Hungary's first
scientific site about Boa constrictors

Boa care,
AKA problems that boa keepers often encounter with

-Is big water tanks needed that boas can soak in?

Few year ago, I was encouraging to supply the boas with a big enough water tank where they can take a bath whenever they want to. However, nowadays our experience and knowledge suggest to make sure boas not to soak in captivity for a long period of time.
Certainly, presence fresh water for drinking is essential. However, taking long bathes can make boas' skin susceptible for bacterial infections, therefore we recommend to avoid this situation. Its important to emphasize that bathing for long time can be sign of several problems (mites, too high temperature, too low humidity) and as such large water tanks can be used as an indicator. If one's boa has been soaking for more than 24 hours, remove the water tank and check if any of problems written above are present.

-With which species should I start snake keeping?

My enthusiasm and commitment to Boa constrictor would suggest me to recommend this species for the Reader. However, Boa constrictor is not an ideal "beginner snake" for everybody. What is more, for some hobbyists boas are definitely not eligible.
Someone- who is new into this hobby -may not be prepared that his little pinkie thick boa could turn into a 2-3 m long, robust speciment that requires siginificant quantity of food and enclosure, not to talk about the other business. According to the experiences of the past few decedes, one of the most popular "beginner species" is the corn snake (Elaphe guttata), which could be suggested for everyone due to its moderate size, easy care and handling.

However, for those who want to start with a boa, we recommend to choose from imperator subspecies. Costa Rican, Ecuadorian, Honduran, Hog Island, Nicaraguan boas have moderate size (5-6 ft), relatively calm temper, they are easy to keep and breed, and last but not least they belong to the less expensive pure bred Boa constrictors. If one has somewhat bigger space and budget almost all other Boa constrictor subspecies localities can be recommended.

-How to ship boas?

Although, boas spend most of their time in their enclosure in captivity, sometimes- when changes owner for instance –shipping them might be needed.

So here are few things that are good to know.

You can ship boas in both plastic containers or cloth bags. Plastic containers are recommended mostly baby boas and youngsters, while cloth bags can be used for any age with an exception of baby boas. Whichever you use, make sure there is proper ventilation. Obviously, size of container or bag should match the size of the animals.

I strongly suggest putting only one specimen in each container/bag. In containers some sort of substrate should be provided such as paper towel, because animals often defecate during the shipping. In cloth bag, slices of paper towels can be put as well to absorb the urine. Always make sure that the top of the container closes perfectly and the bags are tied properly.

Ideally, those containers/bags are but in a bigger, insulated styrofoam box that prevent drastic temperature changes. When shipping winter, some sort of heat source must be provided inside the insulated box (outside of container/bag), as well. Heat packs, bottles filled with warm water can be used, but much attention should always be payed to avoid overheating and burns.

Be aware that temperatures lower than 18 °C and higher than 35 °C could be potentially dangerous and harmful even for tropical reptile species! Shipping between 25 and 32 °C is ideal.

Once, animals have reached their destination, they should not be disturbed or either fed for a week.

Attention:

Do not ship a snake that is still in any stadium of digestion!

Do not ship any gravid snakes, unless there is a health issue which definitely requires it!

International shipping might require permits. Shipping animals international is regulated by laws that are different by each country!

-How to feed my boas?

Snakes are all predators with no exception. Boa constrictors capture rodents, birds, other reptiles in various sizes in the wild. They usually accept both live and prekilled rodents; mouse, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits without any problems in captivity. In contrast with the belief, they don’t really squeeze their preys, they rather strangle them preventing the pray to do breathing movements. To do so, snakes are using their sensory-organs and instincts with great success. To find the prey, fork-shaped tongue has a key role, which- by flicking -absorb lot of chemical substance from the air. Those informations then get the to Jakobsons-organ, where they will be processed. Beside tongue, eyes are also important organs that can sense movements in close range pretty well. The body and the inner ear can also absorb the vibration of the ground made by either prey or another predator.

Boas grab they by using needle-sharp hooked teeth, than coil the prey’s body around to prevent it from sufficient respiration. Once the prey is dead, they usually start to swallow from head to tail in one piece.

Though feeding may seem to be a simple task that doesn’t need to be payed much attention for, there are rules here just like in many other fields of snake keeping. Snakes like boas are capable to swallow relatively huge preys compared to their own size. However, they should be fed with much moderate sized preys for their own good. It is also an unnecessary risk to feed with live preys. Live rodents can cause serious injuries, they can even kill your boa. These days, frozen rodents are widely available, however I prefer to feed freshly prekilled, as lots of vitamins, trace elements perish during the freezing process. There are several ways of killing their preys (including mechanical and CO2 gas methods). Whichever you choose, try to make if as fast and less painful as possible.

The question raises "what prey size is proper for a boa" ? As a rule of thumb, when a snake in unable to make round-shaped coils after feeding, the prey was too large. If you have notice any lump in the stomach region after feeding, the prey is too small. The proper size is somewhere between these two extremity.

