Boas constrictors certainly aren’t the most difficult to keep snakes out there. They aren’t the easiest either, partly because they tend to get quite long and heavy.
But what should you do exactly to ensure the safety and health of your boa constrictor?
Let’s find out below!
Boa Constrictor General Information
To get started, let’s have a look at some facts and general information about boa constrictors:
- They are non-venomous snakes.
- They are large snakes that are generally between 6.5 and 10 feet when adult.
- Boas can weight up to 60 pounds, though they mostly don’t exceed around 30-35 pounds.
- Female boas are often larger than males.
- Boas usually live up to 20-30 years in captivity.
- Boas aren’t particularly picky eaters, and they aren’t the shiest snakes out there. This makes taking care of them relatively easy, but there’s still some challenges to keeping an eye on a boa constrictor.
You should first pick an enclosure for your boa. Below, let’s have a look at what matters the most in boa constrictor enclosures.
Like with pretty much any other snake species, there are three main material options for boa constrictor enclosures – glass, plastic, and wood. While you may use any other material of your liking, these are the ones that most people should stop on.
Enclosures made from these materials aren’t equal though, so let’s overview below which material you could go for and why.
Glass is easy to shatter, expensive and doesn’t retain moisture as well as plastic, but it’s perhaps the best material you could choose for a boa constrictor enclosure.
Among the benefits of glass enclosures are:
- Glass enclosures look the best.
- Glass will allow you to observe your snake easily.
- Most heating pads, under-tank heaters, and other snake tank heating accessories out there are made with glass enclosures in mind. And this is important since glass lets heat in relatively easily.
- Glass enclosures seem to be easier to find in the US than other enclosure types.
So if you don’t have any specific reasons against the glass, then it’s the material that you should go for.
Plastic is cheaper than glass, is better at moisture retention, and resists impact better. With that said, plastic is inferior to glass in a few areas:
- Plastic is more difficult to see through.
- Snake tank heater accessories are rarely made with plastic enclosures in mind.
- Plastic can melt from a badly placed heater.
- Plastic enclosures usually look ugly.
You would want to go for plastic if maintaining proper humidity inside the snake enclosure will be a challenge for you. In a dry climate, for example, a plastic vivarium may be a more reasonable choice than glass.
Finally, we have wood, a very accessible and cheap material. Not only that, but it is opaque and will provide your snake with much better privacy than glass and plastic.
There are some notable downsides to wood though:
- Wood doesn’t transfer heat well, which makes snake tank heaters less effective.
- Wood can get ignited if your tank heater is placed badly.
- The opacity of wood doesn’t allow you to easily observe your boa constrictor.
With this in mind, wood certainly isn’t the best material for a boa constrictor vivarium, even though it could work for some people.
Boa constrictors require plenty of floor space and only little height. Boas do climb, but they don’t do it much, not to mention that they are less up to climbing as they age.
For a baby boa, an enclosure sized up to 30 by 12 inches (length, width) will generally work best. But as your boa grows, you will need a larger enclosure. When adult, these snakes are typically housed in 6-8 x 2-3 x 2-3 feet (length, width, height) enclosures.
So you’ve got the best enclosure for your boa constrictor you could get, but it’s just the beginning. Aside from a nice and sturdy enclosure, you need to provide your boa constrictor with proper conditions to live in.
Among the key things to pay attention to in your enclosure are:
Let’s overview each of these environmental variables in depth.
As with any reptile, you need to provide your boa constrictor with gradient heating. That is, your snake’s enclosure needs to be warmer at one end and cooler at the other. You may place the warm end of your boa constrictor’s vivarium either on the right or left.
To do this, you need to place the heat source not in the center of the tank but closer to the side that you want to keep warmer. Generally, the warm side of the tank should be at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cool side should be at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (29.44 and 23.89 degrees Celsius respectively).
Ensuring such a temperature gradient is important because your snake should be able to thermally regulate itself. When feeling hot, your snake will be able to move to the vivarium’s cool side, and the other way around.
How to ensure enclosure temperature?
There are plenty of heating accessories for snake terrariums available out there, including heating mats, heating tape, and heat cables. These heating devices should be placed under the tank with a little shift to one side to provide the heat gradient we’ve just talked about.
