The red-tailed boa (or red tail boa) is a large snake species native to South America.
These boas possess a stunning pattern, distinctive coloration, and relatively easy-going nature.
They’re also more manageable than other large snakes, with a maximum size of 6-8 ft.
It’s easy to see why the red tail boa is among the most popular of all constrictors in the pet trade.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Learn
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor constrictor).
We’ll start by providing some background information about the species and subspecies, and answering common questions in the process, like:
- What is a red tail boa?
- How big do red tail boas get?
- Where do red tail boas occur in the wild?
- Are red tail boas different from other boa constrictors?
Then, we’ll delve into all aspects of Boa constrictor care, including:
- Habitat setup
- What (and how often) to feed your boa
- How to handle your Boa constrictor safely
- Common health issues and how to prevent them
…and much more!
“Red tail boa constrictor” and “red-tailed boa” are names often used to describe members of the species Boa constrictor.
Like other boas, the red tail boa constricts its prey, lacks venom, and gives birth to live young. This latter trait is known as “viviparity”.
You can learn the difference between ovoviviparity, oviparity, and viviparity in our article on snake eggs.
Technically, the “true” red tail boa is one of a few different subspecies of Boa constrictor (Boa constrictor constrictor or B. c. constrictor).
There are quite a few others with different names, like:
- Orton’s boa (B. c. ortoni)
- Amaral’s boa (B. c. amaral)
- Pearl island boa (B. c. sabogae)
- Argentine boa (B. c. occidentalis)
- Long-tailed boa (B. c. longicauda)
- Ecuadorian boa (B. c. melanogaster)
Subspecies are essentially different variations of a species that are found in specific locations throughout its range.
New subspecies are described quite often, but not always agreed upon.
As its name suggests, the red-tailed boa is known for distinctive reddish coloration towards the tip of its tail.
It’s also the original subspecies that was described by Linnaeus in 1758.
Its native range encompasses parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
The common or northern boa (Boa imperator) is found in Central and South America.
This species is often referred to – in error – as the “Colombian red tail boa”.
This common name is misleading as it’s an entirely separate species from the red tail boa (B. c. constrictor).
These “Colombian red tail boas” (Boa imperator) look very similar, but scientists have found that their genetic lineage is separate.
The red-tailed boa is listed as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
This means that scientists believe it’s not currently at risk of extinction.
This is due to numerous factors, but removal of animals for the pet trade is part of the issue.
It’s vital to know where your snake came from, as purchasing wild-caught animals (versus captive bred) contributes to the decline of wild populations.
The best way to avoid purchasing wild-caught animals is to purchase captive bred animals directly from a reputable breeder.
You can find breeders by checking customer reviews and testimonials on forums (like Ssnakess.com) or by visiting your local reptile expo!
Red-tailed boas can survive for up to 40 years in captivity!
The oldest specimen known was a male – called “Popeye” that lived at the Philadelphia zoo until 1977.
With such a long lifespan, it’s vital for prospective keepers to understand the commitment involved when buying one of these snakes.
You must be willing to put in up to 40 years of consistent care and attention.
We’ll talk about exactly what that entails in the following section.
Red Tail Boa Environmental Requirements
If you’re a complete beginner, it’s important to note that caring for a reptile, such as a snake, is different from caring for other pets.
They need to be kept in a carefully controlled environment that mimics their natural habitat.
Some reptile species are great for beginners, but these boas tend to be a little trickier.
This is mainly due to their large size and strength, which can make a full-grown red tail boa difficult to handle.
All subspecies of Boa constrictor are pretty much identical when it comes to their care needs.
In this section, we’ll outline these needs as they apply to red-tailed boas
Enclosure Size & Dimensions
These boas are large snakes and will need an enclosure to match.
There’s no such thing as a tank that’s too big for the red tail boa—they love to explore and move around.
Providing them with large, sturdy branches (for climbing) is also recommended for behavioral enrichment.
If you bring home a baby or juvenile snake then you can keep them in a 20-gallon tank.
You won’t be able to get away with a tank this small for long.
This species grows quickly and will likely reach a length of three feet within the first year.
After three years, it should reach its full length of five to seven feet.
Some heftier females can be even larger! Red tail boa size is sexually dimorphic (different for males and females).
This means that space is a big consideration if you plan on having a red tail boa as a housemate.
Most adult snakes need an enclosure that’s 6′ x 2′ x 2’H or 4′ x 2′ x 4’H. Larger specimens may need even more room.
Appropriately-sized plastic tubs are a good choice for a reptile home.
They’re lightweight for their size and retain moisture better than other containers.
Keep in mind that constrictors are incredibly strong snakes that also happen to enjoy sneaking out of their enclosures.
So it is critical that your snake’s housing has a properly secured and weighed-down screen.
It’s also a good idea to put some hides on both sides of the enclosure to help your snake feel secure in its new home.
There are several things that you’ll need to prepare before you bring your new pet snake home.
One of them is the substrate that you use in the enclosure.
If you have a baby red tail boa, you can simply keep it in a slightly damp paper towel substrate.
For adult snakes, most people tend to use paper substrates for their enclosure.
These are cheap and easily replaceable options for this messy species.
Shredded paper and shavings hold very little moisture so you may struggle to maintain appropriate humidity if you choose this option.
Orchid bark is a good substrate choice for those that are concerned about humidity.
You can also choose a cypress or aspen bedding.
Do some research into the brand that you choose as some of them are better for the health of your pet than others.