Another important factor to consider is the frequency of feedings. Unfortunately, lot of keepers tend to feed their boas as many times as they accept food. Others warm up the enclosure to increase the metabolism and give as many food as they accept hoping their snakes will reach maturity sooner and will give birth to healthy offspring. In truth, these methods will not make breedable animals, not healthy ones, either. Snakes are oportunistic predators, sometimes they can’t find another prey for weeks or even months. That doesn’t mean that we should starve boas in captivity, of course, but overfeeding is the most common health issue in captivity that you need to avoid.

Young specimens should be feed once in a 7-10 days with a prey size mentioned above. Boas at age 2-3 years can be fed once in 2 weeks, 4 years old and older boas are fed 3 weeks or even less frequent. If you haven’t notice defecation since the last feeding, it is better to wait a week more before the next feeding, especially if the temperature is lower than usual.

Several breeders- including ourselfs -are feeding their boas different by sexes. This means females from age 1-2 years are fed a little more common, with somewhat larger prey maybe. Adult females are feed 2-3 weeks, while males are fed 3-4 weeks. Moderate fed, smaller males often show more readiness to breed in contrast with obese boas.

Snakes are creatures controlled by their instincts mostly, they don’t show feelings, they rely on their instincts and senses in order to survive. When its feeding time- due to feromons (smell) of preys -their behaviour changes drastically. At that time, they are less predictable than other times, therefore they must be treated by keeping this in mind. This concerns before the feeding, during the feeding and after the feeding.

Some useful advices for your snakes' and your own good:

1. Just before feeding, when prey animal are already in the same room, snakes must NOT be taken out from the enclosure! Even the calmest boa can turn into an unpredictable hunter when it smells the prey. 2 .Before putting the prey in the enclosure, make sure where all the snakes are! 3. Use long tweezers, forcaps, hamostats to prevent from being bitten. 4. There must be a maxmimum of one (1) animal in the same enclosure during the feeding. Two or more snakes in the same enclosure can go for the same prey (even if several offered and accepted) causing serious injuries for each other. They can even strangulate the other snake to death. To prevent accidents like this, you need to feed each animals separately. 5. Preys not accepted must be removed by using long tweezers, forcaps, expecting the snake will strike. 6 . Boas that have just eaten may show will to feed more, so be aware just like prior to feeding. 7. Handling them after feeding is not recommended as it may cause regurgitation.

-How can I determine the subspecies and/or the locality of a Boa constrictor?

Altough this question isn’t closely connected to care of boas, we consider it very important. There exist several ways- with different solidity - to indentify a subspecies. Appearance of the given speciment is one of them. Though based on appearance, we can not draw exact conslusions, it could be a good first step (but nowise a proof ) regarding the boa's true subspecies and locality.

It is also known, that number of dorsal saddles (from snout to cloaca), furthermore several scale counts (ventral scales, subcaudal scales, mid-dorsal scale rows) are morphological marks and used to distinguish one subspecies from another. Unfortunately, this method is also far from perfect due to the overlap of numbers between some subspecies. For instance, crossbred boas- that come from different subspecies -often have scale counts that are well within numbers of imperator subspecies, though it is obvious they are not pure bred specimens.

Finally, the most important in certification of origin (and thus subspecies) of boas are documentations. All animals that had been legally collected (in case of captive born animals you have to trace back the ancestors) must have documentation that describes the exportation country of the speciment. Apart from some rare cases, this is the most precise way to determine a boa's locality and subspecies. Last, but not least: buying from a reputable breeder who is well-known for breeding pure Boa constrictors for a long time is arguably the easiest way for you to make sure your boa will not be a crossbred.

-My boa vomited the food 3 days after the feeding! Not long after that, I fed him once again, but he regurgitated again! What should I do?

In some subspecies of Boa constrictors (constrictor, amarali, occidentalis), furthermore in some crossbred boas regurgitation syndrome might occur. This happens mostly to animals that are younger than 1 year old and mostly due to the keepers fault.

Cause of regurgitation could be:

  • too big food items or too frequent feedings
  • not proper temperature and/or humidity in the enlosure
  • immature digestive system in young snakes
  • stress due to inproper handling
  • internal parasites in wild caught specimens
  • bacterial infection in stomach or intestines

When this problem happens most inexperienced snake keepers want to feed their pets as soon as possible, since "boa's stomach is empty and the boa must be starving". This is absolutely wrong. When a freshly regurgitated snakes is fed again, it is more likely that boa will regurgitate again. If your boa has regurgitated, you must not feed them in 2 weeks. Specimens having a tendency to regurgitate must be fed with moderate sized food items, leaving sufficient time to digest between two feedings.
If these informations written above do not help and your boa regurgitates two straight times, we recommend to contact a vet, since the two regurgitation could cause so serious dehidration that another one could cost your boa's life!

-How often should I change my boas drinking water?

Opinions are devided among reptile keepers in this matter. Someone suggests to change them every 3 days, someone else is changing once a week, since "boas doesn't use it very often". We strongly reccommend to change water daily, furthermore to disinfect containers, water bowls, etc. once a week. In a relatively high temperatured enclosure several hundred thousands of germs can multiply in the stagnant water during a few days. If these pathogenic agents are present in the surroundings of snake, they can get serious bacterial infection, which appear as illness of digestive and/or respiratory organs. It is much easier to prevent the problem than to remedy it, so we are changing water on daily basis in our collection.

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