Boas are among the very best snakes to keep as pets. While most boas are large snakes, and not necessarily suitable for owners with no previous experience, in my mind there is no better snake. In fact, after 25 years of keeping snakes, if I could only have one it would definitely be a boa!
In general boas, while large and powerful, are normally a joy to handle, and generally docile by nature. There 28 recognised species of boa, and many of them can be kept in captivity, though some are certainly more suitable than others. This is a guide to the 4 species best suited to captivity.
Common Boas Boa Constrictor Imperator
The Common Boas, also referred to as Central American Boas or Columbian Boas, range from Mexico to central South America. Variable in looks, and also habitat, they thrive everywhere from rainforest to scrub-land. The majority of Boa Constrictors in captivity are Common Boas, most of which originated from Columbia.
While no boa is the perfect pet snake, the Common Boa comes closest to attaining that title. They tend to be considerably cheaper than other boas, such as the Red Tailed, and yet are still beautiful snakes, often with striking markings. They are usually very docile, will normally take defrosted prey with no difficulties, and in general are easy to care for.
Tending to be a little smaller than Red Tailed Boas, Boa Constrictor Imperator will generally reach 6 – 9 feet in length as an adult. Males will tend to be a little shorter and less well built than females, and sex can usually be determined by the anal spurs which are quite prominent on the males
Neonates will be around 14 – 20″ inches at birth, and will normally start feeding well on fuzzy mice soon after their first shed if given optimum conditions.
If you want a beautiful snake that is relatively easy to care for and good to handle, the Common Boa might well be an ideal choice
Red Tailed Boas Boa Constrictor Constrictor
The true Red Tails are only found in the Amazon and Orinoco basins in northern Brazil, eastern Peru, Suriname, Guyana and southern Columbia. They are generally light coloured with striking saddle markings which are a rich red, bordered in black, on the anterior third of the snake.
Generally longer, and more heavily built that the common boas, Red Tails can grow to over 12 feet in length, although 9 – 10 foot is more common.
They are generally considered suitable for more experienced keepers, mostly due to their larger size and the fact that they are more difficult to breed in captivity than the common boa. They are also considerably more expensive than the common boas. Having said that, they are still docile and generally easy to care for snakes. If you are prepared for the large size and can accommodate a large enough enclosure, they are truly striking animals. A large adult will require an enclosure of at least 6′ in length by 3′ and will typically take a jumbo rat or rabbit once a fortnight.
Dumeril’s Boas Boa Dumerili
The Dumeril’s is a CITES protected species from Madagascar. The CITES status of this species means that WC or CF farmed specimens cannot be exported, but it does not prevent CB snakes from being kept. If you do buy a Dumeril’s Boa however you will need CITES paperwork to prove its origin, and be micro chipped. Any reputable breeder or dealer with Dumeril’s Boas for sale will be able to arrange paperwork and advise on micro chipping (adults should already be chipped, but juveniles too small to be chipped will require a visit to the vet to have a chip inserted when they are large enough.
They are an excellent alternative to the Common or Red Tailed Boa for keepers wanting a large boa, but are daunted by the idea of owning an 8 – 10 foot snake. These snakes very rarely exceed 7 foot in length, and adults often to do not exceed 5 foot.
Similar husbandry to Common Boas is required for the Dumeril’s, although some specimens can be more problematic to feed and are slightly more prone to stress.
Rainbow Boas Epicrates cenchria
Rainbow boas get their name from an iridescence on their skin when they are exposed to the sun, or other bright light. There are several subspecies, found on much of South America, and of these the Brazilian (E.c. CenchriaI) and Columbian (E.c. Maurus) are most common in captivity.
In general, Rainbow Boas are considered a more advanced snake, and suited to experienced herpetoculturists only. This is largely due to the fact that these are typically much less tolerant of handling than snakes such as boa constrictors. Whether of not Rainbows Boas are suitable to be kept as a first snake really depends on what you want from a snake. If you want a snake which you can handle pretty much whenever you want, and not have to worry to much about the snake being aggressive, then a Rainbow Boa probably isn’t for you. If, however, you want a beautiful snake that you can observe in its vivarium in the way you would enjoy fish in an aquarium, then there is really no reason why a Rainbow Boa couldn’t be kept as a first snake, provided you are capable of giving it the environment and care it needs.
A temperature (controlled by thermostat) of around 78 – 80 F should be provided at night, rising to 85 – 90 F during the day. The humidity must be kept considerably high. In addition to a pool/bowl of water large enough to soak in, the enclosure should be misted daily. These snakes very rarely drink from pools, but will take droplets of rain water from branches and leaves, and even their own scales. Aim for a humidity of 75-80%. Since high humidity promotes the growth of mould and fungus, extra care must be taken to ensure cleanliness and good ventilation.
Other boa species
There are of course many other species of boa, including much smaller species such as the rosy boas and ground boas. But for the average snake owner, who wants a truly magnificent snake and is able to commit to keeping a large snake for 20+ years, one of these 4 superb species would certainly be my choice.