Amazon Basin Boa
Boa constrictor spp.
There are currently 10 subspecies of Boa constrictor, but only two of them are generally referred to as red-tailed boas: Boa constrictor constrictor and Boa constrictor imperator. Both exhibit redder tails than their bodies, but the former is almost always a more vibrant red. Boa constrictor constrictor is the species most herpetologists refer to as a “true red-tailed boas,” while the later is what is most commonly available under the name “red-tailed boa”.
Red-tailed boas, as the name implies are best identified by their deep red tail, which is at the end of an otherwise mostly redless body. They have a relatively flat, elongated triangular-shaped head, muscular body and pronounced eyelashes. They are generally cream, tan or grey with triangular or semi-geometrical blotches of rust, brown, or black. Frequently there are highlights of yellow spots or lines. Red-tails are the largest of the boas; occasionally reaching lengths of over ten feet (3+ meters), but seven to eight feet (2.1-2.4 meters) is much more common. Red-tailed boas can live up to 40 years long, but 20+ is more common.
Boa constrictors, as a species, are native to Central America (including some Caribbean islands) and the northern part of South America and are present in numerous countries. They are found in: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, the Antilles, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. Red-tailed boas, Boa constrictor constrictor, are native to Trinidad, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. With the exception of Trinidad, this is essentially the Amazon Basin. Within their ranges, Boa constrictors are synonymous with rain forest, but they are also found in open savannas and rainforest ecotones. They will climb into trees on occasion, but are more comfortable on the ground. They are crepuscular or nocturnal and can often be found near human habitations, due to the usually increased presence of rodents.
Red-Tailed boas are large snakes and even young animals will soon outgrown smaller enclosures. Hatchling red-tailed boas can triple in size in their first year, so it is always a good idea to buy a large enclosure in the first place. A 20-gallon aquarium with a secure lid is a good starting size for a young snake, but an adult red-tailed boa will need a minimum of a 2 foot wide by 4 foot long (60 cm wide by 120 cm long) enclosure, with larger being better. Red-tailed boas are extraordinarily powerful animals and enclosures should pre-designed to be escape-proof. When we say “pre-designed” this means that the enclosure was made with a large snake in mind. Many boas (and other large snakes for that matter) have easily escaped when their owners underestimated their strength. Bricks and plywood alone are not enough to deter a boa constrictor. A good boa enclosure is one that the snake owner themselves would have a hard time getting out of.
Naturally red-tailed boas come from a humid tropical climate and the replication of this habitat is essential to the health of your boa. Provided with a large water bowl, a proper temperature gradient and an only partially ventilated enclosure (e.g. a 50% glass/50% screen top on an aquarium), adequate humidity levels are easily maintained. Humidity can also be provided through the use of a “humidity box.” A humidity box is created using damp sphagnum moss, mulch or similar moisture retaining substance and placing it inside a closed plastic container with a hole cut in the top as an access point. The media should be moist or damp but not soggy (like a wrung out wash cloth). The humidity box should be placed near (but not on) the basking area to maintain the warmth necessary to sustain good humidity levels. The water bowl should be large enough for the snake to fully immerse (without overflowing).
Ambient temperatures should remain in the 82-90 degree Fahrenheit range, with a basking spot of 92-95 degrees. This is most efficiently provided by an undertank heating element such as heating tape, wire or pads. This heating element can be used in conjunction with a basking light, but lighting is not essential for the snake as they are active mostly at night. A hide spot should also be provided, and can be any of the commercially available plastic log-type hide spaces or as simple as an opaque overturned plastic box with a hollow cut in the side bottom.
Substrate can be as simple as paper towels or Astroturf or more elaborate like cypress bedding, coco fiber, or sterile potting soil. Whatever substrate is chosen it should be cleaned frequently to prevent the buildup of bacteria and inhibit potential mite outbreaks.
Red-tailed boas have a sundry diet in the wild, consisting of most any vertebrate animal they can seize. This includes, but is not limited to: amphibians, rodents, birds, mammals and other reptiles. In captivity they are usually fed mice, then rats, and eventually rabbits, chickens or pigs when they are large enough. Usually prey animals should be frozen/thawed or pre-killed so as to avoid injury to the snake.
Red-tailed boas are a long term and sizable (pun intended) commitment. It is not unusual for them to live 30 years and grow to 8 feet long (nearly 2.5 meters) or more, often weighing in excess of 50 pounds (22.5 kilograms). A snake of this size should not be handled alone and will require large prey at least a few times a month. If you are unwilling or unable to make these commitments, DON'T buy a red-tailed boa. Some people ignorantly think that they can just sell or give away their large snake (or many other reptiles for that matter) when they get tired of caring for it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Far too many people make hasty and/or poorly thought-out decisions and end up with a large snake they no longer want. Subsequently, zoos and rescues do not have any more space for large snakes. Be a responsible pet owner and only buy a red-tailed boa if you are sure you are willing to make these long-term commitments.