Boa constrictors have always been a popular pet snake. Similar to Burmese Pythons in that they are considered a ‘friendly giant’ of the snake world. Luckily though, they do not quite reach the size of Burmese Pythons. Boa constrictors usually average 7-9feet in length, females being the larger of the sizes. They have been known however to reach 14feet in length, a formidable force for such a large bodied snake. Many sub-species of Boa constrictors are now recognized, most of which are smaller locality variants and should also be considered as good pet snakes. These variations make a good alternative if space is an issue.
When keeping any snake as a pet, you generally want to be able to view the snake from the outside of its enclosure, in the most natural surroundings you can offer. This will be more aesthetically pleasing and also aid in the general condition of the snake. If the snake likes its surroundings, it will have a better feeding response and generally grow quicker. A larger vivarium also offers more interest to the snake’s life, and by adding branches and other natural products you will enhance the quality of life the snake has, and stop it from becoming lethargic and overweight. Also, being stronger it should have more of a resistance to any viral infections or any other problems that it may encounter later in life.
For an adult Boa constrictor, a vivarium 2m Length x 0.9m Width x 1m Height is ample. These large constrictors are one of a few species which are generally not worried about the size of their enclosure. The more room you can provide; the better. Many keepers decide to dedicate a whole room to their beloved snake. Other keepers may decide to use a corner of a room as the back walls and ceiling of the enclosure, and simply build 2 front walls. This will cut down the costs of building and allow for a larger space for the boa. Juveniles should be offered a far smaller enclosure until you are confident they are comfortable with you, their surroundings and feed regularly.
Snake enclosures can be made from a number of materials. Most commonly used is a melamine coated wood which covers all sides except the front, which has glass sliding doors. Aquariums can also be used for juvenile Boa constrictors, although a specialist lid should be bought or made rather than the original aquarium lid. It is essential when thinking about what type of enclosure you use, you think about these 6 ‘SSSHHH’ factors:
1) Safety – Can the snake or owner injure itself from the enclosure or any appliances held within?
2) Secure – Can the snake escape through any small hole or cavity?
3) Size – Will the enclosure be appropriately sized?
4) Heating – Is the enclosure able to regulate the temperature properly?
5) Humidity – Will the enclosure last well in humid conditions? Is there enough ventilation for the moisture to escape?
6) Hygienic – Will the enclosure build up a lot of bacteria in small cavities? Is it easy to clean?
By following the steps above, you can have a suitable enclosure made from a variety of materials.
Décor in your tank serves two purposes. First being extra cover for your snake and second, allowing for a more natural and pleasing appearance. When choosing décor, think about the safety of the snake. Make sure that whatever you decide to use, it is securely fixed and that no rocks, wood or anything heavy can fall and possibly injure, or even kill the snake. You must also make sure that everything used is parasite free. If anything has been picked up from outside, or has originally come from outside, such as cork bark, you should either boil it, or place the item in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Freezing works for some parasites, however others have been known to survive months in freezing conditions. Some parasites found in English conditions last winters in minus temperatures, so it is not entirely effective.
Once all your décor is parasite free, it is then safe to place inside your enclosure. As a general rule, if you can put pressure on an item to knock it down, a Boa constrictor is certainly capable of doing so. When positioning rocks or heavy objects, make sure they are completely secure. If it is still uneasy, screw them or use superglue to fix them securely. If it is not possible, the rule is simple: Do not place the item in the vivarium!
If you decide to go for an extra large enclosure, you must provide plenty of cover and hiding areas. A hiding place can be anything from a large tupperware box with a hole cut out to a naturalistic piece of cork bark. There are many brands of fake plants and décor you can use which is both safe for the animal and pleasing to the eye. Cork bark is available from almost any reptile pet shop in the UK, and can be ordered in if they do not have it in stock. This is excellent cover for any reptile and is 100% natural. One thing you must consider when thinking about the size of the vivarium, is the bigger you go, the more hiding areas you must provide. I recommend at least one hiding place per metre in length of the enclosure.
NOTE: Never use sticky tape in an enclosure; this is an accident waiting to happen. Believe me; removing sticky tape from any snake is no easy task!
Boa constrictors require a thermal gradient, meaning they must be allowed to move around the enclosure to find their required temperature. The hot end of the enclosure should be 88-92ºF while the cool end should be approximately 80-84ºF. During the night, the temperature should drop to a more constant overall temperature of 80-84º
In my opinion, the ideal way of heating a large Boa constrictor’s enclosure is to use a large 250W Ceramic Heater with a reflector and safety grid so the snake cannot touch it. Ceramic heaters do not give off light and therefore in a vivarium you will need a form of lighting as well. A ceramic heater should be used in conjunction with a HabiStat Pulse Proportional Thermostat, which will stop the power reaching the heater as soon as the temperature goes above the setting, and turn back on as soon as it is too cool. This is one of the most accurate thermostats on the market today.
Power Plates, spot bulbs and heat mats are also ways of heating a vivarium. These all have their advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, none quite weigh out to be as good as ceramic heaters for large enclosures. Heat mats are not recommended at all for large snakes, if so, they should not be accessible to it.
Boa constrictors are primarily nocturnal, meaning they venture out in the dark of night. This is when their main predators are sleeping, and their prey is awake. This is not to say though, that they never see the sun, or any form of lighting for that matter. They will often bask in the sun during the day in the wild, so lighting should be offered.
Having artificial light in a vivarium is aesthetically pleasing to the owner, and is a good addition to a snake’s enclosure. They will use this as a photo-period, and their regular time clock will generally adjust to the settings on which you have your light set to.
They do not require any form of special lighting, such as a D3 Ultra-Violet light commonly used for diurnal species. An Arcadia Natural Sunlight Fluorescent Lamp is a good form of lighting. This comes in lengths of 12″ up to 48″ and I suggest you use the largest size able to fit inside your vivarium. In a room-sized enclosure, a few may be needed.
Boa constrictors occur over much of Central and Northern South America and therefore are exposed to a high humidity. This should be replicated in captivity to aid to the general health and well-being of your snake. A 60-70% humidity range will allow to snake to slough it’s skin properly and become less prone to any problems such as respiratory infections.
Hatchlings should be offered fuzzy mice or rat pups, and as they grow the mice or rats should become larger. An adult Boa constrictor should be fed on large rats. One or two of these every 2-3 weeks is ample. Hatchlings should be fed on a regular basis, every 5-7 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is very high and as they are growing, they need a lot more food to keep them going. The only exception when adult females should be fed more is when they need fattening up for breeding, or just after they have given birth. A gravid female should be fed double the normal amount for several weeks after she has given birth, and for as long as possible after ovulation. Snakes have the capability of building up a huge fat reserve, and become obese very easily. Taking the weight off however, is a much more difficult task. Obese snakes will not live nearly the length as a healthy snake would due to liver and kidney problems. If you are unsure about your snake’s weight, check with a reptile veterinarian.