Make sure that the heating accessories you purchase can be controlled by a thermostat. This will allow you to ensure accurate temperature regulation, and a thermostat will also be able to prevent the enclosure from getting too hot.
Don’t use heating rocks or any other heating devices designed to be placed inside the enclosure. These are not ideal for snakes since they can easily burn themselves upon contact.
Also, keep in mind that the area your boa constrictor’s enclosure will be in should be at room temperature (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or about 21 degrees Celsius). At such temps, it’s pretty easy to thermally regulate snake tank enclosure temperatures with just heaters.
If the room temperature was above the desired temperature for the enclosure’s cool end, then you would have to think about cooling to keep the temps down.
And finally, place at least two thermometers in your snake’s tank – one at the warm side and the other at the cool side. This will allow you to continuously monitor temperatures inside the enclosure.
The proper humidity level in the enclosure for boa constrictors is 50%-60%. During shed, you may increase the humidity to around 70% to assist the snake, but your boa shouldn’t be exposed to such high humidity for long periods.
Excessive humidity can cause respiratory issues, scale rot, and many other nasty life-threatening conditions. On the other hand, insufficient humidity will cause dehydration and issues with shedding.
How to ensure enclosure humidity?
Among the things you could do to increase the humidity levels to the desired figures are:
- Misting the tank periodically.
- Placing a second water dish in the enclosure.
- Placing aquarium air stones in the water bowl.
- Properly heating the enclosure to assist with water evaporation.
- Choosing the right substrate for the tank.
- Partially covering the tank’s top.
To monitor the humidity levels in the enclosure, use a hygrometer.
In some areas, it may be more difficult to maintain proper humidity levels. In states like Florida, for example, you probably won’t have issues with maintaining humidity. In drier areas like California though, you will need to employ more tricks to make sure that the humidity is right.
When it comes to the substrate, boa constrictors aren’t too different from many other snakes. Among the best substrate options for boa constrictor tanks are:
- Newspapers or paper towels. These are very cheap and easy to replace, but they certainly don’t make the vivarium look nicer.
- Aspen shavings. Aspen shavings are very often used by snake owners, but since they absorb moisture, they may make maintaining humidity levels more difficult. This is important especially if you live in a dry area.
- Cypress bulk or mulch. These are also decent options, but they are less popular since they hold humidity very well. This makes them become damp quickly, as well as takes away humidity from the enclosure.
Make sure not to use pine, cedar, or other aromatic woods. In closed spaces, the fumes emitted by these woods will quickly accumulate and become toxic to your boa constrictor.
Like any other reptile, your boa constrictor should have a clear day/night cycle. The easiest way to ensure this is to place your snake’s enclosure closer to a window – there’s no better day/night indicator than the sun itself.
With that said, don’t place the tank directly under sunlight since this may overheat the tank. Instead, keep the vivarium in a spot that’s shaded all day long.
If placing the enclosure close to a window isn’t an option, you may make use of artificial lighting. LED bulbs or strips placed around or above the tank should work well. But keep in mind that light sources may additionally heat up the enclosure, so be sure to monitor the temperatures carefully.
At night, we suggest that you don’t use any kind of nighttime red bulbs. They are likely to throw off your boa constrictor’s day/night cycle. If you want to view your snake at night, then a better option would be to try to simulate moonlight. But overall, the best option at night is no light at all.
Boa constrictors love privacy just like any other snake, so you should provide your boa with options for hiding.
Place at least two hide boxes in the enclosure – one closer to the warm end of the tank and the other closer to the cool end. This will allow the snake to thermally regulate itself and feel safe.
You may purchase commercially-made snake hide boxes, or you may make one yourself from any material that you have at hand – even Lego bricks would work perfectly for this purpose!
You may also want to think about decorating your boa constrictor’s enclosure. Décor serves the following goals:
- It makes the enclosure look nicer to you.
- Your boa constrictor may feel more secure in a natural-looking environment.
- Your snake will have some climbing opportunities, which will allow it to exercise and may improve appetite.
- During shed, your boa constrictor will have more surfaces to rub against.
