Boa Care Sheet provided by ReptiFiles
(Boa constrictor ssp. & Boa imperator)
Difficulty: Intermediate - Hard
Boas (also known as boa constrictors and red-tailed boas) are a group of semi-arboreal constricting snakes native to Central and South America. They are most often found in tropical and subtropical dry to moist broadleaf forests, where they move between the trees and the leaf-covered forest floor.
Boas are 5-8’ long snakes, with males tending to be significantly smaller than females, although some females grow as large as 12’. Boas typically have a relatively slender body, a rectangular head. Exact length, pattern, and coloring depends on subspecies and locality.
Boas are some of the most popular pet snakes in the United States. Although they can get fairly large, they tolerate humans well and make engaging pets. Boas can live upwards of 30 years with good care.
- 122x61x61 Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dual dome heat lamp
- 2x 90w halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- sturdy branches
- Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave
- zip ties
- reptile mister
- plug-in outlet timer
- medium water bowl
- soft-tipped feeding tweezers
A 122x61x61 Reptile Enclosure is the absolute minimum for housing young boas shorter than 6’. For adults and boas longer than 6’, a good minimum is 6’L x 3’W x 4’H. To be precise, here is a formula for calculating minimum boa enclosure dimensions:
snake length x half snake length x half snake length = length x width x height
Of course, using a larger enclosure than the minimum is strongly recommended. Bigger is always better! Boas are active snakes that need a spacious enclosure that offers both terrestrial and arboreal space to facilitate natural behaviors such as thermoregulation, hydroregulation, photoregulation, hunting, climbing, and general exploring. This leads to a fitter and overall healthier snake.
Can multiple boas be housed together in the same enclosure?
No. Boas are not social animals, which means that you don’t have to worry about them getting lonely. In fact, keeping multiple boas together is stressful for the snakes and causes competition for resources, preventing them from thriving. For this reason it’s best to house only one boa per enclosure.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Boas are crepuscular, which means that they are most active at night, particularly around sunset. Many people attempt to use this fact to argue that boas do not benefit from, and are even stressed by, the presence of light in their environment. However, providing a light source is important to regulating their day/night cycle and associated hormonal rhythms. Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
UVB lighting has also been proven to be beneficial to boa health. Although boas can technically survive without UVB light, we strongly recommend providing it in order to promote optimum welfare!
UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB for a corn snake, you will need a T5 5.0 or 6% bulb, long enough to span half of the enclosure and placed on the warm side of the enclosure, preferably not obstructed by mesh.
The basking branch or platform should be placed according to the following, with the distance being measured between the UVB lamp and the height of the snake when on the basking surface.
With mesh obstruction: 7-10”
Without mesh obstruction: 11-16”
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Boas, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Boas warm up by sleeping in warm patches of sunlight or warm burrows. In captivity, using a halogen flood heat bulb is the best way to replicate the type of warmth provided by sunlight.
Basking surface: 90°F (32°C)
Basking air temp: 80-85º(28-29ºC)
Cool side: 75-80°F (24-26°C)
Nighttime temp: 75-78ºF (24-26ºC)
Generally speaking, 90w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve your target basking surface temperature, especially if the basking branch is placed 7-11” below the heat lamp. If you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. If your basking surface is too cool, you need higher wattage bulbs.
You will need multiple heat bulbs to create a large enough basking area to evenly heat your boa’s coiled body. Start with two bulbs and add more to the cluster as your snake grows.To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun).
To measure the temperature of the warm hide, use a digital probe thermometer. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
Boas need a range of humidity levels from 55-75% in their enclosure, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed inside the cool hide, which is where humidity should be highest. Humidity inside the humidity hide can actually be a little higher — up to 85% on average. Humidity levels that are consistently higher or lower than this range can make your pet sick.
To raise the humidity in your snake’s enclosure, you can use a pressure sprayer to mist the habitat twice a day in the early morning and late evening. If more is needed, place moistened sphagnum moss inside the cool hide. Check and change this moss regularly to prevent mold growth. Placing a thick layer of leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help maintain humidity.
Boas are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat and facilitates moderate humidity levels. Natural soil is generally best for meeting this need.
You can use a DIY mix of 40% organic, additive-free topsoil + 40% Zoo Med Reptisoil + 20% play sand (this option tends to be the most affordable as well).
Provide a substrate layer that is around 2-4” deep. Although boas don’t dig, deeper substrate is better able to maintain humidity. Provide a generous layer of clean leaf litter on top, plus sphagnum moss if desired. Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your boa’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Cork rounds, cork flats, sturdy branches, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a boa terrarium. All branches should be firmly secured to the walls or floor of the enclosure to prevent accidents. This is especially important as your snake matures and becomes heavier!
Feeding Your Boa
Boas are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
A good rule of thumb is to provide a prey item(s) which totals around 10% of your snake’s weight, assuming that it is not obese. Each item should be no wider than the snake at its widest point.
Although rats and mice are the most common feeders, boas need to eat more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier snake! Prey ideas for boas are:
- Domestic rats
- African soft-furred rats
How often boas need to eat depends on age:
- 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
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to your pet snake. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes.
Snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements but using them occasionally is a good way to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Every once in a while, lightly dust the prey item with a 50/50 mix of calcium and multivitamin before thawing.
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 it until it’s eating regularly.
Once your boa is ready for handling, take it slow at first — just like any relationship. 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 rudimentary positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to longer sessions. Handling should occur at least weekly, but no more than once daily.
While handling your snake, be gentle. Rather than grabbing it, let it crawl onto your hand. Lift it from below rather than above, and support as much of its body as possible. Use slow movements and don’t walk around too much. boas usually tolerate handling well.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
Need to rehome your pet?
Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.