What Is A Boa Constrictor

Reptile fans may not consider the boa constrictor as a pet, but it’s a fun and safe snake to keep as a pet.

Their massive size compared to most pets, mellow personality, and lack of dangerous bites make them one of the best large snakes to own.

However, many of you will still be hesitant to commit to one of these fun reptiles. 

You need to learn what a boa constrictor is.

In this guide, we’ll offer background information on the boa and all the necessary information you’ll need to know as a pet owner.

When you’re done reading this, hop on back to check out our other information on the best pet snakes to see if another one would be a good fit too. 

Table of Contents

Description Of The Boa Constrictor

The boa constrictor, also known as the red-tailed boa or common boa, is a non-venomous snake and one of the most common pet snakes in the world.

The name “boa constrictor” is one of the rare instances in the world of the common name aligning with the scientific name of the creature.

Boa constrictor is the snake’s official species name, though there are nine subspecies currently recognized of the boa.

It’s full scientific name is Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Serpentes Boidae Boa Constrictor.

Unlike most reptiles, this snake is found in several different environments, though all are present in South America.

Specifically, the boa constrictor is naturally found in the following countries: 

Boas are semi-arboreal, meaning they spend a good portion of their time climbing trees and low brush.

However, as they age and gain mass, the boa will spend most of its time on the ground.

The range of boa constrictor size wide depends on diet and environment.

Female adult boas are usually larger and thicker coming in between 7′ – 10′ feet (though older ones will reach 13′ feet). Males typically mature between 6′ – 8′ feet.

Standard coloring varies depending on the environment, but there are commonalities in patterns.

The base color is usually brown, gray, or cream with reddish saddles going down their backs.

As the patterns reach the tail, they deepen in color and become more distinct.

This is why some call them red-tailed boa.

Boa constrictors live between 20-30 years as pets when appropriately kept.

Note: The information covered in this article will be on the main species, boa constrictor, and not on the subspecies.

This is by far the most common species you’ll find as a pet.

The other subspecies may have slightly different requirements, but they’ll be largely the same. 

Habitat

In this section, you’ll learn about the boas natural habitat and what it needs in captivity.

Due to the hardy nature of the boa environment, there is wiggle room in their habitat, but we will recommend what the experts do for the longest and healthiest life possible.

Habitat In The Wild

Boa constrictors are found all over South America regardless of the environment.

This makes them unique among most reptiles who struggle to survive outside a specific set of settings.

Most commonly, they’ll be found in the tropical rainforests and arid semi-deserts.

Though this is the case, they grow and live longest in the humid rainforest environment.

The reason for this is the greater access to food and better cover from predators.

South America is a vast continent.

Some areas have mild temps throughout the year, while others have a clear, colder winter season.

Enclosure Size And Material

Boa constrictors are a low-key and easy-to-care-for pet, but the enclosure is the most complicated piece of their care-puzzle.

Due to their large size, fully grown boa constrictors require specialized enclosures to house them.

The standard recommended size is a custom enclosure with the dimensions of 6′ feet long, 2′ feet wide, and 2′ feet tall.

This is at a minimum.

For large and old female boas, you may be better off with 8′ feet long, 4′ feet wide, and 4′ feet tall.

The enclosure must be constructed well.

Boa constrictors are strong, well-muscled snakes who will use their power to escape if they can.

Indoor or outdoor enclosures are a good option with thick wood frames and glass sides or mesh attached well to the frame.

If using mesh at all (which is typical), you’ll need some good heating elements to get the temperature up.

Glass aquariums are fine for younger and smaller ball pythons.  

Temperature

Due to the standard hot environment, your habitat needs to be kept warm for the boa constrictor.

You need to hit the three following marks for temperatures:

This is done with several powerful heating lights for the overall enclosure.

One of these lights should be a powerful basking light to keep the basking spot warm enough.

As with most pets, keep the heat and lights on for 12 hours at a time.

Then turn it off at night.

This simulates the natural day-night cycle and keeps the boa constrictor well-rested.

Heating mats may also be used. 

Lighting

Boa constrictors don’t need special UVB lighting.

If you decide to keep live plants in the enclosure and it’s indoors, then you’ll need some for the plants.

Most snakes don’t require extra UVB and get enough vitamin D from their diets.

Boas also are nocturnal, which means they are more active at night.

This has evolved their bodies over time to function without UVB.

In the wild, they may hide for a large portion of the day and only bask when the nights are extra cool.

If you do include UVB lighting, make sure it follows the same 12 hours on-12 hours off schedule as the heating lights do. 

Humidity

Though the boa will survive in a drier environment, they’re healthier when the air is humid.

Aim for 60-70% relative humidity in the enclosure at all times.

For such ample space, there are several ways to get this mark done.

First, always keep a large water dish in the enclosure (see more below).

Second, mist the area down or use an automatic mister to spray the tank down several times per day.

Finally, if misting and a water dish don’t get you there, you’ll need to raise the entire room’s humidity by using a humidifier.

Substrate

The substrate, bedding, or liner is the bottom material in the boa’s enclosure.

Basic substrate protects the snake’s body from rubbing raw on the ground and makes cleaning up droppings easier.

