Decorating your boa terrarium is about more than spending a wad of cash to make it look pretty — although that’s always a fun challenge. More importantly, terrarium décor plays a critical role in enhancing a reptile’s quality of life by mimicking their natural environment and providing things for them to smell, explore, climb, hide under, and otherwise interact with. It’s called environmental enrichment, and it’s something that all the best zoos do. Contrary to popular believe, snakes are not stupid creatures that can be perfectly content living in a virtually empty box. They are complex animals that science is just beginning to understand. For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, I recommend reading Environmental Enrichment For Reptiles: What? Why? and How?
Heavy Water Dish or Tub
We’ve touched on this in the section on Humidity and we’ll talk more about it in the Food chapter. But a water dish is one of the most functional pieces of your enclosure’s décor that you can add. And while certain other pieces may be optional, this one definitely is not. Your snake will drink from this dish as well as soak in it when they need to cool down, moisturize, or simply feel in the mood for a swim.
The water dish should be large enough to accommodate at least most of your snake’s body, heavy enough that it can’t be tipped over, and placed in an accessible location so you can easily provide fresh water and clean it as needed. Note that although boas are good swimmers, take care not to make it deep enough that your snake could potentially drown — especially in the case of young snakes.
These are some of our favorite reptile water bowls:
A hide is a cave-like structure or object inside your enclosure where your snake can hide, snooze, or prepare for ambush without being easily seen. At least two should be provided: one on the warm end of the enclosure, and one on the cool end. Hides should be some of the most humid places in the enclosure.
Hides should also be large enough for your boa to fit, but small enough to be snug. Snakes like hides that they can barely squeeze into because it helps them feel secure. Here are some suitable items that can be used as hides:
- Commercially-made reptile caves and hides
- Cork bark half-buried in substrate
- PVC pipes buried in substrate with a tunnel entrance to the surface
- Hollow logs
- Cork rounds
- Storage tub with an entrance cut into it
- Window well cover with an entrance cut into it
You can browse entry-level reptile hides here. Of course, providing a suitable hide gets difficult as your snake gets larger, so you may need to brush up on your DIY skills a bit.
Vines and Branches
Some people argue that boas are strictly terrestrial and do not need climbing branches or vines. However, anyone who has seen a young boa climbing everything within reach or observed boas in the wild know that this is dead wrong. Boas are semi-arboreal and greatly appreciate the use of climbing branches to fill the upper reaches of their enclosure. In fact, they have been documented eating arboreal monkeys in their native habitat. And according to VPI, a boa’s “laterally compressed body and strongly prehensile tail are physical evidence of arboreal tendencies.”
Young boas demonstrate more arboreal tendencies than adults, so you may want to offer more vines and thin branches in a juvenile enclosure. They seem to prefer smaller, thinner objects that they can securely wrap their bodies around. My young B. imperator seems to particularly relish any opportunity to wrap its little body around any cords that it has managed to loosen.
As for adults, climbing opportunities should still be provided. However at this point this is a much heavier snake, and you will need to secure available branches so they don’t break, fall, or expose screws, causing injury. Since you’re likely to be making a custom enclosure for your adult boa, cut branches to size and screw them in firmly during the building process.
Where can you get branches and other climbing objects? You can buy them, but you can also simply walk into a local forest and do a bit of gathering (provided that collection is not illegal in your area). Forests are a great place to get fallen branches as long as the wood is not pine, fir, or cedar. If you know someone who is cutting down their tree, this can be a great way to get what you need as well. No treatment of the wood will be necessary beyond some scrubbing. Trees have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and naturally-sourced wood tends to come with extra bugs and other microfauna that will help prevent mold and break down waste. However, do take caution if termites or other dangerous insects are a problem in your area.
Plants and Foliage
Although greenery quickly turns a plain-looking enclosure into something more impressive, foliage (and especially live plants) offer benefits beyond just aesthetics. They can assist in shedding, provide extra hiding places, and live plants contribute to an enclosure’s ambient humidity.
- Rubber plant
- Weeping fig
- Zamioculcas (“ZZ Plant”)
You can find other durable plants here at The Bio Dude.
As you choose live plants for your enclosure, make sure that they are nontoxic (in case of accidental ingestion), appropriate for the amount of light and humidity inside your snake’s enclosure, and haven’t been exposed to pesticides recently.
Artificial foliage: Live plants can work for young boas, but as your snake grows larger and heavier, using live plants becomes increasingly impractical unless your enclosure is large enough to accommodate small trees. Artificial foliage can be a good way to keep some green color in your enclosure that won’t get flattened by your snake within the week.
Keep in mind that not all artificial foliage is safe. Beware of sharp points/edges on leaves, or exposed wires which can easily slice a snake’s skin down to the muscle. Once you find some foliage that you like, you can get rid of excess dyes by rinsing it in boiling water.
As mentioned in the substrate section, dead leaves and sphagnum moss make good, natural additions to an enclosure. Take advantage of the autumn season to collect (pesticide-free) leaves and create a thick layer along the bottom of the cage. Your snake will appreciate the new scents, texture, and burrowing potential provided by the leaves.
If using a glass enclosure, cover 3 sides to help the snake feel more secure. Some reptile keepers like to do this with commercially -available backgrounds with pictures of nature scenes or custom-made backgrounds, while others are happy with some coconut fiber mat or construction paper. The choice is up to you!
Boa Constrictor Terrarium Ideas
Click any thumbnail to see the full-sized image.
Special thanks to the following individuals for contributing these boa enclosure examples:
- Amelia Adams
- Jessica Snyder
- Rachael Oman
- Rhonda Miller
- Mark Raven-Zemla
Obesity is a widespread problem among pet snakes that the reptile hobby is just barely becoming aware of. Providing enrichment plays a critical role in encouraging your boa to exercise. Instinct drives them to climb, explore, and hunt; it is your job as a pet owner to provide an enclosure which permits them to demonstrate these natural behaviors.
- Introduction to Boa Constrictors
- Members of the Boa Genus
- Boa Constrictor Shopping List — Supplies You Will Need
- How to Select and Buy a Pet Boa
- How Big Should Your Boa’s Enclosure Be?
- Lighting & UVB Requirements
- Temperature Requirements
- Humidity Requirements
- What Kind of Substrate Should You Use?
- Tips for Decorating Your Boa’s Enclosure
- What Do Boa Constrictors Eat?
- How to Handle Your Pet Boa Constrictor
- What to Do When Your Boa Gets Sick
- Additional Resources