red tail boa

The ONLY Boa Constrictor Care Guide Needed!

The best boa constrictor care guide is here!

There are a number of species of boas, but the two that we’ll be covering here are the BCI – Boa Constrictor Imperator (common boa)and the BCC – Boa Constrictor Constrictor (red-tailed boa.

*note: most reptile and snake-keepers will refer to BOTH BCC and BCI boas as “red-tailed” boas even though only BCCs are considered to be true red-tailed boas. 

Boas are one of the most popular large snakes kept as pets. In this care guide you’ll learn everything needed to set up, maintain, and care for your very own boa constrictor!

A Quick Introduction...

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Boa constrictor

COMMON NAMES: Red-tailed boa, Common boa

ADULT SIZE: Females can reach a size of 7-12 ft, while males average 6-8ft

LIFE EXPECTANCY: On average boa constrictors live 20-30 years

Natural Habitat

The boa constrictor is found mainly in some parts of Central and a large part of South America, as well as many islands off the coast. 

There are small populations that live in the rural, Southern extremes of Florida, introduced as discarded pets. 

While boa constrictors can thrive in a variety of environments (from tropical rainforest to almost desert-like regions) they prefer rainforest where humidity and temperature are more suited to their survival.

The rainforest provides a prolific amount of cover to protect them from natural predators and offers them an almost unlimited amount of available prey. 

Boas not only inhabit and move through the trees, they are quite capable swimmers and are often found near rivers. 

Red-tailed boas can also find shelter and cover in animal burrows under the ground. 

Boas and Their Locales (average)

Boa Locale
BCC - Boa Constrictor Constrictor
Venezuela, Peru, Suriname, Guyana
BCI - Boa Constrictor Imperator
Columbia, Central America, Hog Island, Most "Island" boas

Size

Boa constrictors are large, heavy bodied snakes. (large compared to the giant snakes such as the Burmese and reticulated pythons)

Females average between 7 and 12ft while males are usually a bit smaller at 6 to 8ft. 

In captivity females can regularly exceed 10ft growing to a potential 14 ft long!

Very large females can reach a weight of near 60 lbs however, somewhere between 20 and 30 lbs are much more common. 

BCC boas tend to get a little large than BCI boas.

*Do you like the idea of a “heavier-bodied snake but the size of a boa may be a bit too much?*

Have you considered a ball python?

*Do you like the idea of a “heavier-bodied snake but the size of a boa may be a bit too much?*

Have you considered a ball python?

Lifespan

Boas in captivity can live, on average, between 20 and 30 years. Some individuals have been known to live over 40 years! Having a boa constrictor for a pet is definitely a commitment for many years to come!

Colors and Morphs

Boa constrictors coloration can vary depending on their locale. In general boas are a combination of brown, gray, cream as their foundation color with patches, or saddles, of pattern and color that deepens as it gets closer to the tail. 

These saddles are varying degrees of brown or reddish-red; with BCC boas exhibiting a more intense red coloration. BCIs usually display a more muted or toned-down red coloration, especially as they get older. 

Captive breeding projects have led to many color morphs such as albino boas being available to hobbyists. Generally BCI boas are more often bred to display a greater variety of morphs.

Difficulty Level

Boa constrictors make excellent pets! Despite their large size, even novice reptile-keepers have success and little difficulty keeping boas!

Their setup and care is simple and undemanding as long as the keeper has their basic care and requirements in order.

Behavior and Temperament

Boas are solitary animals that, although nocturnal, do bask in the sun during the day especially when night-time temperatures are too low for their liking. 

As juveniles, boas are somewhat arboreal snakes, however as they grow, adults tend to be much more terrestrial and prefer to stay on the ground as they become longer and heavier. 

Do Red Tail Boas Bite?

Fact, anything with a mouth can (and probably will) bite you. 

That said, a bite from a boa constrictor isn’t likely to do you serious harm. A bite from an adult boa constrictor can hurt and it will draw blood. 

The best thing you can do with your pet boa is to acclimate it and tame it while it’s young in order to prevent getting bitten altogether. 

If a boa does bite, make sure to clean the area well by washing with soap and water and cover the area with a clean, small bandage. (if necessary)

Boa constrictors are quite docile and have good temperaments so bites from them are rare.

Handling

Boa constrictors are really a joy to handle. Boas differ from ball pythons that are very slow and don’t show much desire to move and crawl about your hands and arms; a boa constrictor has a bit more personality.  

Also, being a much heavier-bodied snake, you will feel your boa ‘hugging’ you more than you would a ball python; the strength and power of these amazing snakes really is apparent when you hold them. 

Just always remember, handling any reptile is for the keepers enjoyment and pleasure and not the animal’s. 

Like with any animal, initial contact should be slow and steady and trust is developed over a period of time gently handling the snake for a few minutes every day or so for a week to a couple of weeks. 

Once your boa constrictor realizes that you pose it no threat, they can be handled with ease and are a pleasure to hold. 

Besides avoiding handling your boa when it is in shed you must not handle your snake after it has consumed a meal. Waiting a few days after it has eaten will help to ensure that it doesn’t stress out your snake and lead to it regurgitating its meal.

