Reptiles can’t be kept in the same conditions as a dog or cat because they are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Reptiles are incredible because their bodies can tolerate a wide range of temperatures — in fact, experiencing changes in temperature over the course of a day and depending on location is very healthy for a reptile.
But that’s what life is like for reptiles, and since your boa isn’t in the wild, it’s your job to supply a stable heat source that they can use as needed.
Boa constrictors have been proven to do well within this temperature gradient:
- Basking air temp: 86-90°F (30-32°C)
- Cool end: 75-80°F (24-26°C)
Overall your boa constrictor enclosure should have different areas that range from 75°F to 90°F for a complete thermal gradient.
Heating devices should be turned off at night to cause a nightly drop in temperature, which evidence suggests is the best practice for the long-term health of the animal. According to climate data from boa constrictor habitat, boas are likely to be able to easily endure night drops as low as 68°F/20°C. If your room temps get lower than this at night, you will need a thermostat-regulated, lightless heat source to supplement.
Special note: It is speculated that B. c. constrictor particularly benefits from seasonal fluctuations in temperature, even if a keeper does not intend to breed. Experts recommend a 14-hour day during summer and then a drop to 75-78°F (24-26°C) air temperature during winter, with an 8 hour day.
- Chiaraviglio, Margarita, et al. “Intrapopulation variation in life history traits of Boa constrictor occidentalis in Argentina.” Amphibia-Reptilia 24.1 (2003): 65-74.
- Waller, Tomas, et al. “Ecological correlates and patterns in the distribution of Neotropical boines (Serpentes: Boidae): a preliminary assessment.” Herpetological Natural History 3 (1995): 1.
- McGinnis, Samuel M., and Robert G. Moore. “Thermoregulation in the boa constrictor Boa constrictor.” Herpetologica 25.1 (1969): 38-45.
Tools for creating the perfect boa constrictor temperature gradient:
The best way to create a temperature gradient for your boa will be to place the heat source on one side of the enclosure. This will make sure that there is an area of cooler temperatures that your boa can retreat to on the opposite side of its habitat. Don’t be alarmed if your snake spends most of its time on the cool or mid-range area; boas typically only use the hot spot for digesting after a meal.
Halogen Flood Heat Lamp
Heat lamps are still a controversial heat source for snakes, but according to expert Roman Muryn’s research, they are one of the most natural ways to create the right temperature gradient in your boa’s enclosure.
If you are using a glass terrarium or other enclosure with a mesh top, I recommend using a dual dome-style heat lamp fixture with a ceramic sockets. (This lamp is my favorite for larger reptiles.) That way the mesh creates a barrier between the hot bulb and your snake, and you can create a larger basking area for healthier, more effective basking.
If the bulb(s) must be installed inside the enclosure, you will need bulb cages like this to prevent burns. However, I strongly recommend using an enclosure with a mesh top so the lamps can be installed outside of the enclosure.
There are many different types of heat bulbs on the market, from reptile-specific brands to ordinary bulbs at your local home improvement store. Reptile brand halogen bulbs can work well, but they may be short-lived or have poor spread — the best options I’ve found are the 75w Arcadia Halogen or Zoo Med Repti Tuff Splashproof Halogen Lamp. But I’ve had the best experience with PAR38 halogen flood bulbs, specifically the Philips 90W PAR38 Halogen Flood bulb.
You will need a cluster of AT LEAST 2 HEAT BULBS to create a large enough basking area to heat your boa’s coiled body evenly.
What wattage? This is a common question with no solid answer, sorry! What wattage bulb you will need depends on room temperature, enclosure height, and other factors. What works for one person won’t always work for another, which is why I like plug-in lamp dimmers so much. When in doubt, try the higher-wattage bulb first. It’s also best to do your testing BEFORE you bring home your new snake.
However, take care — too much dimming of your heat bulb will essentially eliminate its sun-like Infrared-A output, which will essentially turn your bulb into a slightly brighter version of a heat projector.
