Boas are often stout, powerful constrictors that give birth to live young, with a few notable exceptions. Several species are relatively docile, moderate in size, and easy to breed – ideal for beginners yet interesting enough for advanced keepers. The common boa may reach 12 feet in length and the green anaconda grows so large that it is only suitable for professionals and zoos. Rosy boas, sand boas, dwarf boas, and smaller subspecies of the common boa are all ideal choices for beginners.
Boas are adapted to an amazing variety of habitats, ranging from rainforests to deserts. The common boa is a generalist and can be found in diverse surroundings in its range, but other boas are quite specialized. Some, such as emerald tree boas, rarely leave the treetops, while others such as sand boas and rosy boas spend most of their lives below ground. Anacondas are highly aquatic.
Warm, tropical areas
Rosy boas and sand boas are often quite easy to handle, while many arboreal species remain high-strung. Common boas vary widely in personality, with many being calm and well-suited to captive life. However, boas are not domesticated animals and must never be handled carelessly.
Setting up the Terrarium
Neonates may be started off in a 10 gallon aquarium. Larger species may require custom built cages as they grow but some, such as rosy boas and sand boas, can be accommodated in a 30 gallon or larger tank. Screen tops must be secured with screen clips or locks.
Cage furnishings will vary by species. Rubber boas need to burrow while tree boas require stout branches on which to perch. A hide box should always be available, and hanging terrarium plants can be used to provide security for arboreal species. Being forced to remain in the open is stressful, even for long-term captives.
Newspapers and washable terrarium liners work well as substrates for most. Sand boas and similar species must be provided a deep substrate in which to burrow. Douglas fir bark, coconut fiber, and cypress mulch lend a naturalistic touch and are useful for maintaining species from humid environments. These types of substrate can become lodged in the mouth during feeding and can cause injuries that may lead to infection. Because of this, it is recommended that terrestrial species be moved to an empty cage or container for feeding.
Boas do not require UVB light but may benefit from heat bulbs or low-output reptile fluorescent bulbs that radiate UVA wavelengths. A photoperiod of roughly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness should be maintained for tropical species. Those being cycled for breeding may need their temperature and photoperiod adjusted to stimulate reproduction.
Temperatures should be maintained at 79-88°F for most species. An incandescent bulb can be used to create a basking spot of 90-95°F. Heat pads placed below the enclosure work well for sand boas and other burrowing snakes. Thermal gradients are important to reptile health: the heat source should be placed at one end of the cage so that the snake can regulate its body temperature by moving back and forth between warmer and cooler areas. A ceramic heater or red/black heat bulb can be used to provide heat after dark and will allow you to view your snake's nocturnal activities.
Rainforest species should be kept at humidity levels of 65-75% but must be able to dry off as well. This can be achieved by misting the enclosure 1 to 3 times daily while allowing proper ventilation and heating to dry the enclosure in between. Sand boas and other species from arid habitats must be kept dry.
Most boas accept pre-killed rodents. Juveniles can usually handle nestling mice and can be fed once per week. Adults feeding on large mice or rats can be maintained on a meal every 10 to 14 days. As snakes typically eat whole vertebrate prey and digest nearly everything, vitamin supplements are not required. In the wild, boas do not feed during the breeding season or when temperatures are unfavorable. Captives may refuse food during the winter or during breeding season, even if kept at optimal temperatures.
Water for drinking and soaking must always be available. Bowls should be filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up inside. Tree boas arrange their coils in a manner that traps rain and dew, and they prefer to drink in this manner but may also adjust to water bowls.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check your snake daily, removing any waste and providing clean water. A limp appearance, discharge from the mouth, reddened scales, or blisters are all signs of illness. Boas are also susceptible to mites and Inclusion Body Disease.
Your snake's head should always be controlled and kept away from one's face during handing, as even long-term pets may react to smells or vibrations that people cannot sense. Bite wounds can be severe, and may be inflicted without warning by normally docile animals. Two experienced adults should always be on hand when specimens over 6 feet in length are fed, cleaned or moved.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide "Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations" for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.