Handling your Dumeril’s boa can be a fun and empowering experience, as well as be a source of exercise for the snake. But we also need to keep in mind that while it may be your pet, it is still a snake, and snakes are predatory animals. Here’s some snake handling tips to help you make the most of your relationship.
1. Use a snake hook
Whenever removing your boa from its enclosure, use a snake hook–not your hand. Not only does it protect you from getting bitten, but helps your snake differentiate between feeding time and handling time. After all, a cold metal snake hook feels very different from a warm, soft human hand.
After opening the enclosure, use the snake hook to gently nudge your boa’s side to get its attention. When it starts tongue flicking, you know you have its attention. Then use the hook to get the snake at least ⅓ out of the enclosure before grabbing it with your hands.
2. Support its weight
Snakes have long, heavy bodies. Though boas tend not to be as heavy-bodied as pythons, you need to support as much of your Dum’s weight as possible during handling. NEVER hold your snake by the tail or by the head. How would you like it?
3. Keep its head away from your face
Though Dumeril’s boas have fairly small teeth, a bite to the face is still unpleasant. As a general rule, use your hands to gently guide the snake away from your face.
4. Do not let it wrap around your neck
Dumeril’s boas are constricting snakes, with awesomely powerful muscles. While handling your pet, it will wrap its body around yours for stability–same as it would while slithering through the branches of a tree. During handling, you are basically a tree. A short, rather warm, moveable tree. So if your Dum starts wrapping around your neck, bring your hand up to make sure it doesn’t accidentally wrap too tight.
5. Keep your eyes open
Snakes can be funny sometimes. It’s hard to know what they’re thinking. Keep an eye on your Dum’s tongue, lungs, and posture–especially when it isn’t slithering around. Coiling, rapid tongue flicking, and/or rapid breathing indicates that a strike may be imminent.
6. Interrupt the hunt
If you notice any of the abovementioned behaviors, distract your boa from whatever it may be planning. Move your hands to shift the snake off balance. Stroke its smooth, cool scales. Easy to do, but it goes a long way in maintaining a positive relationship with your pet.
7. No surprises
Dumeril’s boas are ambush hunters, which means that in the wild they will fall asleep waiting for prey, then strike at the first thing that passes. If your snake seems to have fallen asleep in your presence, or you are retrieving him/her from their enclosure, be very careful when using your hand to wake them up. Ideally, use a paper towel roll or snake hook to wake them up. This also varies by individual; some boas are more discerning about when to strike, while others will launch themselves at whatever surprises them.
8. Do not handle for longer than 20-30 minutes
This is a general rule; Dumeril’s boas can be very shy, so your pet’s tolerance may vary. Maybe it will handle more, maybe not at all. Your snake will let you know how much handling it will tolerate. Start with 3-5 minutes every other day and work up from there to find the threshold.
9. Do not handle for 24-48 hours after feeding
It’s uncomfortable for the snake and may cause it to regurgitate. How would you like it if someone made you hit the gym right after Thanksgiving dinner? You’d throw up too.
If it bites
Do not rip the snake off.
This breaks teeth, and can leave them embedded in your skin. It’s also traumatic for both you and your boa. Stay calm, and eventually the snake will realize it can’t eat you, and will let go on its own. You can expedite the process by pouring Listerine on its head/in its mouth to make it release. (Can’t blame the snake — Listerine really burns…)
Do not take a picture.
Posting a snake bite picture to social media or showing it to your friends is not being macho or tough or whatever you think it might be. Images like these only fuels the cause of people who want to ban snakes as pets. More information on USARK and the fight to keep pet snakes here.
Read my article, Snake Bites, Strikes & Constricting—Oh My! next for an in-depth analysis of snake psychology.