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Boa Constrictors (sometimes called Red-Tailed Boas) are not for everyone. They grow up to ten feet in length, and can weigh over 50 pounds. Boas commonly live up to 30 years. Owning a big snake is a major, long-term commitment and responsibility. Never buy one on impulse--you may regret it later.
Boa Constrictors are instinctive live-prey hunters, but this can make them aggressive. To keep your snake docile, kill its prey before feeding time. Young boas will eat baby rats, but as they grow, their appetite will increase. By the time your boa is two years old, be prepared to feed it freshly-killed adult rabbits or chickens every two weeks. (Note: Never feed your boa raw chicken pieces bought in a grocery store. Uncooked raw chicken can carry salmonella, which is fatal to boas. Always buy your chickens directly from clean, reputable hatcheries.)
Boas are primarily active at dawn and dusk. They prefer high heat and humidity, and will go dormant for weeks at a time if the temperature is too low for their taste. Though they climb trees on occasion, they prefer to live on the ground.
Baby boas grow extremely quickly, up to 6 feet during their first year, and another 3-4 feet during their second year. After that, they grow much more slowly, although they will continue to grow slightly throughout their entire lives.
All snakes are escape artists. Boas are especially powerful, and can easily break out of a tank sealed with a board and a couple of bricks. So make sure your tank is big enough, and strong enough, to keep your boa from escaping. A good starter tank for a hatchling is a 20 gallon tank with a latching metal lid. Eventually you will need to build your own enclosure out of wood and glass or plexiglass, or purchase a tank specially made for large reptiles. Be prepared--big snakes need lots of room, not the least of which is an enclosure big enough for you to get in and clean it out!
Do not use pine, cedar, or aspen shavings in your boa’s tank. Pine and cedar resins are so strong and aromatic that they can overwhelm a snake's sense of smell. So the poor snake, unable to smell its food even if the rodent is in plain sight, may become withdrawn and starve, or may become violent and strike out at anything that moves. Aspen shavings can become lodged in the boa’s mouth and lungs while eating, causing respiratory and other problems. Shredded coconut bark, or utility mats which can easily be removed and cleaned, are safe alternatives.
Boas often like to hide during the daytime. Provide your boa with a sturdy half-log, or an empty cardboard box with an access doorway cut into one end. An opaque Tupperware container can also be used. If you use rocks and bricks to construct a cave, be sure to affix them firmly in place. Boas are very strong, and can easily topple such a structure when moving about. If the rocks tumble on the snake, severe injuries may result. Since many boas also enjoy hanging out on branches, provide clean branches big enough to support the boa's weight.
Boas are usually found throughout South America, so they prefer heat and humidity. A comfortable daytime temperature range is from 82 - 90F. At night, the ambient air temperature should not drop down lower than 78 - 85F. Special reptile heating pads that are manufactured to maintain a temperature about 20F higher than the air temperature may be used inside the enclosure. These adhesive pads can be stuck to the underside of a glass enclosure.
All snakes are susceptible to thermal burns. For this reason, NEVER use a hot rock in your boa’s tank. Once your snake has grown quite large, you may wish to invest in a pig blanket, a large rigid pad for which you can buy a thermostat to better control the temperature.
No special lighting is needed. You may use a full-spectrum light or low wattage incandescent bulb in the enclosure during the day, but snakes--having evolved to living underground--have no need for regular full-spectrum/UV lighting. If you do use such a light in the tank, make sure the snake cannot get into direct contact with the light bulbs, or burrow itself into the casing of the fluorescent hood.
Don’t be too concerned if your baby boa doesn’t eat for the first week or two. Allow it time to acclimate to its new home. It will eat when it’s hungry. Feed it a full-sized killed mouse or baby rat. Remember not to feed your boa anything wider than the widest part of its body. Boas will eagerly eat prey that is too large, then regurgitate that prey a few days later. This is very stressful for the snake, and not a pretty sight. So never overfeed your snake. It will grow big fast enough without overfeeding.
Always keep a bowl of fresh water in your boa’s tank. Snakes not only drink water, they often soak (and defecate) in it. Change your boa’s water regularly, especially if it’s dirty.
When your boa’s eyes turn a milky blue and its skin becomes dull, it is about to shed its skin. Boas have poor eyesight, and their vision becomes worse at this time. Provide your boa with a large bowl of warm water to soak in; this will help it shed cleanly and easily. Otherwise, leave your boa alone until it’s skin has been shed. It may mistake your hand for a tasty snack, and strike without intending to cause you harm.
After your new boa has settled into its new home, begin gently picking it up and handling it. Don’t worry if it lashes its tail or hisses; you’re a hundred times bigger than it is, and it’s quite reasonably afraid of you. Be patient and persistent. Eventually it will realize that you aren’t a threat, and it will relax in your presence. At that point, you can start carrying it around the house with you. However, never leave it untended. Snakes love to crawl into seat cushions or behind furniture, and can easily escape.
If your snake wraps around your arm or neck, unwind it by gently grasping its tail and unwrapping it. If you start at its head, you will find that your snake is stronger (or at least more stubborn) than you are!
Even if your adult boa is fully tamed, never forget that it is bigger and stronger than you are! It may not mean to harm you, but its very size and weight can make it potentially dangerous. So-called “snake attacks” are rare, but highly publicized by the media for their shock value. In nearly every case, the fault is not the snake’s, but its handler’s. Here are some common-sense rules to make sure both you and your snake remain safe:
Following these simple rules can ensure that you and your boa enjoy a safe, happy lifelong friendship!