Among the items of décor you could use to decorate your boa constrictor’s tank are:
- Sticks and branches.
- Artificial foliage.
- Terrarium backgrounds.
You may also use anything else that is free of parasites and is of no threat to your boa constrictor. If you are up to it, you may DIY the décor items, or you may purchase it from reptile habitat accessory stores.
Make sure to position the décor securely so that your snake can’t knock it down and harm itself, the enclosure, or you.
After you’ve got a proper enclosure and have brought a boa constrictor to its new home, you will have to think about food. Below, let’s overview what kind of food options you have and how you should be feeding your boa constrictor.
Boas get fairly large and long, and they need a corresponding diet. The most popular choice is rats because they are easy to get and are available in many sizes. You may go for any other similarly-sized rodent, but rats are preferable.
Overall, here is what your boa constrictor should be eating:
- Up to 3 months of age (18-22 inches) – pinkie or fuzzy rats. You should feed baby boa constrictors once every 4-7 days. But after bringing a snake to its new home, don’t rush to give it food – it may refuse to eat until getting acclimatized to the new conditions. Wait for about a week before serving your baby boa the first meal.
- 3-12 months of age (2-3 feet) – fuzzy or weanling rats. Feed your juvenile boa once a week.
- 1-2 years (3-4 feet) – small/medium rats. Adult boas should be fed once in around two weeks.
When it comes to food size, the rule of thumb is that the rodent should be sized as your snake’s widest part. Avoid feeding your snake too large rodents – this may cause regurgitation, as well as obesity if you don’t make the meals less frequent.
You may give your snake smaller rodents, but you will need to make the meals more frequently to compensate for the rodent’s small size.
Serve food to your boa with tongs – this way, you will avoid being bitten.
These have been general guidelines on boa feeding. Follow them, and you should have no issues with feeding your boa constrictor.
There is one more thing to talk about though – the live rodents vs frozen-thawed rodents debate. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each type of food and try to determine which one you should go for.
Some people argue that feeding boa constrictors live food is natural and thus is the preferable option, but there are a few problems with live food that you should be aware of:
- Live rodents may harm your boa constrictor since they will fight for their life. Not only that, but if your boa refuses to eat the rodent because it’s full from a previous meal or because it’s stressed out, the rat may just kill it. Due to this, if serving live rodents, you should supervise your snake until it has consumed its food.
- Live rodents are difficult to store and transport. This will be especially a big problem for those who are intending to breed rats themselves.
- Consumption of live rodents is associated with pain and suffering for the prey. Besides, while predation is natural, breeding for food is not. If this is an issue for you, then we suggest that you opt for frozen-thawed rodents instead.
You may want to make your boa used to live food earlier on for variety, but given that frozen-thawed rats are widely available, you may avoid live rodents altogether and jump straight to pre-killed, frozen-thawed rats.
You will hear from many people that frozen-thawed rodents are the best option for any kind of snake. There are a few reasons for this:
- Frozen rats are usually painlessly euthanized.
- Storage and transport of frozen rats are much easier, which is part of the reason why it’s easy to find frozen rodents for purchase.
- Frozen rats don’t pose any health risks to your snake as long as they have been properly stored.
These are pretty big benefits that will make perhaps most newbie boa owners choose frozen rats over live ones.
Before serving frozen rats to your boa, you need to first thaw them. Don’t thaw frozen rats in a microwave – instead, leave the rat out of the cold for some time before serving. Alternatively, you may place the rat in a plastic bag and place the bag into warm water to speed up the thawing.
Your boa constrictor must have access to water as well. Make sure to place a bowl with fresh, lukewarm water in the enclosure. Serve dechlorinated fresh water to your snake, but avoid distilled water since it may lack some essential minerals necessary for the snake.
Keep in mind that snakes won’t be just drinking from the water bowl – they will also be sometimes soaking in the water to cool down, bathe, or perhaps assist themselves with shedding. Besides, snakes often soak when sick or suffering from mites, so if you notice that your boa is often lying in the water, you may want to take it to a vet.
Boa constrictors aren’t the pickiest snakes out there, and they only rarely refuse food. Most often, boa constrictors refuse food before and during the breeding season that usually starts in August-September.
