Caring for the BCC (Boa Constrictor Constrictor) can be challenging. Read on to learn how it’s done!
This care page is broken into five sections – Quarantine, Housing, Feeding, Handling, and Husbandry Items.
Quarantine is likely the single most important step to ensure the health and long term success of your entire collection. Quarantining your boa means that the animal is housed somewhere in your house or facility other than where the rest of your permanent, established collection is housed. A best practice would be to have not only a separate room, but also separate husbandry supplies for your newest arrivals.
I recommend a minimum of three months in quarantine as most problems present themselves in that time. A period of 6-12 months would be preferred if possible.
If a new animal is purchased during the quarantine period of another animal and they are housed in the same area, ALL quarantine periods start over! After all, what good is three months of quarantine and moving an animal in with the rest of your collection (because you’re confident it doesn’t have any mites or airborne diseases) if you just put a new animal in the same room with the quarantined animal two weeks ago?
The life cycle of a mite is several weeks, they’re HIGHLY mobile, and they lay eggs! Additionally, airborne pathogens can have long incubation periods. So start your quarantine period over for every animal, every time a new animal joins the quarantine room. I’d also restart the quarantine period for any individual that exhibits negative behavior (regurgitation, neurological symptoms, rapid sheds, etc.) whether it’s in your collection or quarantine.
Prior to the arrival of your boa, I recommend treating its’ enclosure and all other enclosures in the quarantine area inside and out with a mite treatment. I’ve used Provent-A-Mite for years and love it. Just follow the instructions on the can. I’ve heard good things about Black Knight 2 as well, however I have no direct experience. I think these are the two most popular options (both available online). Other options include Nix and some products from pet stores like Petsmart and Petco. I’ve never used them and I’ve heard limited feedback on their efficacy.
I also recommend paper towels (temporarily), kraft paper (dimpled or not), butcher paper, or newspaper with no ink as a substrate because mites, runny stools, and regurgitated prey are easy to spot on those substrates. That plus a water bowl, food (wait a week after arrival to feed), heat and humidity is all your boa needs for now. I do recommend having completely separate husbandry supplies for your quarantine room.
I am one hundred percent confident in the health of every animal I sell, but I believe that proper quarantine is an absolute necessity for every animal, every time.
Upon arrival, check the animal to ensure that it is the animal you paid for, that it’s outwardly healthy (this includes no mites or ticks) and properly sexed. This is your responsibility as a buyer. If these three simple criteria are not met, pack it up and ship it back! If they are met, it’s time to quarantine!
Once your new boa has at least three, but preferably six to twelve months of outwardly healthy behavior, the latest fecal exam is clean (but preferably the two or three most recent fecal exams are clean), and processes like eating, defecating, and shedding are normal, it’s time to move in with the rest of the collection!
Housing: What your boa needs to feel secure.
The housing for your boa will change several times throughout your boas life. In general, the minimum cage dimensions are that the length plus the width of the cage should be roughly equal to the length of the boa. Meaning, if your boa is roughly 6-7’, your cage should be approximately 4’x2’ (the most common adult boa cage size). Males are generally less robust than females and may not need all of the floor space of an equal length female. Neonates, yearlings, sub-adults, and even some adults are kept in shoe, shirt, sweater, and blanket box racks (respectively) perfectly! There are many options available on the web and everyone has their favorite.
Reptiles need heat, make sure you provide it!
Heating is pretty simple. Most commercially available cages on the net have a heating option you can purchase. It is also a GREAT idea to purchase a thermostat to monitor and adjust the heat source. Various options are available and you’ll want to look into which will work best for you. I HIGHLY recommend a laser sighted digital thermometer, also known as a “temperature gun”. It can be one of the most valuable tools in your collection and they can be purchased for around $45 and up. Temperature ranges are from 78-93 for most boas. They’ll need access to most of that range in one cage over the course of 24 hours.
Boas are tropical and sub-tropical animals. So it rains… a lot! They need humidity.
Humidity is just as important as heat for boas. Most boas come from tropical or sub-tropical areas that routinely experience humidity in the 60-90% range and up. If your boa does not have the necessary humidity in its cage, its lungs can actually dry out, and start cracking, just like your skin during winter. When this happens, the tissue will start producing mucous to cover the exposed cracks in the tissue so that it doesn’t become infected. Long term, this mucous build up becomes a respiratory infection.
For the optimal health of your boa, 60-75% humidity is recommended. When “in the blue”, you may want to offer a hide box with damp (not wet) moss or moist paper towels for a secluded area with higher humidity to aid in shedding. Misting with a bottle is an option that I utilize after the boas’ eyes have cleared up and just prior to shedding.
Feeding your boa may sound simple, but there’s a lot to consider.
Live vs. Frozen/Thawed (F/T) – It is NOT necessary to feed live prey to your snakes. Snakes eat dead animals in the wild all the time. Some snakes can be more difficult to transition to f/t than others, but it’s an extremely rare snake that will only take live prey for its entire life.
The main reason not to feed live prey is the risk of injury to your snake.
Prey Type (mice vs. rats vs. rabbits and quail) – Wild boas eat an array of prey in the wild, but in captivity, we are somewhat limited in what we can feed. Most boas will live their entire lives eating nothing but mice and rats. Some larger boas may need rabbits. Some owners opt to feed birds such as chicks, chickens, and quail. One thing to keep in mind is that boas do not process fat well. For that reason, it is best to feed your boa the least fattening prey item available.
Feeding on paper towels – a BIG no-no! -This can be short and to the point. It’s NOT a good idea!
As much credit as we give our animals for being intelligent, the fact is, their brains are TINY! They operate mostly off of instinct. Sometimes when feeding your snake, their teeth can get caught on the paper towel, or the rodent can get wrapped up in it, and they can swallow the paper towel too. This ends in three ways:
- They pass the paper towel. I’ve heard of this happening before, but I’ve never seen proof that satisfied me.
- The snake regurgitates the paper towel and then either lives, or dies.
- The snake does not pass, nor regurgitate the paper towel and then dies.
First meal in your care and feeding frequency & size of prey -A boas first meal in your care should take place no sooner than 7 days after arrival in your collection and should be noticeably smaller than normal. You should not observe a large lump in your boas stomach after eating their first meal in your care. The subsequent 2-3 meals should also be smaller than usual. Once your boa demonstrates good health, it’s more than likely safe to begin a normal feeding schedule and prey size.
My general rule for feeding is every 7-10 days until 6 months old, then every 10-18 days until adulthood. As adults, I generally feed males smaller and less frequent meals than females. I usually wait until all signs of a meal have disappeared plus an additional 2-5 days to feed another meal, sometimes even longer for adults. BCC and island BCI are towards the conservative side of this feeding regimen and sometimes even less.
Boas should be very muscular with little to no obvious fat on their bodies. Their tails generally store fat and should be full in shape, but not wrinkled with fat rings, or conversely, thin and emaciated.
Feeding regimens will differ based on age, size, sex, and sub-species/locality.
The size of the prey item you feed to your boa should be no bigger around than the largest portion of your boa at mid-body on an empty stomach. THIS IS A MAXIMUM SIZE.
Prior to discussing handling your boa, allow me to provide some insight.
Handling is stressful for most boas, even if they don’t show it. If you notice unusual behavior from your boa such as shyness, refusal to eat, regurgitation, etc, consider the amount of handling as a possible cause.
Another stressful event is the simple act of buying a new boa. Consider that first the boa is removed from its home to which it has become acclimated. It is then tied up in a bag, packed in a box and handed to a man that proceeds to throw it on a truck and take it to the airport. The truck could be hot or cold and likely doesn’t ride like a Cadillac. It’s then placed on a system of vibrating conveyer belts, kicked, dropped, and stacked until it is thrown onto a plane. Once on the plane, it experiences more vibrations, pressure changes, and extreme temperatures. Finally, it experiences that entire ordeal over again in reverse until it’s handed to you! Talk about stress!!!
If that were me, I’d need some time to get rid of the desire to rip off the face of the next thing that looks at me! So, for the sake of your boa, please allow it to acclimate for a few months before initiating your handling sessions. Remember, we eat 3-7 meals per day; boas eat 3-7 meals in 2-6 months. Their timetable isn’t the same as ours. Conveniently, a couple of months of slow acclimation should coincide nicely with a couple of months in quarantine!
My rule regarding handling is that I do not handle my boas until they are out of their quarantine period except to remove them to clean. I allow them to acclimate completely to my environment.
Despite what you’ll see in classified ads, there is no such thing as a tame boa. There is such thing as a boa that is more, or less inclined to be defensive. Defensive behavior can and does include biting. However, there is such a thing as an acclimated boa, but that acclimation period needs to be reestablished every time there is a drastic change in the life of your boa. As previously detailed, shipping IS DRASTIC!
Once your boa has acclimated and gone through quarantine, you finally get the joy of interacting with your new pet.
As mentioned previously, I only handle my boas after the obvious signs of the prior meal have subsided. Many consider a meal to be digested when the “lump” has dissipated, but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes several days to a week or more for a meal to be fully digested after the lump has disappeared.
Jonathan Brady suggests using puncture resistant gloves from HexArmor. I normally only need one glove as I use it to either put my hand on top of the head of the boa, or as a “shield” to keep them from biting me if they strike. Interestingly, since I began using the gloves, it seems like my boas are less apprehensive about being picked up. Perhaps it’s my confidence and lack of hesitation. I’ve found that once I pick up my boas, I no longer need the glove and freehand them easily.
Necessary Husbandry Items – Please have them set up and tested prior to receiving your boa.
- Escape proof cage – aquariums (even those with locking screen tops) are not recommended due to their inability to easily hold heat and humidity as well as their inability to offer security to a boa. I highly recommend a commercially available plastic cage. The cost is on par with a glass aquarium.
- Heat source – generally, a plastic cage manufacturer will tell you what heat source they recommend with their caging.
- Thermostat – this is a must if you intend to properly control the temperatures for your boa. Without a thermostat, you risk cooking your boa – literally.
- Caging substrate – there are numerous options available and everyone has their favorite. Be sure to see the Feeding section for more info on what NOT to use.
- Appropriate water bowl – You do not, I repeat, do NOT need a water bowl large enough for your boa to soak in. If humidity is appropriate, your boa will never need to soak. However, a sturdy water bowl that’s heavy enough that it doesn’t get tipped is a must.
- Appropriately sized prey items
Items for You
- Temperature gun – one of the most informative tools you’ll use to ensure the proper health of your boa.
- Cleaning supplies – a spray bottle with a cleaning solution of 10% bleach/90% water plus paper towels is the bare minimum. I also have another bottle with Nolvasan. And paper towels… obviously.
- Spray bottle for misting when in shed – I only mist once their eyes have cleared up.
- 10″ hemostats for holding prey items – I suggest even longer hemostats for larger boas.
- An appropriately sized snake hook and/or thick gloves – they don’t have to be the HexArmor gloves I use.
***Thank you to Jonathan Brady of Deviant Constrictors for providing the care information for this page!!