A good substrate will add to the humidity and break down bacteria.

It’s largely up to you as the owner, which you would like to use.

But there are some common ones out there you may wish to check out.

Common substrates for boa constrictors include: 

You’ll need a lot to cover the large space, but don’t be tempted to buy from a simple hardware store or greenhouse.

These are often treated to resist weeds and other things.

This treatment is a problem as it may affect the snake’s health when wet.

We recommend always buying from a pet-based manufacturer.

These are trusted to be chemical-free and safe for all pets. 

Water Dish

A water dish or bowl for the boa constrictor should always be in the tank.

This should be large enough to allow the snake to climb into and bathe.

Reptiles absorb moisture through drinking and their skin.

You’ll often find your boa resting in the water.

Always check to make sure the bowl has fresh water in it.

Boa constrictors, and many other reptiles, seem to enjoy defecating in the water.

Clean it as soon as you find it.

You may want to keep several bowls on hand to switch out if you’re unable to clean it right away.

As we mentioned above, the water dish will also help to increase the humidity of the enclosure. 

Furniture

These snakes are semi-arboreal.

They’ll be most happy when there are items in the tank in which to climb on.

Rocks, branches, logs, and live plants are good options.

One thing you must have is a hide.

This is a piece of furniture, usually an open log, cave-like rock, or box where the boa can go to relax and cool its body down.

Snakes are predators, but they’re also common prey to bigger animals.

Instinctively, boas want to hide for most of the day.

Even when they hunt, they usually hunt from hiding and surprising the rodents and birds they eat.

Without a hide in the enclosure, they’ll be stressed.

This is taxing on their body and results in more health issues and a shorter lifespan.

Boas who are stressed will also be more “cranky” and more likely to bite back at their owners. 

Mister

A misting system isn’t a requirement, but installing one in their enclosure is a good idea.

Their optimal native habitat, the rainforest, has a lot of rainfall.

This increases the humidity and helps them stay hydrated.

Boas should have this in their pet homes as well.

It’s possible to get a spray bottle or small hose and mist them down manually.

But this requires a lot of work, and you’ll need to do this 3-5 times per day, at least.

It’s much easier for you and safer for the pet just to get an automatic system. 

Brumation

Brumation is similar to hibernation for reptiles.

As the weather cools down for winter, the cold-blooded snake will slow down.

Boas will stop eating for the most part and move very little.

Not all boas’ natural habitats have a true winter, but there will often be a rainy season or cooler nighttime season.

All boas will go into brumation, which can last weeks or a few months.

When you notice your boa slowing down or eating less (after reaching adulthood), they may be heading into brumation.

Warning! Always check for signs of illness when you think they’re beginning to brumate. See the later section.

During brumation, continue to attempt to feed them on a regular schedule, though don’t be surprised if they don’t eat.

Keep the daytime temperatures at the same amount, but shorten the “daytime” hours to 8-10 hours.

Allow the night time temperatures to drop closer to 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) gradually.

Your pet should still drink or bathe during this time, though droppings will decrease as it doesn’t eat.

Brumation is a crucial part of the boa’s life cycle, and it’s the starting point of breeding as well.

Once they start to come out, gradually increase the settings back to normal and don’t be surprised if they want to eat more.

Shedding

Boa constrictors grow their whole lives.

Due to this, they’ll also have consistent shedding schedules.

They’ll shed 4-5 times per year as an adult for their entire lives.

Young snakes will shed up to 10 times per year.

You’ll notice the shedding beginning when their skin gets saggy, and their eyes turn milky blue.

Boas will also eat less and get irritable before their shed.

When these signs start, it’s 7-10 days before shedding.

As soon as you notice the signs, increase the humidity to 70-80% by misting more often.

This will help the shed happen with fewer complications.

Don’t help the snake shed its skin. Let it happen naturally.

If you pull it off too early, the new skin may not be fully formed, and you’ll give the snake open wounds where the skin’s not developed yet.

After the shed, if you notice leftover dead skin, wet it down with water spray or a shed aid and gently wiggle it back and forth until it falls off.

Never pull it straight out. 

Behavior

Boa constrictors are laid back and relaxed snakes for their large size and muscle mass.

Still, you need to know what the common behaviors are telling you. 

Hissing

Hissing, as you’d expect, is a sign of stress and aggressiveness.

Snakes don’t seek out larger animals to harm them, but they hiss to tell others they will fight back if needed.

If your boa is hissing, don’t attempt to handle it.

Give it space and see if there is anything about the tank which isn’t in the right setting.

Open Mouth

An open mouth is a little more unclear.

When a gaping mouth is accompanied by hissing, look out! It’s threatened and prepared to bite back.

If the gaping mouth comes with the snake away from your basking light and persists for a time, your snake may be overheated. Check your settings.

Finally, if the mouth is gaping hours after they’ve eaten, they may be choking on the food or having difficulty digesting it.

Always make sure you give the correct-sized prey, as we describe below.

Wrapping

As a constrictor, the boa’s instincts tell it to wrap itself around things.

This doesn’t always mean anything, and many owners theorize a gentle wrapping, and occasional squeeze is just part of their way of exploring.