- Pro tip: Be sure to buy white or clear bulbs rather than red, blue, black, or whatever other color they’re offering. Colored bulbs create an unnaturally tinted environment and may negatively affect your pet’s circadian rhythm.
Deep Heat Projector (DHP)
The Arcadia Deep Heat Projector and other similar products are essentially a the better, more modern version of the classic ceramic heat emitter. Heat projectors provide lightless, downward-focused Infrared-B and -C radiation that doesn’t have to be housed in a specialized cage fixture.
If for some reason you don’t want to use a halogen bulb for heating your reptile’s enclosure, this is the next best thing. However, my preferred use for heat projectors is for help with boosting ambient (air) temperatures.
Use the DHP by installing the bulb inside a ceramic-socket dome heat lamp in place of a conventional heat bulb. Plug into a proportional (dimming) thermostat or rheostat to regulate the heat output.
Radiant Heat Panel (RHP)
Heat panels act like heat lamps without the bulb. These are definitely the most expensive of the 3 heating options we recommend, but can be well worth the investment if you’re struggling to maintain optimal ambient (air) temps in a large enclosure. Unlike heat pads, these are installed on the ceiling of the enclosure for natural heat, which radiates down to create a zone of warmth on one side of the enclosure. Make sure to connect your radiant heat panel to a proportional thermostat (not thermometer — and yes, there’s a difference) to maximize the RHP’s lifespan as well as make sure it doesn’t accidentally get too hot.
Like the Deep Heat Projector, radiant heat panels don’t produce light, so you will need some kind of light source to help regulate your snake’s day/night cycle. Vivarium Electronics heat panels are trusted by many and widely considered to be some of the best in the industry.
Do not use heat tape or a heat pad
Heat tape is a heating element in the shape of a long cord that can be distributed however you want under/around the enclosure. Handy, right? It used to be very popular with snake enthusiasts (and still is with breeders) because of this convenient feature. Heat pads and mats are installed on the bottom of an enclosure to warm the substrate above. These are also very popular with snake enthusiasts. However, they tend to struggle when used with wood enclosures or a thick substrate layer, and fail to affect air temperatures.
Both heat tape and heat pads must be used in conjunction with a thermostat to prevent them from getting too hot, and without this tool it is impossible to control your boa’s temperature gradient.
Both products are used with the same assumption that snakes need “belly heat” in order to digest their food properly. However, the truth is that the whole concept of belly heat is bogus! In nature, warmth comes from above (the sun), not from below (the ground). In fact, when reptiles get too hot they will retreat underground to cool off. Using overhead heat sources like heat lamps mimics the effects of the sun and how boas evolved to receive warmth — by laying on top of sun-warmed surfaces and thereby receiving heat from both above and below. To recreate this effect in your enclosure, you can place a piece of slate, flagstone, concrete, or even wood underneath the heat source to create the perfect basking surface.
How to measure enclosure temperature
As you may have noticed, surface temperature needs to be warmer than air temperature. That is because basking surfaces like rocks and branches tend to warm up faster than the air does. Measure surface temperatures with an infrared temperature gun and use a digital thermometer for air temperatures. It may seem redundant at first, but trust me, you’ll get much more accurate readings this way. Using only one device or the other will give you inaccurate readings that can put your boa’s health at risk.
Do boa constrictors need heat at night?
Unlikely, unless your home gets particularly cold. According to a general survey of nighttime temperatures in boa constrictor habitat, night temperatures can (and should) drop to as low as 68°F (20°C) at night with no ill effect. In fact, providing a nightly drop in temperature is actually better for your boa’s health!
However, if your room temperature gets lower than 68°F at night, it is recommended to provide a lightless heat source like a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) or radiant heat panel (RHP) attached to a thermostat to keep things between at the recommended 68-75°F.
Special note: Experienced keepers report that B. c. orophias and B. c. nebulosa may be less cold-tolerant than other boas. Using a lightless nighttime heat source to keep temperatures around 80°F (26°C) night is highly recommended for success with these subspecies.
When in doubt, check average nighttime temperatures during the active season in your subspecies’/locality’s habitat with TimeAndDate.com’s Past Weather tool.
- 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