Red-tailed boas or boa constrictors are large snakes that are commonly kept as pets. These colorful reptiles are native to South America and are part of the larger group of snakes called “boas.” Although their name might sound a little threatening, boa constrictors are nonvenomous and relatively docile.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with a few red-tailed boas. One of the things that stood out most to me about this species was their beautiful iridescent scales. At first glance, they appear black and brown without any special coloring. But, when the light hits them at the right angle, these snakes are beauties! Plus, they’re pretty easy to take care of and handle.
From captive care to wild behavior, this article will go over everything you need to know about red-tailed boas.
Red-Tailed Boa History and Facts
Red-tailed boas are incredibly widespread throughout South America. They can be found in many countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, just to name a few. There are also small populations of boa constrictors living in the Southernmost part of Florida.
Red-tailed boas are special because they can thrive in a wide variety of ecosystems. You’ll find these reptiles in tropical jungles and dry desert-like environments.
Red-tailed boas are solitary animals and don’t usually spend time around other snakes. They’ll join up for mating and quickly go their separate ways. These boas are mostly nocturnal in the wild but can be observed basking in the sunlight from time to time. Boas are semi-arboreal which means that these snakes love to climb!
In the past, boa constrictors faced threats to their species from both the pet trade and poaching. In a span of 6 years, over 100,000 red-tailed boas were imported from South America to the U.S. to become pets. This put a strain on the wild population. Boas are also captured and killed for their meat and skin. Red-tailed boas are the second most popular snake species poached for snakeskin.
Red-Tailed Boa Lifespan
Though red-tailed boas don’t live as long as some turtles and tortoises, they’re still long-lived reptiles. In captivity, red-tailed boas usually reach 20-30 years old. In some cases, individuals may live 40 or more years.
The oldest known individual of this species is a boa constrictor named Popeye. Popeye died at the Philidelphia Zoo at the ripe age of 40 years, 3 months, and 14 days. Good husbandry and care are probably the most important factor in determining how long a captive snake will live.
Since red-tailed boas can live for such a long time, they’re a serious commitment.
How Big Do Red-Tailed Boas Get?
Red-tailed boas are medium/large snakes and can grow quite big in the right conditions.
There is an obvious divide between females and males of this species. Females are almost always longer and thicker than their male counterparts. Females usually reach an adult length of 7 to 10 feet and weigh anywhere from 22 to 33 pounds.
It’s not unheard of for females to grow to 14 feet or longer in captivity. Males usually reach about 6 to 8 feet in body length as adults and weigh a little less than females do at maturity.
So, why is there so much variation in size for red-tailed boas?
Red-tailed boas are spread out wide throughout South America. Subspecies are common and can vary in appearance. Certain subspecies will tend to be larger or smaller while food available and weather also play a role in size.
In captivity, diet and housing will also have an effect on the size of your pet snake. Pets that are fed a properly nutritious diet and have plenty of space to climb will grow larger.
Red-Tailed Boa Appearance and Anatomy
Red-tailed boas are beautiful and distinct reptiles that you won’t soon forget once you see one.
Red-tailed boas have interesting arrowhead-shaped heads with stripes running along the top of the head and under the eyes. Red-tailed boas are usually cream, gray, or brown with reddish-brown patterns running along their backs.
Towards the end of their bodies, these reddish-brown patterns start to merge together, giving the appearance of a red tail. This pattern helps to camouflage individuals in the wild.
In captivity, red-tailed boas are bred selectively to produce the most spectacular morphs. While albinism is rare in the wild, pets are selected for it as the gene can lead to interesting patterns and color combos.
Red-tailed boas have pretty similar anatomy to most other snakes. They’re one long tube and all of their organs can be found in predictable places within the tube. No matter what size a snake is, you can always find its anatomic structures in the same portion of their bodies.
In the first quarter of their body, you’ll find the snake’s head, esophagus, trachea, and heart. In the second quarter of the body are the top of the lungs, the liver, and the stomach.
The third part of the body contains the gall bladder, spleen, pancreas, and reproductive organs. The lunch usually ends somewhere in this area of the body and you’ll also find the small intestines here. Finally, at the end of a snake’s body are the large intestine, cecum, kidney, and cloaca.
Knowing where a snake’s internal organs fall can aid veterinary professionals in treatment and diagnosis. Snakes are vertebrates and they have long spines that run the entire lengths of their bodies.
Health Concerns With Red-Tailed Boas
Like all captive animals, red-tailed boas are at risk for certain diseases. While no species is immune, this species is hardy and doesn’t fall sick easily. That being said, the following issues and illnesses are the most common for red-tiled boas and you should always keep an eye out for them.
