

Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Boas are a semi-arboreal species of constricting snake native to Central and South America. Boas are also known as “red-tailed boas” or “boa constrictors,” but these names only apply to just one of the 8 subspecies of Boa, Boa constrictor constrictor. The most common boa in the U.S. pet trade is the Central American Boa, Boa imperator.

Boas are nocturnal, which means that they are most active at night. Like other snakes, they are carnivores, and spend most of their waking hours hunting for prey such as birds and small mammals.

Depending on subspecies, boas can grow between 5-8’ long on average, but females tend to be much larger than males and in some cases can be as long as 10-12’. Boas can live up to 40 years in captivity.

 

Shopping List

  • 4’x2’x4’ Zen Habitats Reptile Enclosure with PVC Panels
  • 100w PAR38 halogen flood bulb, white light (x2)
  • 5” domed heat lamp with a ceramic socket (x2)
  • plug-in lamp dimmers (x2)
  • digital thermometer + hygrometer
  • temperature gun
  • 22” desert T5 HO fluorescent UVB bulb
  • 24” T5 HO reflective fixture
  • light timer
  • substrate (bedding)
  • 2+ hides/caves
  • climbing branches
  • other decorations: plants, cork logs, rocks, etc.
  • large water bowl
  • 12” soft-tipped feeding tweezers

 

Keep reading for specifics on the supplies that you will need!

 

Terrarium Size

Due to their semi-arboreal nature, boas need an enclosure that is tall enough to allow them to climb, but also wide enough to give them enough space to comfortably spend time on the floor as desired. A 4-6’ long boa should be housed in no smaller than a 4’x2’x4’ enclosure, such as the Zen Habitats 4’x2’x4’ Reptile Enclosure. Larger boas will need an enclosure that is proportionately larger — ideally, the length and height of the terrarium should be equal to or greater than the length of the snake, with the width approximately half of the snake’s length.

Keep in mind that larger is always better! There is a common myth that snakes prefer smaller spaces, but this is not true and promotes obesity as well as decreases the snake’s overall quality of life. Your boa needs enough space to stretch out to its full length — imagine if you had to spend your whole life in a room so small that you couldn’t even stretch!

It's best to choose a front-opening enclosure without a screen top, as these help maintain humidity and make accessing the snake much easier (and less startling for the snake).

Multiple boas should never be housed together.

 

Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity

Lighting

Boas need light in their enclosure to regulate their day/night cycle and promote good mental health. There is a common misconception that snakes do not “need” UVB and therefore shouldn’t have access to it. However, there is mounting scientific evidence that UVB is, in fact, beneficial, and should be used. Use an Arcadia or Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO UVB bulb in a reflective fixture, long enough to cover about 1/2 of the enclosure.

The Arcadia Lighting Guide is a useful tool to make sure you install your UVB bulb correctly. It’s also highly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure the UVB that your snake is getting in its enclosure.

Temperatures

Because boas are reptiles, they are cold-blooded, and that means they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed.

  • Basking area temperature: 90-95°F
  • Cool side temperature: 72-80°F

Use a heat lamp to provide warmth for your boa. Adult boas are likely to benefit from the use of two heat lamps to create a larger basking area. We recommend using a heat bulb like the 100w Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot or 90w PAR38 Philips Halogen Flood Bulb in a dome heat lamp. It’s best to use a dimmable lamp or to plug the lamp into a dimmer so that you can dial down the temperature if needed.

The most accurate way to keep track of your terrarium temperature gradient is to use a temperature gun. They’re super reliable and essential for monitoring surface temperature, which is the temperature that your boa will be feeling on the ground.

Humidity

Boas need humid air inside their terrarium in order to keep their lungs healthy and to be able to shed their skin safely. To be specific, they need 55-75% ambient humidity. A large water bowl will help, but daily misting with distilled water in a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra Mister will be needed. It also helps to have a “humid hide” lined with damp sphagnum moss to act as the most humid place in the enclosure. This sphagnum will need to be replaced about once a month.

If that is not enough, we recommend mixing water into the substrate as needed. The air should be allowed to dry out between treatments. You can keep track of humidity levels with a digital hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer Humidity Gauge. Please note that the thermometer function on this device does not replace the need for the temperature gun.

 

Substrate (Bedding) Options

  • Reptichip (coconut husk)
  • Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding
  • DIY naturalistic mix: 60% organic topsoil, 40% peat moss

Thick substrate holds humidity better than a thin layer does, and it’s better for your snake’s joint health, too. Aim for at least 2” of substrate. For best results, layer your substrate with dry leaves and sphagnum moss on top. Boas love leaf litter!

Spot clean to remove poo and urine as necessary, replacing any substrate that you remove. Substrate should be totally replaced every 3-6 months, depending on terrarium size and your snake’s habits.

 

Feeding Your Boa

Boas are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat whole animals in order to get the nutrition their bodies need. Here is a rough chart of how often you should be feeding your boa, based on snake age. As a general rule, a meal should weigh no more than 10% of your boa’s weight, or no larger than the widest part of the snake’s body.

Newborn-6 months: every 10-12 days

  • 6-12 months: every 10-12 days
  • 12-18 months: every 12-14 days
  • 18-24 months: every 2-3 weeks
  • 2-2.5 years: every 2-3 weeks
  • 5-3 years: every 3-4 weeks
  • 3-4 years: every 4-6 weeks
  • 4+ years: every 4-8 weeks

Always feed your snake inside its enclosure, not outside. Contrary to the myth, feeding inside does not make snakes more aggressive. Also, use feeding tweezers to offer the rat, not your hand.

You can add variety to your boa’s diet by also offering rats, mice, chicks, quail, and Reptilinks. Do not offer live prey if it can be avoided. Rodents are notorious for injuring captive snakes, sometimes fatally. Instead, buy frozen prey and thaw to 100°F internal temperature in warm water.

Supplements

In theory, whole animals already contain all the calcium and vitamins that your boa needs to be healthy. However, the truth is that captive bred feeders sometimes have deficiencies. You can remedy this by occasionally dusting the feeder with calcium and multivitamin powder.

Repashy Calcium Plus LoD is an all-in-one solution that contains both.

 

Handling Tips

You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling until it’s eating regularly.

Once your boa is ready for handling, take it slow at first. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using basic positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually up to no more than half an hour.

Handle your boa at least 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Snakes do not require social interaction, but handling helps the snake stay tame and is a good opportunity for exercise as well.

Do not handle your boa within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and leads to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can lead to death. Also do not handle if the snake’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that your snake is preparing to shed its skin and can’t see well, making them jumpy and possibly more likely to bite.

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles. VisitReptiFiles.com to view the full version of this care guide.

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