snake-care

Boa Constrictor Care Sheet

February 10, 2021

boa constrictor

Boa constrictors (Boa sp.) are a group of 5-12’ long, crepuscular, semi-arboreal snakes native to Central and South America. They prefer subtropical to tropical forest habitats, and spend time both in trees and on the forest floor.

Boa constrictors vary widely in color, pattern, and even size depending on species. Captive breeding efforts have produced morphs, which increases the available variety further. However, generally speaking, boa constrictors have muscular, rectangular bodies, rectangular heads, prehensile tails, and darker patterning on their tails compared to the rest of their body.

Boa constrictors are one of the most common pet snakes in the US due to their hardiness and tolerance toward humans. However, their size and husbandry requirements still make them intermediate- to advanced-level pet reptiles. With good care, they are capable of living 30 years or more.

Minimum terrarium size for boa constrictors

Due to the variation in size between different types of boa constrictor, it’s important to know exactly what species (or subspecies) of boa you have so you can predict its adult length and choose an appropriately-sized enclosure accordingly. As a general rule, the absolute minimum enclosure size for a boa constrictor will fit these requirements:

  • Length and width are equal to or greater than the snake’s expected adult length
  • Height is equal to or greater than half the snake’s expected adult length

Of course, larger is always better! 

Cohabitation (keeping multiple boa constrictors in one enclosure) is not recommended.

Do boa constrictors need UVB?

Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for boa constrictors. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. 

The best UVB bulbs for boa constrictors are:

  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
  • Arcadia Forest 6%

The bulb you buy should be approximately half the length of the enclosure. For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture from Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 11-13” above the basking branch if over mesh, and 14-16” above the basking branch if not. 

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

Lights should be on for about 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for boa constrictors

Like other reptiles, boa constrictors are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.

Specifically speaking, boa constrictors should have a basking air temperature of 86-90°F, and a cool side temperature between 75-80°F. Air temperatures should be measured with at least two digital probe thermometers.

Provide heat for your snake with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use colored bulbs, as these are not as effective. 

Light-producing heat sources should be turned off at night. However, if the enclosure tends to get colder than 72°F at night, you will need supplementary heating. Use a ceramic heat emitter or radiant heat panel connected to a thermostat to do the job.

Best humidity levels for boa constrictors

Boa constrictors need ambient humidity levels of about 55-75%. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity.

Best substrate for boa constrictors

Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your boa’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for boa constrictors:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

Substrate should be at least 3” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

How to decorate a boa constrictor terrarium

An empty terrarium makes for a bored boa, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of decor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

Since boa constrictors are semi-arboreal, at bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and a branch for it to climb on. However, it’s best to include other items such as:

What to feed to a boa constrictor

Boa constrictors are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake age:

  • Newborn-6 months: every 10-12 days
  • 6-12 months: every 10-12 days
  • 12-18 months: every 12-14 days
  • 18-24 months: every 2-3 weeks
  • 2-2.5 years: every 2-3 weeks
  • 2.5-3 years: every 3-4 weeks
  • 3-4 years: every 4-6 weeks
  • 4+ years: every 4-8 weeks

Prey items should be around 10% of the snake’s weight and no wider than the snake itself. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.

One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, gerbils, young guinea pigs, young rabbits, chicks, and quail can also be used to add diversity to your snake’s diet.

Supplements

Boa constrictors can survive without supplementation, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.

Water

Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your boa constrictor

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, boa constrictors generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! When picking up your boa, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some great sources we recommend checking out:

  • The ReptiFiles Boa Constrictor Care Guide
  • Boa-C-Constrictor.de
  • Stockl Boa Constrictors
  • “The More Complete Boa Constrictor” by Vincent Russo

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