Wrapping happens at any time.

It helps them feel more secure when being handled or exploring.

This is different from constricting. 

Constricting

Constricting is when they tighten their bodies around something with the intent of trapping or harming it.

They have been known to do this to people when startled.

If you feel uncomfortable with the tightness of your pet on you, lift the tail of the snake and quickly but smoothly unwrap them from your body.

Warning! It’s OK to let them rest on your shoulders, but NEVER let them wrap around your neck.

Boas can tighten very quickly with great power. 

Biting

Biting is relatively rare with boa constrictors.

If you pay attention to their body signs and don’t startle them, you may never be bitten.

However, it could happen.

Most likely, all you’ll need to do is bandage and disinfect the area where you were bit.

Constrictors aren’t powerful biters and have no venom.

Most bites require no serious medical help but feel free to go to a doctor after if you wish.

Health

Boa constrictors are healthy pets and not prone to illness or injury if you keep the habitat at the correct settings.

Here is what you need to know. 

Lifespan

A well-kept boa will live for 20-30 years in captivity.

There have been recorder instances of some living for 40 years or longer.

The best thing to help your pet live its longest life is to use a proper habitat, consistent and healthy diet, and watch for signs of illness.

Size

Females are larger than males.

A female will grow between 7′ – 10′ feet in length and usually weigh between 22-33 lbs.

Males are a little smaller on average, between 6′ – 8′ feet in length and 20-30 lbs.

However, boa constrictors grow throughout their entire lives and get larger depending on their diet as well.

It’s not unheard of a boa reaching 13′ feet or weighing up to 60 lbs in captivity.

Common Health Issues

While boa constrictors are usually healthy, they do tend to some illnesses common with most pet snakes. 

Skin Infection or Injury

This is one of the most common issues with boas.

From poor shedding or accidental injury, the snake’s skin may become visibly injured, which may turn into an infection.

Watch for signs of pus or discoloration, and take your pet to the vet if the injury is actively bleeding or looks or smells funny. 

Inclusion Body Disease

IBD is a serious internal illness.

It usually affects the nervous system.

Signs of this include the inability to flip off their back and “Stargazing” or unreactive keeping its head erect and looking up.

Take your pet to the vet as soon as you see this. 

Respiratory Infections

Snakes are prone to respiratory infections due to the nature of their lungs and bodies.

Looks for sneezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing. 

Mouth Rot

Mouth rot is more common as the snakes get older.

This is an infection in their mouth and may cause the loss of teeth and appetite.

This is shown through discolored teeth, gums, mouths, and liquid or foam in the mouth.

Parasites

Parasites happen to all animals.

This isn’t always preventable but is more avoidable when using quality substrate and food.

Look for signs of weakness, lethargy, and weight loss despite eating.

Be prepared to bring a stool sample to your vet when looking for this. 

Common Signs Of Illness

When you notice these signs in your boa constrictor, a call or trip to the vet is in order: 

Diet

Boa constrictors are easy to keep healthy with a steady diet.

Adults should be fed once every 10-14 days.

This may not seem like much, but it’s the perfect timeline.

They should eat one piece of prey (usually large mice or a rat) per meal.

The prey should be close in size to the width of their body but never larger.

This may result in choking or regurgitation.

Many owners will also alternatively feed their boa a single rabbit (still not larger than the width of their bodies) per month.

Rabbits have more nutrients than rodents.

Warning! Never handle your snake within 24 hours of feeding.

Don’t feed them more than this amount. 

Care

There isn’t a lot you need to do to care for a boa other than setting up their habitat, keeping the water clean, and feeding them every 10-14 days. 

Handling

Boas enjoy being handled to a certain extent.

If they seem to be done with it all, just stop.

Never grab for their head.

Reach slowly for their body and gather up what you’re able to.

They should coil or wrap firmly but not tightly around your arm or hands.

Do this a little at a time (<10 minutes) and gradually increase it until they’re used to you. 

Cleaning

Every day spot clean and check for droppings.

Once per month, wipe down any furniture and replace the soiled substrate as applicable.

Once every three months, put the boa in another spot and completely replace the substrate, deep clean, and rinse all furniture as needed.

Reproduction

Boa constrictors are sexually mature at 3-4 years of age.

Boa mating season is during the dry season between April and August.

The female will release pheromones indicating to males she’s ready to mate.

In the wild, males will wrestle and compete to see which gets to mate.

The winner will wrap his tail around the female as they copulate.

This may happen several times in rapid succession.

The female can hold onto the sperm for a year while she mates with other males as well.

When she decides to ovulate, the egg inside becomes fertilized, and she has swelling in her mid-body.

2-3 weeks after this swelling, she’ll begin her post-ovulation shed.

Interestingly, this shed will also last another 2-3 weeks before it is loosed.

After this, she carries her babies for another 100-120 days.

At this time, the female gives birth to live baby boa constrictors.

These children are called a litter, and each one is between 15″ – 20″ inches long at birth.

She’ll birth 25 at one time on average with a complete range of 10-65 young.

These are on their own right from the beginning. 

Needed Supplies

Subspecies

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