Common Boa Constrictor
Boa constrictor imperator
I would like to first like to thank Dave and Tracy Barker, Ralph Davis, and Jeff Ronne for various small parts of the information contained in this document. It was from their records that a lot of information on new color morphs was obtained. Their experiences and unknown assistance made this as informative as you see it now. I couldn’t have done all of this without these guys.
The common boa constrictor is often called the red-tailed boa or Colombian Boa in the pet trade. In truth, this boa has possibly the largest natural range of all boa sub-species ranging from Mexico through Central America and South American continent clear to Argentina. Corn Island Boas are currently listed as common boas at this time though work is underway which could totally reclassify the boa constrictors, as we currently know them. This work could even affect the boa c. constrictor, true red-tail boas.
This is probably the most commonly kept boa in the US and even the world. They tend to be very docile and even tempered tolerating regular handling quite well. Boa constrictors are fairly slow moving with the potential to reach larger sizes and weights that could make them less desirable for younger keepers. This species is commonly bred in captivity and there is no need for wild caught boa constrictors except by the most experience keepers/breeders who work with oddities and to diversify bloodlines to make them available to the market place.
Size and Life span
Boa constrictors are commonly 12 to 16 inches long at birth and grow at a steady, though not super fast, rate until they reach 4 to 5 feet in length. At this time they usually begin to slow down as adult size and maturity is reached. While females are typically larger than males, both can attain lengths of 8 feet. Reports of 10-foot long females are not uncommon and occasionally lengths of 12 foot are reported; though these are certainly rare.
This is a snake that can live for a many years. There are definite reports of 20 years and a couple of 29+ years in captivity. It should be assumed that these snakes could easily live to be 25+ years old if properly cared for and treated well.
These snakes require a moderate sized enclosure. Large sweater boxes are sometimes used though there are a number of better cages available on the market. Another option often employed is custom-built vivariums. The key is to provide ample room with a cage 2/3 as long as the snake and ½ as wide. Avoid sharp edges and some keepers employ hide areas though it is debated as to whether this is really needed.
A tropical climate should be maintained with water available at all times to assist with keeping the humidity high. Temperatures in the 80 to 90-degree range are ideal. Overhead lighting can be used to provide heat with temperatures checked using thermometers. The unheated area of the cage should not be allowed to drop below the mid-70’s F. Lights should be maintained at 12 hours on and 12 hours off.
Boa constrictor babies can start eating hopper mice or pink rats after their first shed. Because of the eventual size that boas can reach, it is suggested that they should be taught to eat frozen/thawed, or at least freshly killed, food items. This prevents every motion in their enclosure from being identified as potential prey (even the keeper’s hands.) By the time these snakes are 3 to 5 feet long, they will be eating adult rats and by 7 or 8 feet will be eating 2 or 3 adult rats or a small rabbit at each feeding time. The interval between feedings varies due to different factors such as total cage size and exercise the snake receives, but it is safe to assume that feeding younger snakes once per week is average. Larger snakes will eat less frequently so that every 10 to 14 days is adequate.
Breeding boas can be achieved at any time during the year by altering their environment. Maturity is reached between 2 ½ and 4 years of age. Males can breed at 4 ½ feet in length while females are best held until they are at least 6 feet long. Most breeders hold off breeding until September through March but mating has been done under controlled circumstances in the April to August time period.
It is essential to reduce available light to approximately 8 or 9 hours a day and reduce cage temperatures until nighttime lows in the low 70’s and daytime temps in the lower 80’s is achieved. Some breeders note that misting with warm water to simulate a natural rainy season is helpful, as is the use of 2 males (though the latter is not a must.)
The female will carry the babies the entire time and no eggs are produced outside of the body. (This species is ovoviviparous.) After a gestation period of approximately 130 days (+/- 10) 15 to 40+ babies are “born.” Because this species is commonly bred in captivity, let us state again that only the most experienced keepers should work with wild caught adults to diversify the bloodlines available on the market.
This is another snake that has shown excellent results when breeding for mutations/morphs. For some years there has been the regular albino form with a lot of yellow that is now know to be T- (T=tyronaise.) There is now a known T+ that showed up unexpectedly in a group of offspring at VPI for Dave and Tracy Barker. There are also the pastel, salmon, pewter, anytheristic, arabesque, white and snow forms.