Respiratory infections are a common problem for most reptiles. Respiratory infections can be transferred from other snakes or can arise from issues with temperature and humidity.
You’ll know that your pet has respiratory issues if you start to hear them wheeze or gurgle when they breathe. Snakes with severe respiratory issues may have a foamy substance coming out of their nostrils and should be taken to the vet immediately.
Scale Rot and Blister Disease
Both scale rot and blister disease can be observed in red-tailed boas. These diseases arise from too much exposure to heat or from weak immune systems. Both scale rot and blister disease will cause lesions or areas that look burnt on your pet snake.
Skin issues can be mild or severe depending on the response of your snake’s immune system. Either way, any skin issues should be dealt with and addressed by a veterinarian.
Because of the toughness of a snake’s skin, they can’t get fleas like dogs and cats do. However, they’re not immune to external parasites and can suffer from mite infestations.
Mites are tiny parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Not only can they cause snakes to become anemic but they also act as carriers for diseases like IBD (inclusive body disease). If left untreated, mites and the diseases they carry can seriously debilitate an adult snake.
Mites can be hard to see but are easily treated and prevented at home in most cases. If you’re curious to see what a mite looks like and how to deal with them, watch the video below.
Behavior and Temperament of Red-Tailed Boas
In captivity, red-tailed boas are generally tame and easy to handle. Red-tailed boas can be held and may even find comfort from the heat radiating off of your body. Of course, handling is a skill and if you’re just starting the process with your pet, it’s important to take baby steps.
Although boas are natural constrictors, they’ll still strike to attack or defend themselves. While their bites are nonvenomous, they can be extremely painful and it’s best to avoid this situation overall.
Red-tailed boas are nocturnal so will do much of their hunting and exploring at night. Even so, these snakes still love to bask in the sun during the day and in captivity, you might find that they start to get on a more diurnal schedule.
Housing and Habitat
In any captive situation, you want to try to mimic a species’ wild environment. The closer you get to that natural environment, the better your pet will feel. Red-tailed boas are actually surprisingly easy to house other than the amount of space they need in their enclosures.
As we have already mentioned, boa constrictors have a wide habitat range. In the wild, you can find these snakes scattered throughout South America and thriving in both tropical and desert environments.
Red-tailed boas spend most of their time on the ground but can also climb and swim as well. These snakes are surprisingly strong swimmers and climbers but seem to prefer staying at floor level.
Housing and Tank
Red-tailed boas can be housed in a typical glass aquarium or a large opaque snake box. The biggest consideration you’ll need to make for this snake’s housing is the length of the enclosure.
You’ll want to get a tank that’s at least as long as your pet’s body. This way, your snake will have room to stretch out fully if they want to. Red-tailed boa enclosures need to be fastened securely as these snakes are notorious escape artists.
If you’re big into DIY like the couple in this video then you could build the perfect enclosure yourself!
A red-tailed boa should have a long horizontal enclosure with some features for climbing. Natural log or driftwood can make great additions. Since boas are nocturnal, you’ll need to provide them with a large hide for them to sleep in during the day.
Substrate choices for red-tailed boas are pretty simple. Barks or shavings like coconut husk can be used to line these snakes’ tanks. You can also opt for something as simple as sheets of newspaper or paper towels.
Obviously, the barks are more aesthetic and probably a bit more natural for your pet, but they’re harder to maintain. Barks will need to be changed regularly and spot cleaned whenever your pet defecates. While the same is true for paper lining, it’s a lot less expensive and time-consuming to replace a paper substrate.
Your choice of substrate will depend on your snake and how messy they are.
Red-tailed boas like it warm! A red-tailed boas enclosure should always maintain an ambient temperature of 75F to 85F. This can be accomplished with heating pads or lamps.
During the day, you also will need to provide a basking area for your pet snake. This area should be at one end of the enclosure and should be about 90F. At night, boas don’t need as much heat and the basking lamp can be turned off.
You can make sure that you keep the correct temperature gradient for your pet by installing a few thermometers in your snake’s tank.
Like these other pet reptiles, red-tailed boas don’t need UVB lighting during the day.
Red-tailed boas are naturally nocturnal and don’t rely on sunrays to synthesize vitamins and minerals. However, UVB is never a bad thing to provide for your pet reptiles. If you want to, you can add a full spectrum UVA/UVB light to your snake’s enclosure. Just make sure you only leave it on for about 12 hours every day.
If you’re worried about turning a light on and off at the right time, try hooking it up to a timer. Then, you’ll be sure that you’re not giving your snake too much light and disrupting their sleep cycle.
