Few snakes are as recognisable as the boa constrictor. Unusually, the snake as the same common and latin name (boa constrictor) and a number of subspecies are readily available on the pet trade. Boa constrictor constrictor, or the Red Tailed Boa, is a large a magnificent snake. With large females capable of exceeding 12 feet in length they are considered a true giant, but smaller and more manageable species such as boa constrictor imperator (common boa) are just as beautiful and rarely exceed 6 – 7 feet in length.
Boas give birth to live young, measuring around 15 – 20 inches in length, and quite capable of fending for themselves. They normally shed after a few days and will then start taking fuzzy mice. As they grow, so the size of their prey should be increased, through mice, to rats, and even rabbits for very large adults.
They are normally good feeders and most will take defrosted rodents without problems which helps their reputation as a relatively easy species to maintain in captivity.
Due to their size a large enclosure is required. A vivarium measuring no less than 6′ by 2’by 2′ would be a minimum for a single adult b.c.imperator, while a large b.c.constrictor would require an even larger vivarium. While adult boa constrictors are mostly terrestrial, they will occasionally climb if given the chance, and young snakes are semi-arboreal so a sturdy and well secured climbing branch should be supplied. As a nocturnal hunter they tend to be quite reclusive during the day so at least one hide should be provided, and a large water dish, deep enough for the snake to submerge itself should be provided.
Substrate choice is a hotly debated topic amongst boa keepers, with some preferring a natural loose substrate such as aspen. Personally I prefer a sheet substrate such as paper towels. They may not look as nice, but they are hygienic, quick and easy to change when soiled, and cheap. They also prevent any danger of substrate ingestion and gut impaction which can be a problem if snake’s are fed on a loose substrate.
Most boa constrictors come from tropical climates and require a thermal gradient ranging from around 28 – 30 degrees C to a hot spot of around 34 degrees C during the day, and dropping my a few degrees at night. No special lighting is required.
One of the reasons that these snakes are so popular as pets is that they are great to handle. Their docile nature, and tolerance to regular handling make them superb pets, but care should always be taken as they are large and powerful animals. Never let a child handle a boa constrictor alone, never allow the snake to coil around your neck, and always have a second person with you when handling a boa over 6 feet in length. By following these simple precautions, and not handling snakes on feeding day or after handling rodents, you’ll be sure to avoid any accidents.
The boa constrictors are an amazing species of snake. For anyone wanting a large snake which can be free handled there are few better choices. So long as you educate yourself about the correct way to maintain and handle them, and are capable of meeting their housing requirements and a commitment of caring for an animal which can live upwards of 20 years, they may just be the perfect pet snake.