Pine and cedar shavings, for instance, contain toxic oils which will harm your snake.
Generally, you should also avoid sand and wood chips as they may cause intestinal blockages if they’re accidentally ingested during meal times .
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to chat to your local pet shop and purchase a substrate specifically intended for your species of reptile.
No matter what you decide on, it’s paramount to keep your pet’s environment clean to help with disease control.
A tank left soiled can lead to issues like scale rot and various infections.
If you’re using paper-based substrate then you should spot clean every time your red tail boa defecates.
You’ll need to completely replace other substrates once a month.
Temperature & Lighting
As with all reptiles, you need to set up the enclosure of the red tail boa with a temperature gradient in mind.
This means that the tank will need to have a ‘cool’ side (kept at 80°F) and a ‘warm’ side (kept at 90°F).
The reason for this is that snakes can only control their body temperature through their behavior.
Their home needs to have several temperatures for the animal to move around and choose from.
There are several heat source options to choose from to create the perfect basking spot in your enclosure.
The standard option for many reptiles is ceramic heat emitters. These usually produce a sufficient amount of heat to keep your pet comfortable.
The problem with using them is that they quickly lower the humidity.
Another good option is a UTH (under the tank) heater.
These have a lesser effect on the humidity and may help with your snake’s digestion by heating the underside of the tank.
The downside is that for a larger enclosure, you may struggle to maintain the basking area at 90°F using only a UTH heater.
The last (slightly controversial) option is a heat mat.
Many people feel nervous about using this option because of the possibility of burns due to the size of the red tail boa.
If you can monitor the heat output with a thermometer AND thermostat then this shouldn’t be too much of a worry.
You should always invest in a proper temperature gauge when you bring home a pet reptile.
This way you can try several different heating options to see which one works best at maintaining the required heat.
Like all snakes, your red tail boa won’t require a light source, as they get all of their vitamins from their food.
Most people choose to add a light bulb anyways so that they are able to see their pet.
Just ensure that the light does not push the temperature above 92°F and is also far enough away that it doesn’t burn your snake.
The Red-tailed boa’s natural habit is the tropics of South America, so one of their key requirements is maintaining high humidity in the enclosure.
Ideally, you should keep the humidity in the 60-80% range.
It’s worth investing in a hygrometer to help you keep track of the moisture in your pet’s home.
To increase humidity you can place your heat source (like a light bulb) above or near the water bowl.
This will cause the water to evaporate quicker and therefore raise the moisture in the air.
Keep a careful eye on the water dish to make sure that your snake always has enough to drink.
Having a larger water dish (one that the snake can at least fit into) will also help increase the overall humidity.
If your pet is housed in a cage with a screen top, then much of the humidity may be escaping, making it difficult to keep within the ideal range.
In this case, you can simply cover half of the screen with plexiglass or even just a wet towel in order to trap the moisture in.
For best results, cover the part of the enclosure that contains the water dish.
Ensure that you don’t cover more than half of the screen, as your animal will still need proper ventilation in its enclosure.
One of the best ways to maintain adequate humidity, however, is through regular misting.
Spraying your cage once or twice a day with a regular garden-variety mister will ensure that your pet’s home is appropriately moist and comfortable.
Finding an appropriately-sized water dish may be tricky if you have a larger red tail boa.
This is because the dish should be large enough that the pet snake can have a good soak inside (especially while shedding).
It shouldn’t be so large that the animal would have trouble taking a drink.
Maintaining clean water at all times is also crucial to your snake’s health.
If you notice that the dish is looking cloudy, make sure to give it a good clean and replace the water.
It’s important to provide filtered water, which doesn’t contain too many minerals or chlorine.
Many sources recommend using bottled water, but as you can imagine this is incredibly wasteful.
Not to mention that bottled water often comes from tap water anyways.
Investing in a good water filter at home should be sufficient to protect the wellbeing of the snake.
Potential Health Issues
Red tail boas are susceptible to a few serious conditions. Let’s have a look at what they are and how to treat them.
Symptoms: Wheezing, open-mouthed breathing, mucus from nose or mouth.
Prevention: Always maintain suitable humidity and temperature range, and keep your snake in a suitably large enclosure for its size.
Treatment: Take your snake to see a qualified reptile vet immediately.
Symptoms: Fragments of shed skin remaining after shedding cycle complete. May restrict bloodflow to certain areas or cause irritation.
Prevention: Provide your snake with a large enough water bowl to soak in. Always maintain appropriate humidity within its enclosure.
Treatment: Carefully bathe your snake in luke-warm water for 10-15 minutes.
Never leave your snake unattended during this time, as drownings do occur.
After the snake has had a thorough soak, carefully attempt to remove the remaining fragment(s) of shed skin using tweezers.
Repeat one more time if needed.
Note: If the skin doesn’t lift easily, repeat the soaking process. Never attempt to forcibly remove.
Take your snake to see a vet if soaking does not work the second time.
Do Red Tail Boas Make Good Pets?
Red tail boas are common pets for a good reason.
They’re relatively easy to look after (compared to some other large snakes), and do well in captivity.
Still, their large size can make them more than a handful!
For the absolute beginner, we’d recommend looking into ball pythons instead of these (large) boas.
Ball pythons are small and easy to manage, with a great temperament and simple housing requirements. The perfect pets for new or beginning keepers!
But if you’re already an intermediate or expert keeper still looking for a challenge, then check out the emerald tree boa.
Do you have a boa constrictor of your own? Post images of your snakes in the comments section below!