Common Boa or Boa Constrictor

Boa constrictor

The common boa, native to Central and South America, is a large snake that kills its prey by constriction. Although it prefers small mammals such as rodents and bats, it also eats birds, amphibians, lizards, iguanas, and other snakes. Common boas inhabit forested areas, savannahs, farmlands, and suburbs. They can be found on the ground or in trees.

There are a variety of species and subspecies in the genus Boa. This report focuses on the ones most common in the pet trade, Boa constrictor constrictor, (also known as “red-tailed boa”) and Boa constrictor imperator. Frequently sold in the pet trade as juveniles (18–22 inches), these animals can grow to more than 30 feet in length. As adults, they represent a potential threat to humans, particularly small children.

Did You Know?

Boa Constrictors can grow to more than 13 feet in length

Sustainability

Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Some Cause for Concern

The common boa is widely distributed in its native range. In the 1980s, large numbers of wild individuals were captured for the pet and skin trade; now, the vast majority of pet common boas are bred in captivity. Captive animals are generally preferred because they are healthier and of better disposition. Thus, the pet trade appears to pose little threat to wild populations. However, populations of other boa species (e.g., dwarf boa) are threatened by harvest for the pet trade.

The international pet trade has made the common boa so important commercially that the species’ international trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The common boa is not a recommended pet.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Significant Cause for Concern

Boas, like pythons, are sometimes released into the wild by owners who discover that it is inconvenient to keep such a large animal. The common boa has been found in the wild in Florida, and has established self-sustaining populations on several islands including Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Cozumel (Mexico). These naturalized individuals prey upon a number of native and endemic species and are a potential threat to domesticated animals, pets, and small children. As a result, common boas are considered to pose a high risk of invasion in the U.S.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The common boa is not a recommended pet. However, before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Significant Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species.

As they grow in size, common boas require increasingly larger cages and more intensive care, which many pet owners are unable to provide. Adult common boas are commonly over 10 feet long and weigh 60 pounds, but they have been known to reach 30 feet in length. Boa constrictors need to be fed animals that are appropriate for their size—mice and rats for small snakes, chickens or rabbits for larger snakes. Boas will suffer if improperly nourished or kept in cages that are too small. Another concern is that boa constrictors live for 20 to 30 years in captivity and thus require a substantial commitment to long-term care.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The common boa is not a recommended pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Significant Cause for Concern

Large common boas can harm or even kill pets and humans through constriction. They should not be kept in the vicinity of small children or household pets.

Common boas can also carry Salmonella. If ingested by humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to infants and young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is important to wash hands before and after handling an animal. Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly.

Boas are also known to host a large number of ectoparasites (e.g., ticks, chiggers). There is some concern that these ticks may carry diseases that could harm domesticated livestock.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

The common boa is not a recommended pet. However, when purchasing any non-traditional pet ask the seller if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Reptiles often do not show signs of illness when harboring Salmonella. Always wash your hands after handling a reptile.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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