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Snakes - Constrictor

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

Boas are a group of medium to large sized, non-venomous snakes found in South and Central America, Madagascar, Papua and the Pacific Islands. Pythons are a group of non-venomous snakes found in Africa, Asia and Australia. Some members of this family are amongst the largest snakes in the world. Boas and Pythons kill their prey by constriction (that is they coil around their prey and tighten their coils in order to kill). They are popular vivarium (natural habitat) reptiles and most species have few problems with captivity as long as a reasonable temperature and healthy environment is maintained. They need a large enclosure. As long as the owner is prepared for the size and longevity of these animals, they can be rewarding pets.

The following is a brief description of a few common boas and pythons:

Boa constrictor

This snake originates from Central and South America and can grow to 4 m. (13 feet) on a diet of rodents, chickens and when larger, rabbits. The females are generally larger than the males. In the wild, boas spend much of their time in trees and thus they need a tall vivarium with plenty of access to branches for climbing. Most boas will take dead prey items readily. Boa constrictors may live 20 - 30 years, and some up to 40 years. They reach sexual maturity once they become around 1.5 m. (5 ft) in length. Live young (instead of eggs) are born up to 6 months after mating. Right from birth they are able to eat mice and rarely present problems in management as long as steps are taken to mirror their natural environment and tree-climbing habits. Boa constrictors adapt well to captivity and usually become quite tame if handled properly.

Rainbow boasnakes-boas__pythons-1

Epicrates cenchria is, as its common name suggests, one of the most colorful of the boas, especially immediately after shedding. The subspecies from Brazil is predominately red, while others tend to be brown. Again it originates from Central and South America. Gestation in this breed is about 5 months and the babies are born live. Adults reach up to 2 m (6.5 feet) in length depending on the subspecies. This species needs a temperature of between 24°-30°C (75°-86 °F). They are sensitive to environmental humidity and do best at a relative humidity of 70 - 80%. The diet of the Rainbow boa is predominantly small mammals and birds.

Indian python

This species, Python molurus, is the classic Old World constrictor equivalent of the boa constrictor. It is relatively easy to maintain for experienced reptile keepers. The only drawback is its substantial size.

"While New World boas grow to around 4.3 m. (13 feet) pythons may reach up to 6.5 m. (21 feet) long."

While New World boas grow to around 4.3 m. (13 feet) pythons may reach up to 6.5 m. (21 feet) long. Their diet should be large rodents, rabbits and chickens. One problem with captive pythons can be overfeeding. A python that is fed on a weekly basis, but does not have to hunt for its dinner, may eventually develop morbid obesity, in which the intracoelomic (internal) fat stores become very large and there is fatty infiltration of the liver and kidneys, precluding normal function. Female pythons are stimulated to breed by a reduction in light and day length. The eggs will be laid approximately 3 months after mating. The female will incubate up to 100 eggs for around 70 days until the eggs hatch. The young will shed and after that initial ecdysis (shedding of the skin) will eat. Within 18 months they can be mature.

Royal Ball pythonsnakes-boas__pythons-2

The Royal Ball python, Python regius, originates in Africa and is also known as the ball python since it curls into a ball with the head protected by the stocky, muscular body when threatened. The snake is reasonably small and attractive but can be challenging to keep as it is a very timid, docile snake and prone to periods of anorexia. Adults generally do not grow to more than 90-150 cm (3-5 feet) in length. While mice are a preferred food, ball pythons often appear not to recognize white laboratory mice as a prey item. In such cases a brown gerbil may provoke the animal to break its fast.

Reticulated python

Probably the world's longest snake (up to 30 feet or 9 meters) Python reticulatus has a striking series of diamond shaped yellow patches down its back and flanks marked with brown, black, cream and purple. While they are very beautiful snakes and are increasing in popularity as pets, they should only be kept by a skilled and experience reptile keeper as they can be unpredictable and "grumpy"; because they grow so large, they can be difficult to handle safely. It feeds on larger rodents and rabbits.


There are many other species of python and boa, but those noted here are among the easier ones to keep. Snakes like the Reticulated Python can be dangerous and the Royal Python can be a frustratingly anorexic pet. Therefore it is recommended that you choose the classic Boa constrictor or the Indian or Burmese python as your first constrictor snake.

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