During the few weeks of the breeding season, boa constrictors either eat reluctantly or don’t eat at all. This usually isn’t problematic for the snake’s health – given that you’ve been feeding your boa properly, it shouldn’t have any issues during this “fasting” period.
With that said, you may want to consult your vet – if they are familiar with your snake’s health condition, they may be able to give a little more specific tips.
Reluctance to eat at other times of the year may be normal as well, but it also might be a symptom of an underlying health issue. Aside from that, boas won’t eat if they are not hungry or if they are stressed for some reason, e.g. due to improper tank conditions or maybe just after moving to a new home.
But if your boa refuses to eat for quite some time for an unknown reason, then you may want to take your snake to a vet to see whether it’s caused by any health issues.
Overfeeding and underfeeding
Like other snakes and reptiles, boas are quite sensitive to overfeeding and underfeeding, more so to overfeeding. They don’t need much food, so it’s easier to overfeed them than underfeed.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to spot under- or overfeeding. An underfed boa will look skinny, while an overfed boa will look chubby. You just need to increase/reduce the food intake of your boa to combat these dietary conditions.
It’s difficult to say how much food boas should consume exactly. We’ve already mentioned that once every two weeks is quite normal for boas, but some snakes will want to eat more or less than others. This doesn’t necessarily imply health issues – the needs of snakes are individual and depend on many variables that are pretty difficult to assess.
Regurgitation is quite a big issue for any snake, and boas are no exception.
There are three common causes for regurgitation in boas:
- Handling the boa before it has digested the food. You should leave the boa alone for around 48 hours after feeding.
- Overfeeding the boa.
- Health issues.
The issue with regurgitation is that it is demanding on snakes, particularly due to the loss of fluid in the stomach. After regurgitation, don’t feed your boa again for about two weeks. Once the two weeks have passed, you could also divide the meal into several smaller meals to make food consumption easier for your snake.
If your snake regurgitates even after you’ve waited for the two weeks, then the best bet would be to take your pet to a vet.
Boas usually tolerate handling well, and they often enjoy being held. However, this doesn’t mean that you can go and grab a boa willy-nilly.
It’s usually recommended that you use a snake hook or another long object to gently tap the boa’s head – this lets the boa know that it’s time for handling. Once the snake shows slow and calm tongue flicks, you may pick it up. If you try to lift your snake without warning, you are asking for accidents.
When lifting boas, you should use a hook to lift them up a little and then pick up the rest of the body with your hands. Keep one hand behind the snake’s head and support the rest of the body with your other hand. Supporting the entire body of the snake while it’s being handled is important to prevent spine damage.
Your boa will then start crawling around your body, and when it’s doing so, you may feel the tension on your arms, body, etc. because the snake will be using its muscles to keep itself stable. So don’t worry when you feel that your snake’s body is pushing around yours.
Don’t tense up or restrain your snake – allow it to move freely. If the boa goes somewhere where you don’t want it to go, you may gently use your hand to guide its head away.
The rules above apply to boas that have just settled in your home as well, but you will need to start with short handling sessions to make the snake used to you.
Hatchling or juvenile boas will probably be on high alert during the first couple of sessions, so they will hiss at your attempts to pick them up. Don’t be intimidated by the boa and carefully remove it from the enclosure – this will lead your boa to think that you aren’t easily intimidated or that you aren’t someone worth intimidating.
If your boa is coiled and angry though – especially if it’s generally docile – then you should leave it alone for that day.
After a few weeks of up to 5-minute handling sessions every few days, you may work your way up to 10-15-minute sessions every day. It’s important to handle your boa often so that it gets used to human touch.
Keep in mind that most snakes don’t like it when you touch their head – they quickly jerk their head back upon contact and may even bite you. Once your boa becomes comfortable with you, you may lightly rub or touch its head to let it know that head touches aren’t threatening.
Boas shed like any other snakes because they need to throw their old skin layer off to grow. Baby boas will shed once a month, while adult boas will do it 3-4 times a year.
However, boas may shed more often due to stress, injury, of disease. If your boa sheds more often than normal, then there may be something wrong with its health or enclosure.