Enclosure

An adult boa constrictor will need, at a minimum, of a 4ft by 2ft enclosure. Again, that is the bare minimum and a bigger enclosure around 6ft by 3ft affords a much better habitat for your new snake.

Some snake keepers, and especially breeders keep their boa constrictors in a rack system. Most boa rack systems use tubs of 4ft x 30 inches. A couple of advantages to rack systems are that it allows breeders to house large numbers of snakes and it affords easy cleaning and maintenance of the enclosure.  

Larger enclosures are very nice both for you and your boa constrictor. However, remember that larger enclosures (and more hides and decorations that you put inside them) need to be cleaned and kept clean. 

So, while some may frown on snakes being kept in a rack system, cleanliness and the snakes welfare ALWAYS need to come first. So, if having a rack system means that you’ll be able to provide a cleaner, healthier, and more stable environment then they are a great way to house your snake.

You will need to spot clean the enclosure as needed and do a full tear down of the tank/habitat monthly to clean and disinfect it. Clean = happy keepers and happier reptiles!

Boa constrictors need to be housed individually and not in pairs or groups.

Humidity

Your boa constrictor enclosure should have a constant humidity of 60-70%. 

In order to maintain the humidity you may need to occasionally mist the enclosure or, if your habitat has one, cover part of the mesh screen top to retain moisture.  

Misting can be down with a simple spray bottle. Humidity will also be boosted depending on how easily the substrate holds moisture and by maintaining a water bowl in the enclosure.

Using a hydrometer, a device for measuring humidity makes easy work of maintaining proper humidity levels. Fortunately they are inexpensive and readily available.

Substrate

Your boa constrictor’s substrate can be as simple or as complicated as you want.

The main purpose of the substrate is to provide a surface for the snake to live in/on, to be efficiently and effectively cleaned, to hold in moisture in order to raise humidity, and to be visually appealing.

Substrates such as aspen shavings, cypress mulch and orchid bark (both help maintain humidity), or even something as simple as newspaper or paper towels can work great!

Never use substrates containing cedar as it is deadly to reptiles.

Hides

An absolute necessity for any boa constrictor enclosure is two or more hides or shelters. Most snakes prefer a dark secure place to spend much of their time. The hides you provide give your boa a secure place to feel safe.

The more hides and safe places you can provide your snake the less stress it will have and the more comfortable it will be.

Heating

Boa constrictors need temperature gradients(zones). Their enclosure should have a “warm side” and a “cool side.”

The warm side basking spot should range in temperature from 88-90°F and the cool side from 80-85°F. 

The most effective means of heating your boa’s enclosure is by an under-tank heating pad or mat. You can also heat the enclosure with a heating lamp or ceramic heat emitter directed from the outside of the enclosure. (set on top of the screen lid)

NEVER use heating rocks or stones that go inside of the habitat. These can cause severe burns and even death!

An accurate thermometer is a must for any boa constrictor enclosure.

Lighting

A basking light using a full-spectrum UVB bulb should be used on the warm side of the enclosure to help enable your boa to regulate its temperature and provide it the benefits of UVB light. 

Food and Water

Clean, fresh water should be available at all times

A large, stable water dish should be provided. The water dish should be large enough that your boa can soak in it. Soaking can be very important during shedding. 

The water dish should be cleaned and disinfected weekly and as needed. 

Boa constrictors have good appetites, which can be both a blessing and a potential curse. 

Boas, unlike ball pythons, will seldom give you any trouble with refusing to eat. In fact, they will many times eat to excess if given the opportunity. It is not uncommon to see obese boa constrictors as a result of uneducated owners with poor animal husbandry. 

Boa constrictors are carnivores; they eat other animals

You should feed your adult boa constrictor every 2 to 3 weeks. Smaller, juvenile snakes can be fed more often, about every 7 days, boas that are between 1 -2 years of age can be fed every 7-14 days.  

Your boa will be fed with mice, in time graduating to adult rats (even some XXXL sized rats for very large boas). As a rule, you can feed your snake mice or rats that are approximately the same size as the snake is round. 

The size of the mouse or the rat will depend on the size of your snake’s midsection.

After feeding your boa should show a slight bulge in its midsection from the meal. Your snake should NOT have a big lump in its stomach or look like it swallowed a beach ball!

Feeder rodents

Should I feed live rodents or feed previously killed frozen (and then thawed) rodents?

The best option, for both you and your boa constrictor, is to purchase frozen rodents that you can thaw and feed to your snake.

Benefits of feeding frozen/thawed:

  • It is convenient
  • It’s parasite free
  • Rodents cannot harm or cause injury
  • More economical because you can buy in bulk
  • Frozen rodents are easier to store than live rodents

Live animals are what boa constrictors eat in the wild. They have evolved to be extremely good predators and are built for hunting, subduing, constricting, and eating live prey. 

However, in a captive environment feeding live animal prey is not ideal for a number of reasons.

