Boa constrictors are beautiful and fascinating creatures which have become popular as pets. But you should think carefully before taking on a boa. These snakes can grow relatively large and require a home which is appropriate for their size and they can live for 40 years in captivity. Here’s everything you need to know about these amazing animals.
What is a boa?
“Boa” is a common name for more than 50 different constricting snake species. All of these are nonvenomous members of the family Boidae. It’s also the name of a genus within that family, though, and the genus Boa contains only one recognized species which is the Boa constrictor.
Boa constrictors are native to habitats from northern Mexico through Central and South America. There are several distinct subspecies, including Boa constrictor constrictor (from the northern Amazon basin), B. c. amarali (from the southern Amazon basin), B. c. occidentalis (from Paraguay and Argentina) and B. c. nebulosa (from Dominica).
Boa constrictors are ovoviviparous which means their eggs stay inside the mother’s body until they’re ready to hatch. She then gives birth to live young. The baby boas hit the ground slithering, and are independent within a few minutes of birth. A female will typically give birth to between 20 and 50 young which are roughly 20cms in length. The snakes may eventually grow up to 9 feet in length.
How do Boas kill their Prey?
Boa constrictors are ambush hunters. They grab passing animals with their powerful jaws and then loop their bodies around their prey. This enables them to constrict their prey’s breathing and to monitor their heartbeat so they know when the animal is dead. They actually kill the prey by cutting off its blood supply rather than by suffocation. A boa’s prey can be dangerous so it is important for the snake to kill it quickly and cutting off the blood supply is quicker than suffocation. After a large meal, the snake might not eat for weeks.
The Remnants of Legs
Boa constrictors evolved from ancestors which had legs. The snakes retain some remnants of their ancestors which other snakes do not possess including two functioning lungs and pelvic spurs which are the vestiges of limbs. The snakes no longer use these for locomotion but they can come in handy as weapons because they resemble claws.
Boas as Pets
Boas are solitary snakes and so are suitable for being kept in captivity. They are relatively undemanding but require a large vivarium. Their impressive lifespans make them a serious commitment.
The snakes require a dry environment which must be of the correct temperature. Heating may be required in the vivarium and it is necessary to feed rodents to the snakes, something which many people would find unpleasant, even though the animals are dead. Not everyone wants to keep dead rats in their freezer!
Whilst boas are not poisonous and the snakes tend to be placid in nature, they can bite and their large and powerful jaws are capable of inflicting serious injury. Boas are not for the fainthearted!