Common symptoms of an upcoming shed are blueish eyes and duller-than-usual skin. These symptoms will be there for up to a week. Your boa will momentarily return to normal and then will start shedding its skin.
If the enclosure conditions have been maintained properly, your boa shouldn’t have any issues with the shedding.
Your snake will try to assist the shedding by rubbing against various objects in the enclosure. As we mentioned earlier, this is one of the reasons for putting some décor in the cage – it will provide your snake with more surfaces to rub against while shedding.
Ideally, your boa should shed one continuous piece of skin. However, issues with shedding happen due to a variety of reasons, and you should be ready to deal with them.
Among the most common symptoms of shedding issues are:
- Fragmentary shedding. If the skin of your boa doesn’t come off in one piece, then the vivarium is most likely too dry.
- Patches of skin still remaining on the boa after the shed.
The most common reason for shedding problems is the lack of humidity inside the enclosure. With this in mind, the first thing that you should do to assist your boa with the shed is to increase the humidity inside the vivarium up to 70% if the humidity inside the tank has previously been at the recommended 50%-60%.
If the humidity inside the enclosure has been lower than 50%-60%, then you should first increase the humidity to that 50%-60%. This may be enough to help. Otherwise, you may try to raise the humidity to no more than 70% as well.
If simply raising the humidity does not help, then you may soak your boa in a bowl of lukewarm water for 30-60 minutes. This should loosen the remaining skin and allow it to come off easily. Alternatively, it will allow you to rub it off manually.
Pay attention to the eye caps of your boa as well – the old eye caps should come off just like the rest of the skin. You should inspect the shed skin to check whether your boa’s eye caps have indeed come off. If they haven’t, you will have to remove them manually since they may cause infection around the eyes and all sorts of other health issues.
To remove the eye caps, you may take a piece of scotch tape, turn it inside out, and gently roll it across your boa’s eye area.
If the measures listed above do not help, then your best bet would be to take your boa to a vet.
In the wild, boa constrictors handle their cleaning needs on their own, so you shouldn’t have to worry about bathing your boa. If your boa is healthy and not stressed out, then it will soak in its water bowl occasionally to clean itself or cool down. You should thus replace your boa’s water every day to keep it clean and safe for drinking.
If your boa hasn’t bathed for quite some time, then you may soak it in lukewarm water for around 30 minutes. However, keep in mind that reluctance to bathe may be a symptom of an underlying issue – whether related to health or enclosure conditions – so do make sure to check if everything is how it should be.
Even though boas defecate and urinate not too frequently – only once a few weeks – they are pretty messy. You will have to remove the mess made by your boa probably once or twice per month.
You should visually inspect your boa’s cage every day to check whether your boa has defecated, urinated, or regurgitated. Besides, smell the cage daily – this will allow you to spot messes that are out of view. Remove the mess made by your boa, as well as replace the substrate if it’s moist, dirty, or otherwise in bad condition.
Once per month, you should also empty out the enclosure and do a deep cleanup with a 5% bleach solution. Take everything out of the tank, wipe down all the sides of the enclosure, let it sit for about 15 minutes, rinse it out, let it dry, and then put everything back together.
Which boa is the best for beginners?
Boa imperators are the best for beginners because:
- They have good health.
- They aren’t too picky eaters.
- They are pretty easy to breed.
- They tend to be docile.
- They are less prone to regurgitation.
Can you house boas with other boas or pythons?
If you are a beginner, then don’t try to house more than one snake in a single enclosure.
Boas can live together and even with some other snake species. For example, pythons and boas have very similar enclosure requirements, and it’s pretty easy to keep them in one enclosure.
Keep in mind that not all snakes will get along with each other. If your snakes are staying away from each other, refuse to eat, defecate or urinate often, or otherwise show signs of stress, then they aren’t getting along with each other.
Should I adopt a boa if I have other pets?
As long as you keep the enclosure of your boa closed (which you should always do), then pets won’t be able to do harm to your boa (or the other way around).
When handling a boa, you should keep your other pets out of the room for safety reasons. Aside from that, you may want to wash your hands or change your clothes to make sure that your boa doesn’t get stressed by the scent of other pets.