Boa Constrictor Care
Dr. Steve Divers
It is vital that the correct environment is created. In general, the floor area of the vivarium should be double the length of the snake. A day time air temperature (DTH) of 86 to 90 F and a basking area of 92 to 94 F will provide a day time temperature gradient of 86 to 94 F.
As a general guide, it is recommended that a single adult boa is kept in a vivarium measuring 6 feet by 2 feet or bigger for exceptionally large specimens. It should be of fiber glass or melamine construction with all internal edges sealed so that it can be washed and cleaned with ease. There should be at least 2 feet of height to enable screened lights and heaters to be situated on the ceiling out of the way of the snakes. Sufficient height will also enable you to secure strong branches for your boa to climb.
Ventilation is probably the most overlooked facet to keeping boas, and many succumb to respiratory infections if adequate ventilation is not provided and drafts are not eliminated. The best approach is a 2 inch strip of fine mesh running along the entire back wall of the cage, with two 12 inch by 3 inch controllable ventilation panels at one end and another at the opposite end. Never reduce ventilation for prolonged periods of time when trying to maintain a higher humidity; such actions will invariably result in respiratory problems. Finally, the sliding glass doors should be 6 millimeters thick and mounted on a 6 inch base to provide the snake with some security.
All cages, whether they are for newborn neonates or pregnant females, should be properly furnished to meet the needs of the individual snake. The floor substrate should be non-toxic, uncontaminated, cheap and easy to replace. Newspaper or artificial turf are recommended. Many specimens will fail to settle down, feed or breed unless they are provided with the security of hide boxes or shelters. Others will ignore shelters and spend their time exposed.
Cardboard boxes are cheap and disposable but cork bark is more attractive and provides a better surface on which to shed. However, cork bark is more expensive, difficult to clean and may harbor mites. Boas, especially when small, are eager to climb and therefore secure branches should be provided, which will also add to the attractiveness of the set-up. Ensure that all branches are secure so that falling and crushing accidents do not occur.
Boas like most constrictors like to bathe for extended periods and therefore a water container large enough for the snake to completely immerse itself is essential, especially if shedding is to occur normally. An accurate thermometer and humidity meter should be permanently positioned within the vivarium for daily observation.
Maintenance is often a matter of common sense with the enclosure checked every day. All fecal material, shed skins and soiled substrate must be removed as soon as possible. Once each week, the water bowl should be thoroughly cleaned to reduce any contamination, and the enclosure should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned. When cleaning, remove and discard all substrate and disposable items. Disinfect and rinse the cage and all permanent furnishings including any branches, cork shelters and water containers. Add new floor substrate and clean furnishings.
Always operate strict quarantine on all new arrivals as serious viral diseases (such as Inclusion Body Disease) can decimate a prized collection.
Temperature and Humidity
In order to provide some degree of back-up, it is advisable to use more than one heat source and an accurate thermostat. Boa constrictors are largely nocturnal with the majority of captive specimens having originated from the equatorial rain forests of northern South America where the ambient temperature is near constant. Consequently, boas are less able to regulate their body temperature between extremes, and therefore, it is important to provide a more accurately controlled temperature gradient which ranges from a maximum basking area at one end to a minimum cool area at the other.
Ceramic heaters, soil-warming cables and under-floor heater mats can be used to provide day and night heating, while illuminating spot-lights can only be used during the day. All heating devices, especially those with a high surface temperature, must be screened off from the snakes if fatal or disfiguring burns are to be avoided. Ceramic heaters and spot lights can be housed within mesh cages while heater mats and warming cables can be hidden under a false floor.
Proportional, auto-dimming thermostats will reduce high surface temperatures, prolong heater life and create a more natural environment without temperature cycling and temperature zones. In all cases check the performance of thermostats with an accurate thermometer.
In general, adult boas should be maintained at 60 to 90 percent humidity and with a temperature gradient of 78 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit; however, a more detailed approach is necessary.
A night time air temperature of 80 to 82 F and a reduction of the basking temperature to 86 F will provide a night time temperature (NTL) gradient of 80 to 86 F.
Young specimens prefer a higher temperature range with a DTH of 88 to 92 F, a basking area of 94 to 96 F, and a NTL of 84 to 88 F.
It is obvious that an accurate thermostat is essential if these temperature regimes are to be accurately controlled and maintained. Moderate humidity can be achieved by placing the large water container close to the main heat source. The provision of a humidity chamber is also worthwhile especially during periods of shedding (ecdysis).
Light, both intensity and quality, is less important to most snakes, and the use of spot lights to provide a daytime basking area can also be relied upon to provide the necessary 12 to 14 hours of light every day.