How to Care for Your Boa Constrictor
Boa constrictors (Boa sp.) are a group of medium to large, semi-arboreal snakes native to Central and South America. They tend to prefer subtropical dry to moist broadleaf forests for habitat, and spend time both in the trees and on the forest floor.
Boa constrictors’ exact color and pattern varies by species or subspecies, and even by locality. Some have high-contrast patterns, while others are lower contrast. Some have speckles, while others are more crisp. Some have a brown/orange/red color palette, while others are more gray/brown/black. Some have vivid red or orange blotches on their tail, while others’ tails are brown or black. And thanks to captive breeding efforts, there’s an even greater variety of morphs!
Boa constrictors are among the most popular pet snakes in the USA. They are fairly hardy and tolerate humans well, but their size and habits still make them intermediate- to advanced-level pet reptiles. With good care, your boa may live upwards of 30 years.
How much space do boa constrictors need?
Boa constrictors’ adult size varies widely based on species and subspecies. Some can be as small as just 4-5’ long, while others can be as large as 10-12’ long. Knowing the expected adult size of your particular snake is important to housing them properly.
As a general rule, the length and width of a snake enclosure should add up to equal or greater than the snake’s expected adult length. Because boa constrictors are semi-arboreal, the enclosure’s height should be at least half of the snake’s expected adult length. Of course, that’s just the bare minimum. Bigger is always better, and your snake will definitely appreciate it!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple boa constrictors in one enclosure) is not recommended, as keeping them together is likely to cause competition and stress.
Do boa constrictors need UVB?
They seem to be able to survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. Providing UVB lighting to your snake gives them all of the vitamin D that their body needs, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
The best UVB bulbs for boa constrictors are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
- Arcadia Forest 6%
The UVB bulb should be half the length of the enclosure and housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Place this fixture close to 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 you can’t give your snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover. UVB bulbs decay over time, so don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months to maintain good performance.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
What basking temperatures do boa constrictors need?
Like other reptiles, boa constrictors are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Boa constrictors prefer a basking air temperature of around 86-90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 75-80°F. Nighttime temps should be between 75-78°F. Measure air temperatures in these locations with digital probe thermometers, with the probes placed in the desired areas.
Provide heat for your snake by imitating the sun with a cluster of halogen heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over a sturdy basking branch or warm hide. Use enough bulbs to evenly heat the snake’s entire body when coiled. Do not use colored bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Light-producing heat sources should be turned off at night. But if you need supplementary heating at night to hit the right temps, use a ceramic heat emitter or radiant heat panel connected to a thermostat.
What humidity levels do boa constrictors need?
Boa constrictors are a tropical species, and need an average humidity of 55-75%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the enclosure. It’s also helpful to install a humid hide for your snake somewhere on the cool side of the enclosure, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Always having a humid retreat is essential!
Misting your snake’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels. If you need more, installing a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat can be helpful.
What substrate is good for boa constrictors?
Boa constrictors require a thick layer of moisture-retentive substrate to cushion their bodies and help maintain healthy humidity levels. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
We recommend the following substrates for boa constrictors:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity, and also provides extra cover for your snake to hide in as desired.
Substrate should be at least 3” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a boa constrictor terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, a branch, and a water bowl. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
Here are some décor ideas for enriching your boa’s environment:
Whatever you choose to use, make sure that the snake has plenty of cover to hide in so it can feel secure in its environment.
What do boa constrictors eat?
Like other snakes, boa constrictors are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a rough 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 your snake’s weight and no bigger than the snake at its widest point. Feeder options include mice, rats, gerbils, young guinea pigs, young rabbits, chicks, and quail. Variety is the key to a balanced diet!
Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.
Snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your pet’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.
Make sure to provide a tub or bowl of water large enough to accommodate the snake’s entire body. Keep the water in this tub clean at all times, and scrub with animal-safe disinfectant once a week.
Do boa constrictors like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but boa constrictors generally tolerate human interaction well. That being said, there are still some basic rules for handling snakes:
Wait at least 2 weeks before attempting to handle a new boa. Babies and juveniles tend to be more nervous and defensive than adults. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick a boa up by its tail! Keep handling sessions brief at first, and always end them on a positive note, with the snake acting calm.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read: