Viper Boa Care Sheet: Background Info, Tank Setup, Diet, & More!

The viper boa, Candoia aspera, is a small to medium-sized boa named after its viperlike appearance.

Viper boas bred in captivity are moderately hard to keep but on par with many other boas.

This viper boa care sheet will give you all the details.

Viper Boa Candoia Aspera
The viper boa is a medium-small boa species with a squared head and a short tail.
Image credit: Mike Schultz

Viper Boa Background Information

The viper boa is a harmless species.

It is also known by other names, including Papuan ground boa, Papuan viper boa, New Guinea ground boa, and New Guinea viper boa.

Appearance and Size

The viper boa gets its name from a squared head, and blunt nose, which gives it a viper-like appearance.

Viper boas have rough, keeled scales, which further adds to their viper-like image.

These animals have a variable color range, and you may see a black viper boa, or it could be red or gold.

Unlike giant boas such as Colombian red tail boa, viper boas typically reach lengths of around two feet. Exceptional snakes may reach lengths of up to three feet.

The tail counts for very little of their overall length, making up as little as 7%.

Natural Habitat

As its common names suggest, the viper boa comes from the islands of Papua New Guinea.

This species also has populations on the following islands around New Guinea:

  • Manus
  • Bougainville
  • Solomon Islands

The Viper boa’s natural habitat consists of any area with plenty of moisture and dense vegetation.

Viper boa among leaves on the ground
Viper boas come from Papua New Guinea, where they live on the forest floor.

Some of their preferred habitats include:

  • Forests
  • Swamps
  • Wet Lowlands

Viper Boa Vs. Papuan Death Adder

The viper boa shares its natural habitat with the Papuan death adder, to which it bears some resemblance.

Once you know what you’re looking for, they’re easy to tell apart.

The Viper boa has a square, blunt nose, and a row or rows of blotches along its body.

In some snakes, the blotches are faded, but they rarely disappear fully.

The death adder has a rounded head and vertical stripes, making it easy to distinguish them.

Viper boas are harmless, but death adders are deadly.

Viper Boa Lifespan

Viper boas live for around 15 years on average.

In the wild, many factors affect their lifespans, including:

  • Predator pressure
  • Sickness and disease
  • Stress and access to food and water

Pet viper boas have much less to contend with, and we may find that captive-bred boas live longer than their wild-caught counterparts.

Viper Boa Enclosure

Since the viper boa is a ground-dwelling species, you don’t need to worry much about enclosure height, but floor space is important.

portrait shot of viper boa on the ground
Viper boas are active snakes that benefit from large enclosures.
Image credit: u/lesnekface (via Reddit.com)

Ensure that the snake’s enclosure is an adequate size. Viper boas like to move around.

People keep viper boas in everything from a plastic snake rack system to a wooden enclosure, so there’s plenty of options.

A snake rack system is ideal if you plan on breeding viper boas.

Since you don’t want to keep the snakes together full-time, a snake rack allows you to keep them near each other.

A glass or wooden enclosure is ideal for displaying or keeping a single snake.

Whether you use a rack system or something else, the snake’s enclosure should have floor space of at least 2 ft. x 1.5 ft. x 1 ft.

If you could provide a larger viper boa enclosure, that would be better for your snake.

Temperature and Humidity

The climate of Papua New Guinea, where viper boas hail from, is tropical with high humidity.

The average temperature is between 78.8 °F and 82.4 °F. The humidity averages between 73% and 80%.

Pet viper boas need similar conditions to what they’d find in the wild.

As with other snakes, the viper boa needs a temperature gradient. Aim for the following temperatures to keep your snake healthy:

  • Hot Side – 88 °F
  • Cool Side – 80 °F
  • Ambient Temperature – 80 °F
  • Nighttime Temperature – 75 °F

They prefer high humidity levels of between 70% and 80%.

You can keep the humidity in range by using a substrate that holds moisture. By misting it regularly, you can hold humidity in the zone you want.

You can also use larger water bowls to help keep humidity levels in check.

If you live in a dry area with naturally low humidity levels, then you might want to consider a small humidifier or reptile mister.

To help you maintain the correct temperature and humidity at all times, you’ll need to monitor both carefully.

Since reptiles need a temperature gradient, it’s a good idea to have three separate thermometers in the enclosure:

  • One on the warm side, to monitor the hotspot temperatures
  • One on the cool side, to ensure that the snake has a cool place to go
  • One in the center for monitoring ambient and evening temperatures

You also need to include at least one hygrometer so you can track the humidity level.

It might be worth considering a thermometer hygrometer combo since they’re often more affordable than separate units.

Heating

Viper boas can’t regulate their body temperature internally. They keep temperatures in range by moving between warm and cool areas.

If you’re keeping reptiles, they need a temperature gradient to adjust their body temperature. This is a vital part of viper boa care.

It’s easy to create a temperature gradient. Place the heating device on one side of the enclosure, and leave the other side unheated.

You can choose from several types of heating devices, each with its pros and cons. Some of the options include:

  • Ceramic Heat Emitters – Ceramic heat emitters are a type of heat bulb that produces heat but not light.

Since they produce no light, they work well for both diurnal species like ball pythons and nocturnal species like night adders.

  • Basking Lamps – Basking lamps are heat bulbs that produce both heat and light.

They’re the best option for a snake species which needs to bask. Viper boas don’t need to bask but may benefit from a UVB basking light.

  • Heating Pads/Mats – Under-tank heating pads are perfect for ground-dwelling snakes like the viper boa.

They heat the snake from below, as would naturally take place if the snake sought areas that had been warmed by the sun.

Since there’s no light involved, you can use them day and night.

  • Heat Cable – If you’re using a rack system for your snakes, a heat cable is ideal.

You can stick it to one side of the rack, and it will warm all the enclosures on the same side.

You can connect some types to a thermostat to help keep the temperature in the optimal range.

We suggest using a heating pad and a ceramic heat emitter. This way, you can use the same heating system day and night.

To allow the snake a cooler evening temperature, switch off the emitter and allow the heat pad to keep the enclosure warm.

If you use a thermostat and a digital timer, it will help you keep the temperatures right and switch off the emitter at the right time.

These tools, while not essential, mean that heating the enclosure will need less input from you.

Substrate

Choosing the right substrate is essential for viper boas and other snakes.

Viper boas naturally live among the leaf litter on the forest floor and appreciate a substrate that imitates that.

The right substrate also helps to hold humidity. Viper boas like to burrow, so they need a soft substrate that they can burrow in.

Some of the better substrate options in the pet trade include:

  • Cypress Mulch – Cypress mulch is an ideal substrate for many snake species, including viper boas.

It can hold humidity well, isn’t as expensive as some options, and doesn’t have the toxic oils that some types of wood do.

This substrate is versatile and will maintain high humidity levels with regular misting.

It can also serve to lower humidity levels if you dampen the substrate less frequently.

  • Orchid Bark – Orchid bark shares many of the fine traits of cypress mulch but isn’t ideal for burrowing species like the viper boa.

A deep substrate they can burrow in helps them feel secure.

Orchid bark is a bit rough, and the particles are too large to facilitate burrowing.

However, the substrate is good in every other way and holds moisture, helping to maintain the humidity levels.

  • Newspaper – Newspaper makes a good substrate for young snakes because it’s easy to replace.

However, it dries out quickly, so it doesn’t help to maintain humidity levels. You also need to replace it often.

If you decide to use newspaper, place a flat sheet on the floor space of the enclosure, with two inches of shredded (with a shredder) newspaper on top.

The buffer layer will imitate the leaf litter in the snake’s natural environment and allow it to burrow.

  • Peat Moss – Peat moss is a wonderful substrate for burrowing snakes like the viper boa.

It absorbs moisture well, thereby keeping the humidity level high. It’s also soft and malleable, which allows the viper boa to burrow easily.

However, most of the peat moss in the pet trade comes from the same area around the United Kingdom.

Soon, harvesting the peat bogs will be illegal, so it’s best to choose a more sustainable option.

  • Coco Peat – Coco peat has all the advantages of peat moss, without the risk of being unavailable soon.

Coco fiber is a byproduct of the coconut food industry, made from the inedible outer husk of coconuts.

This substrate helps maintain the humidity level and is easy to burrow in.

If you’re wishing to create a planted tank, consider a substrate blend.

Coco peat, blended with orchid bark and some sand, makes a good substrate for a planted vivarium.

If you’re not planting, we recommend using cypress mulch or coco peat.

Hides and Decor

As with most snakes, viper boas need hides and cover to help them feel safe.

Since viper boas tend to be more ground-oriented than some other boas, they get their sense of safety from their ability to burrow.

However, they still appreciate the addition of at least two hides. We recommend using three hides for your pet snake:

  • A humid hide
  • One on the cool side
  • One on the warm side

Having a hide on each side of the enclosure will enable the snake to rest at the appropriate temperature.

A humid hide is a commercial or homemade hide filled with a deep layer of a moist substrate.

It has higher humidity than the surrounding enclosure, thanks to the moist substrate.

The snake will climb inside when shedding, allowing it to shed quickly and without a hitch.

In addition to the hide, the snake will benefit from a large water bowl to help maintain humidity.

Consider adding real or artificial plants to the enclosure. These snakes live in the undergrowth in the wild, and plants will make them feel more secure.

Building a Humid Hide

You can easily build a humid hide:

  1. Use a hole saw or spade bit to make a hole that’s just big enough for the snake to get through.
    It should be on one side: low enough so the snake can get in, but high enough to fit at least one inch of the substrate underneath.
  2. Ensure that you sand smooth the sides of the hole so the snake can’t cut itself.
  3. Wash and rinse the tub to get rid of plastic pieces or chemicals from the manufacturing process.
  4. Place an inch or two inches of substrate in the bottom, dampen it, and replace the container’s lid.
  5. Place the humid hide on the warm side of the enclosure, and mist it daily or when you see signs of an impending shed.

Lighting

As with most reptiles, viper boas need a day and night cycle to remain healthy. Most keepers suggest a 12:12 cycle (12 hours with light and 12 without).

There are plenty of lighting options in the pet trade, and most of them are good.

As with most diurnal boas, the viper boa benefits from the addition of UVB to their enclosure.

Consider using a standard full-spectrum bulb, as well as a UVB bulb.

UVB lighting helps reptiles absorb calcium, brightens their skin color, and will help your snake to stay healthy.

Possible lighting setups to choose from include:

  • LED lighting – The coolest-burning type of lighting. LED lights consume less energy and last much longer than other lighting types.

You can buy full-spectrum globes or standard white lighting, but you’ll have a healthier pet if the snake gets full-spectrum.

  • Halogen lighting – Halogen lighting is one of the older lighting types.

While these lights still work well, they’re heavy on power and get a lot hotter than LED bulbs.

If you choose halogen, your best option is to use daytime basking lights. Trying to balance them alongside another heat source may be a challenge.

  • Fluorescent lighting – Fluorescent lighting is the step between fluorescent and LED. It doesn’t get as hot as halogen but isn’t as cool as LED.

You need to replace the bulbs every three to six months because they only produce UV rays for a limited time.

For the best lifespan, energy efficiency, and price, we suggest LED bulbs.

Viper Boa Diet

In the wild, these boas eat a diet that consists of other small creatures. Any small rodent, lizard, or frog makes a good meal for this species.

Yellow Guinea Ground Viper Boa (Candoia aspera)
Viper boas eat a diverse diet that consists of live prey or frozen feeders.

As they live in the undergrowth in wet areas, amphibians make up a large part of their diet.

The viper boa is a heavy-bodied animal with a slow metabolism. Overfeeding your snake is one of the most dangerous things you can do.

You should feed an adult viper boa around once every two weeks, and a young boa should eat once a week.

Give your snake a meal that’s slightly smaller than the broadest part of your snake. For baby snakes, that usually means a pinky mouse and a fuzzy rat for adults.

Most viper boa owners feed their snakes, mostly rodents. You can also feed your snake-feeder fish and lizards as an occasional treat.

If you decide to use feeder fish, ensure that they’ve been eating high-quality food that will add nutrients to your snake’s diet.

Never give your viper boa live rodents, as they can seriously injure your snake. Frozen rodents are the best option.

Remove them from the freezer an hour or so before feeding, so they can thaw. You can feed them to your snake using tongs or forceps.

Viper Boa Temperament and Handling

Viper boas, Candoia aspera, have a bad reputation thanks to their temper.

A viper boa that comes from the wild is often aggressive, intolerant, and quick to anger.

Even if they feel secure and at home, they’re flighty and try to escape attention.

Captive-bred viper boas don’t have the bad reputation of their ancestors. They often take well to handling, and don’t usually strike without provocation.

If you have a boa from the wild, it’s best to handle it with a snake hook.

Some wild-caught boas may learn to tolerate handling, but you’ll need to ease them into it.

If you have a captive-bred boa, you must socialize it from a young age. Handle it often so it can get used to it.

Both wild-caught and captive-bred boas will try to escape from you rather than biting.

If you try to handle them, and they don’t want you to pick them up, is when they usually bite.

These snakes can get into a defensive state of mind, and you need to get to know your animal. If it shows signs of being grouchy, then take care.

Many owners of these snakes say that quickly lifting them with a snake hook is often enough to remove them from their defensive state.

Viper Boa Morphs

The viper boa comes in many different colors, similar to the morphs of ball pythons and other pet species.

Viper Boa Morphs
Black is one of the many colors that viper boas come in.
Image credit: u/34153146 (via Reddit.com)

As with most species, there’s no difference in the care of the morphs.

Unlike other pet snakes, the viper boa morphs aren’t well established yet.

In the next few years, you’ll probably be able to pick the color you want as breeders stabilize the breeding process.

We also hope to see an albino viper boa morph sometime soon.

In the wild, the color variations contribute to camouflage in different areas.

A black snake can blend into a background of dark leaf litter where a yellow or red viper boa would stand out.

However, a yellow or red viper boa can blend in among vegetation where black boas would stand out.

Viper Boa Price

Viper boas aren’t common snakes in the pet trade and can cost a pretty penny if you find some.

On average, you can expect to pay a viper boa price of at least $150 for a baby. They could cost you as much as $300, depending on the breeder.

Where to Buy a Viper Boa

As we mentioned above, these snakes aren’t common in the pet trade.

There’s still a steady business importing them from the wild, so you also need to check where the snake comes from.

Wild-caught boas are more likely to carry diseases and parasites, so you want to avoid buying one. Captive-bred animals also tend to have calmer temperaments.

It’s not unusual for a wild-caught snake to have a bad temper.

There are several places you can start looking for your new animal.

This species hasn’t been around long enough to be available on the reptile marketplaces for common species.

You can look for breeders in your area by speaking to people on reptile forums.

Most nationwide forums have a sizable group of people from each state. You may also be able to hook into smaller state-specific groups.

Other snake enthusiasts will happily tell you about reputable breeders in your area.

You can also do an internet search for viper boa breeders. Several trusted snake breeders breed and sell viper boas online.

Before purchasing, check the reviews left by previous clients and ask others on reptile forums.

If you don’t want to buy online, the best place to look for a viper boa if you don’t want to buy online is at your nearest reptile convention or expo.

These gatherings host breeders and distributors from around the country.

Always ask the dealer at the stall whether the animals are wild-caught or captive-bred.

Most are happy to answer your questions, and a reputable dealer will know the exact origin of the animal.

In most cases, the dealer is also the breeder and will be able to give you valuable advice.

Viper Boa Health Concerns

These snakes aren’t prone to disease and illness, but they may sometimes suffer from the same health issues that other boas do.

Mouth Rot

Infectious stomatitis, A.K.A. mouth rot, is an inflammation of the mouth that occurs in snakes and other reptiles.

This problem usually occurs when the snake has been suffering from stress.

The bacteria that cause this problem live in the boa’s mouth permanently. During stressful times, the snake’s immune system weakens.

Since the snake’s body can’t fight back against the bacteria as it normally does, the bacteria will multiply and cause an infection.

Causes of stress that might lead to this kind of infection include:

  • The wrong temperature gradient
  • A humidity level above or below what the boa needs
  • Injuries to the mouth from striking cage walls, ornaments, or other accidents

Symptoms of stomatitis include:

  • A lack of appetite
  • Red or swollen mouth tissue
  • Pus forming in the mouth or nose
  • A discharge of fluids from the nose and mouth

If left untreated, this infection can spread to the digestive tract or the respiratory system. It can also lead to pneumonia.

If you suspect that your pet has mouth rot, get it to a vet straight away.

The treatment for this kind of infection usually involves antibiotics. Only a vet can prescribe the right medication.

Respiratory Infection

Respiratory infection is the result of an influx of bacteria and may go with stomatitis.

Many of the symptoms are similar, and they include:

  • Lethargy
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Rattling sounds when breathing
  • A discharge from the nose and mouth

As with stomatitis, it’s a good idea to get your snake to a vet ASAP.

To prevent a respiratory infection from spreading or becoming pneumonia, your snake will need prescribed antibiotics.

Obesity

Obesity is one of the most common health issues among viper boas. These animals have a slow metabolism and an excellent feeding response.

Many pet owners, especially when they first start feeding snakes, think that a snake that eats must be hungry.

In reality, many snakes have a strong feeding response as a result of conditions in the wild.

In nature, it may be weeks or months before a snake sees its next meal.

These animals have learned to eat when they can, in case they have a few weeks without food.

In captivity, your snake may overeat if you keep feeding it. That doesn’t mean it’s hungry; it’s just a survival instinct.

Obesity can be as dangerous to snakes like, any other animal, so never feed your adult boas more than once every two weeks.

Young boas should eat once a week.

Parasites

These snakes are susceptible to several internal and external parasites.

External parasites that may affect snakes include ticks and mites. They’re not a common problem with captive-bred snakes since they don’t get exposed to the wild.

Occasionally, a case of mites pops up in a captive setup through cross-contamination.

If your boa ever gets mites, you can buy a dusting powder that kills mites.

Wild-caught snakes may also come with ticks. If you find a tick on your snake, grasp its body firmly and slowly pull out the head.

Internal parasites are harder to detect and treat. We suggest having your snake tested every year as a precaution.

Internal parasites may include roundworms and coccidia. Your vet can prescribe a deworming agent and tell you what the appropriate dosage is.

Are Viper Boas Venomous?

Viper Boas aren’t venomous.

viper boa against plain white background
Viper boas are non-venomous species that may bite but won’t kill you.

These snakes get their name from the shape of their heads, which resembles that of a viper. They also look a bit like the death adders who share their home in the wild.

The viper boa doesn’t produce any venom, so you don’t need to be frightened of it.

However, if a viper boa bites you it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.

Some people are allergic to the proteins (histamines) in a snake’s saliva, and an allergic reaction can be fatal.

If any type of snake bites you, go for a checkup, just in case.

Are Viper Boas Good Pets?

Viper boas aren’t good pets, except for experienced keepers.

These animals are moderately difficult to care for and can be aggressive.

young viper boa in palm of hand
Wild-caught viper boas are aggressive, but captive-bred snakes tend to be more docile.
Image credit: u/Roberto-alcini (via Reddit.com)

The viper boa isn’t a pet in the traditional sense of the word. They’re wonderful display animals, but they’re not fond of being handled.

These animals have a reputation for aggression which hails back to when all pet viper boas were wild-caught.

Wild-caught viper boas have an attitude, don’t like handling, and often bite with little provocation.

Captive-bred snakes are more docile. If you know your snake well, you can see when it’s in a defensive mode and avoid getting bitten.

Sometimes a viper boa born in captivity will take well to handling and learn to like it.

Either way, if you’re looking for a pet that you can handle every second day and that will seem almost cuddly, the viper boa isn’t the right choice.

How Big Does a Viper Boa Get?

Viper boas grow to around two feet on average.

These animals are a small to medium-sized species that grow to three feet in exceptional cases.

Most often, they grow to two feet or less and have short, stocky bodies with a blunt head.

Compared to the boa constrictor, which can reach lengths of up to ten feet, the viper boa is almost dwarflike.

Some pet species, like the rosy boa, are even smaller. These snakes reach lengths of as little as 17 inches.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about viper boas, their origin, and care.

If you’d like to learn more about different boas, check out our article about the Brazilian rainbow boa.

These creatures have a colorful sheen that looks like rainbows on their skin.

Have you had a viper boa before? Are you going to get one? Let us know in the comments below.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Join the discussion! Leave a comment below nowx
()
x