Three reasons not to feed live:

  1. If left unattended a live rodent can harm, injure or (yes) even kill your snake
  2. There is the possibility of introducing disease or pests to your snake/enclosure
  3. Live rodents can be difficult/time consuming/messy/smelly to house

Rodent bites, especially bites from a large rat, can do great harm to your snake. If you do feed live rodents make sure not to leave your snake and the rodent unattended until the snake has captured and constricted its prey.

Why won't my red tail boa eat?

As mentioned earlier boa constrictors have great appetites and don’t often refuse food or go on hunger strikes.

However, you may occasionally experience a snake that refuses to eat. 

Here are some common reasons why your boa constrictor isn’t eating:

  • It is in shed or about to go into shed
  • Your snake just isn’t interested (or is going through a seasonal “fast”)
  • The enclosure is too hot or too cold
  • Stress can cause your snake to not eat
  • Less common -there may be a heath/medical problem (parasites, infection, etc)

Shedding

All snakes shed their skin and boa constrictors are no exception. Boas continue to grow throughout their lives and as their body increases in size they need to shed their skin to accommodate for this growth.  

Shedding can also be beneficial because it may help remove parasites like mites or ticks. 

Snakes go through a shedding cycle which can last between 1 and 2 weeks.

The Pre-shed

During this pre-shedding phase you’ll notice that your boa’s colors appear dull and a bit darker than usual. You may also notice the snake’s eye becoming darker as well or appearing faded. 

Some boas will display a pink blushing or tint to their belly. Your snake may begin to refuse to eat at this point which is completely normal! 

(once they do refuse food, it’s probably best to stop offering it until they have completed their shed)

Blue

The second part of the pre-shed is what’s known as “being in blue” or the “blue phase.”

Being in blue means that your boa’s eyes will get cloudy, and appear to be a milky-blue color. Your snake’s skin will also appear to be a lot less colorful and much duller than it usually does. 

snake showing blue

The second part of the pre-shed is what’s known as “being in blue” or the “blue phase.”

Being in blue means that your boa’s eyes will get cloudy, and appear to be a milky-blue color. Your snake’s skin will also appear to be a lot less colorful and much duller than it usually does. 

Your constrictor is easily stress during this stage. Cloudy eyes make it hard to see and the impending shed can make your snake particularly uneasy. 

Your boa will spend much of its time hiding and become defensive if you attempt to handle it or are active in its enclosure. It’s best to just give your snake the space it needs.

It can be a good idea to keep a diligent eye on the enclosure’s humidity levels; even increasing them a bit up tp 75-85%.

You can introduce a “humidity box,” or hide filled with slightly damp sphagnum moss to assist your snake in the shedding process.

Approximately 3-5 days later your boa may begin to look “normal” again. Many new snake keepers wonder, “What happened? Is my boa constrictor not going to shed now?”

Clearing

This “clearing stage” is a normal part of the shedding process as all the fluid between the old and new layers of skin clears up and makes the snake appear much more colorful and brighter. 

When your snake “clears up” after “being in blue,” you know the shed is about to begin!

In 2 to 3 days after your boa has shown signs of the pre-shed “clearing” your snake will soon shed its skin. Snakes tend to shed at night when they feel less stressed and more secure, so you may not see your boa constrictor shed at all.

The Shed

Your boa rubs its nose against a hide, a decoration, the enclosure wall or substrate to get its skin to begin to peel or crack. 

Once its skin begins to peel the snake will wriggle and squirm and move its way around the enclosure rubbing up against anything it can find to help remove the old skin.

Most often a fully shed snake’s skin will come off in one piece, eye caps and the tip of the tail included!

Your boa may eat a short time after completing its shed or it may skip another meal.

Either is perfectly normal. If your snake does refuse to eat,  just try to see if it will feed at the next scheduled meal.

Common Health Problems

For the most part boa constrictors are very hardy and robust and will remain free from disease and health problems.

However, there are some health issues that can affect boas. 

IBD - Inclusion Body Disease

IBD is a serious and fatal viral infection that targets boid snakes. Infected boa constrictors may develop head tremors, have recurrent regurgitation, and have abnormal sheds. 

Symptoms can worsen at an alarming rate as the infection progress through the nervous system. 

It is important to pay close attention to any abnormal signs or symptoms that you boa may display. Veterinary assistance can be helpful in determining whether or not a boa may have inclusion body disease. 

Vomiting and regurgitation

The most common cause is from poor husbandry (care). Handling your boa constrictor too soon after feeding can cause your it to vomit/regurgitate. Low enclosure temperature can also cause your snake to vomit/regurgitate. 

These two causes account for almost all instances of vomiting and regurgitation. They are both easily corrected.

Poor shed with retained eye cap

Low humidity, handling your snake while in shed (damaging underlying skin), and low temperatures can lead the eye caps (protective skin covering the eye) to not be shed. 

Poor husbandry and an unclean environment will lead to disaster EVERY TIME!

If you are unable to provide a boa (or any reptile) with the proper environment, please reconsider this choice of pet for the time being. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your boa constrictor’s health please contact your local veterinarian!

Conclusion

This boa constrictor care guide was developed with both you and your snake in mind! 

We hope that the information contained here can get you off to a great start and help keep your snake happy, healthy, and in the best shape possible! 

As always, good luck and thank you for stopping by!

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