Often confused with the red-tailed boa, the Central American boa is actually a different species of snake that doesn't grow to be quite as long. It has very similar needs to other snakes from Central and South America, is non-venomous, and a common snake found in the pet industry. Knowing the specific care a Central American boa needs can help keep it healthy and therefore maximize its lifespan.
Common Name(s): Central American Boa, Common Boa, Dwarf Boa
Scientific Name: Boa imperator
Adult Size: 3-7 feet
Life Expectancy: 10-40 years
Central American Boa Behavior and Temperament
These patterned snakes are happy living alone and are crepuscular. This means they are most active at sunrise and sunset but they may also be caught basking under their heat light from time to time. They spend most of their time on the ground, but when they are younger and not so heavy, they will climb trees and bushes. Like most snakes, they may strike if they are scared or threatened but the Central American boa is not typically considered an aggressive species. They are usually calm and make for easy handling.
Housing the Central American Boa
Central American boas are native to Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Here they prefer tropical rainforest climates so their housing in captivity should mimic this as closely as possible.
A large enclosure with a secure lid is a must for a Central American Boa. A glass terrarium or aquarium can be used for young boas but as your snake grows, a larger enclosure will be needed. The minimum length of the enclosure should be 2/3 of the length of your snake when it is full grown. Special reptile enclosures are typically recommended due to the size needed for an adult boa.
Spot cleaning your boa's enclosure should be performed on a regular basis but a full change of the substrate should be done as needed. Snakes are not dirty pets but if you feed your snake in its enclosure then it will need to be cleaned more often.
Since Central American boas need supplemental heat to regulate their internal body temperatures, heat lights are necessary for your snake. Ceramic base heat lights should be used with heat lights or ceramic heat emitters to provide a basking area of about 90 degrees. Your snake should not be able to come into contact with the light to avoid thermal burns and hot rocks are not recommended for the same reason. The cooler side of the enclosure should not be allowed to drop below 75 degrees so heating elements should be placed to provide this appropriate thermal gradient where your snake sits. Various types of thermometers are available to help monitor these temperatures and should be located at the same level as your snake.
White light from a heat light or fluorescent bulb should be available for a 12-hour cycle to mimic outdoor conditions. UVB lighting is beneficial but not necessary for most snakes. A regular fluorescent or incandescent bulb that emits white light is adequate to simulate this daily cycle and provide lighting for your snake's enclosure.
Humidity does not need to be high unless your snake is shedding. Fifty percent relative humidity, measured with a hygrometer placed in the enclosure, is acceptable under normal circumstances but should be increased to 70% at the time of a shed. This can be done by placing larger or more water bowls in the enclosure, misting it with a spray bottle, or placing wet moss in a hide box.
Substrate or bedding should be placed on the bottom of the enclosure. A two-inch layer is ideal to allow your snake to comfortably move about and even burrow in a little. Aspen shavings, shredded paper material, or reptile dirt are popular options. Pine and cedar shavings or wood chips should be avoided as these contain oils that can be irritating to your snake.
Food and Water
A large water dish should be provided to allow your snake to soak and will also double as a source of humidity. This should be changed regularly. Pre-killed prey should ideally be fed in a separate container, such as a large plastic storage container, so your snake does not associate you reaching into its enclosure with food. This will decrease the likelihood of being bitten and also help to keep its enclosure clean.
Central American boas typically eat frozen, thawed, or live fuzzy mice, but some may be large enough to eat a small frozen, thawed adult mouse. Young snakes only need to eat once a week and adult snakes are usually fed monthly.
Common Health Problems
Reptiles that get too cold or don't have enough humidity are likely to get sick and have problems shedding. Respiratory illnesses and dysecdysis are common problems that are usually easily prevented by having an appropriate environment for your boa. Other issues can include impaction if your snake ingests its bedding, mouth rot, and various internal and external parasites from the rodents they eat, the bedding they are in, or from being outside. Central American boas may not need veterinary care as often as a dog or cat but a regular physical examination is always a good thing to help catch any small problems before they become a major issue.
Choosing Your Central American Boa
When purchasing a Central American boa, first and foremost, make sure it is a captive-bred snake. This will help decrease the likelihood of parasite issues. Your snake should not have any wounds or lesions, be well muscled and smooth, and have no signs of mouth rot. Be sure to ask what the snake has been eating as well as when the last meal was consumed.
Reputable breeders typically charge between $100 and $150 for a baby Central American boa but more exotic or rare morph patterns and colors may cost more. In addition to the cost of the snake, online purchases will also have shipping fees but some pet stores and reptile shows or expos may also have Central American boas available for in-person purchasing. Snakes that have no feeding records, signs of illness, or have been wild-caught are not ideal purchases.
Similar Species to Central American Boa
Central American boas are similar to many other types of boas. They require warm temperatures, average to high humidity levels, and eat rodents. If you’re interested in other types of pet snakes, check out:
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.
Hynková, I., Starostova, Z., Frynta, D., 2009. Mitochondrial DNA variation reveals recent evolutionary history of main Boa constrictor clades. Zoological Science, 26, 623–631.