Relative humidity in a boa constrictor’s enclosure should fall between 50% and 60%. Humidity can be maintained through a variety of techniques such as misting, live plants, and special substrates.
You can check the humidity in your enclosure by using a hygrometer. Humidity is so important to maintain for reptiles as discrepancies can cause serious health issues.
To help make sure your red-tailed boa feels hydrated, you should always have a water dish available for them. This dish should be large and sturdy enough that your snake can climb in a take a warm soak if they desire.
What Do Red-Tailed Boas Eat?
Like many other snakes, red-tailed boas are carnivores.
In the wild, these snakes eat prey like small mammals, rodents, birds, and just about anything they can get their teeth on. In captivity, boas usually eat mice or rats of varying sizes. You should always match your snake’s food size to its body size.
Although your red-tiled boa might not drink water in the wild, it’s still important to offer them a bowl in captivity. Frozen and thawed prey can be lacking in hydration and your constrictor will drink water if they need to. Try to change your snake’s water every day and give their water dish a thorough cleaning once a week.
How Much Do Red-Tailed Boas Eat?
The amount of food your snake eats will be proportional to their age and size. Young red-tailed boas will eat 1 to 2 times per week. Large adult boas might only eat once every week or even once every other week. If you feed your snake appropriately sized meals, this should be plenty of food for them.
If you’re not sure whether you’re feeding your snake the right amount of food, you can always check with your veterinarian. They can weigh your snake and check their body condition.
So, How Difficult Is It to Keep Red-Tailed Boas?
Overall, red-tailed boas are not difficult pets to keep.
These snakes can be kept indoors and aren’t messy. Their tanks don’t need to be kept incredibly warm or humid and they can really be kept in all different climates. Red-tailed boas are usually docile in captivity and are good pets for people who want to handle their snakes regularly.
The only thing that might be difficult with keeping a red-tailed boa could be its large size. If you end up getting a red-tailed boa as a young female, there’s no telling how large they might get. You’ll have to make sure that you can dedicate up to 14 feet of horizontal space to your pet if needed.
Red-tailed boas can make great pets for beginners who can make a 10-20 year commitment for a pet reptile.
How Much Do Red-Tailed Boas Cost?
Red-tailed boas have a wide price range. You can find some red-tailed boas available starting at around $50.00 and the price just goes up from there. Red-tailed boas with special markings of colors can cost up to $400.00. If you choose to adopt a red-tailed boa, the fee will be much lower and should be between $40.00 to $80.00.
Of course, the cost of your pet also should include considerations for initial housing and continued care. Large tanks can be expensive and feeding your pet for the next 20 years will definitely play a role in your finances.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that we’ve gone over most of the big details on our care sheet, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions.
How to Take Care of a Red-Tailed Boa
Taking care of a red-tailed boa isn’t so hard. You’ll need to provide them with water and food about once a week. You’ll have to maintain their environment to closely mimic a natural environment that’s warm and humid. To give your pet the best quality of life, you’ll also need to take them to the vet at least once a year or whenever they’re sick.
How Often Should I Handle My Red-Tailed Boa?
How often you handle your snake depends on its personality. If they’re shy and hiding, don’t pull them out for handling. But, if your snake is out during the day, you can try picking them up.
For snakes that are comfortable, you can handle them as often as once a day. Always make sure your snake isn’t showing signs of aggression or fear when handling and if they are, give them some space and time.
Do Boas Need a Heat Mat?
Red-tail boas do need supplemental heat in their enclosures. Since you’re aiming for an ambient temperature of around 80F, you’ll need to use either a heat mat or a heat lamp. Always make sure the heat pad is under your snake’s enclosure so that they won’t be able to burn themselves on it.
What Is a Proper Red-Tailed Boa Enclosure Size?
The proper size of an enclosure for a res-tailed boa depends on its body size. The length of a boa tank should be at least equal to the length of the snake.
So, if your boa is 6 feet long, you’ll need an aquarium that is a minimum of 6 feet in length. Boas like to hide but as long as you provide them with cover, you can give them plenty of space to roam around.
At What Age Is a Red-Tailed Boa Full-Grown?
Red-tailed boas reach sexual maturity around 3 to 4 years of age. At this point, they’ll also be fully grown in length. Though boas may continue to grow in size, you shouldn’t see any significant growth past this age marker.
Red-tailed boas are beautiful snakes that are pretty easy to care for. These snakes are hardy and found across many different habitats. In captivity, these snakes are sweet and tame and can make great pets for beginner snake keepers.
Hopefully, this care sheet has given you all the information that you needed about red-tailed boas.