Enclosure: Size

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Boas are medium-large, semi-arboreal snakes that require an enclosure which provides both floor space and height for their health. Here’s the minimum dimensions for your red-tailed boa enclosure, based on snake length:

  • Baby (shorter than 2’) — 2’L x 1.5’W x1’H
  • Juvenile (2’ to 5’) — 4’L x 2’W x 2’H
  • Adult (6’ to 8’) — 6’L x 3’W x 3’H
  • Large adult (longer than 8’) — 8’L x 4’W x 4’H

A good rule of thumb for boa enclosure dimensions is:

snake length x half snake length x half snake length

=

length x width x height

This changes somewhat as the snakes reach adulthood and large pre-made enclosures become harder to find and less affordable. But larger, and especially taller, is strongly recommended.

The enclosure must be large enough to allow its occupant to stretch out to its full length and exercise. At absolute minimum, this means the sum of the length and width of the enclosure should be equal to the length of the snake. You might not always see it in action when you’re awake (during the day), but boas cruise around quite a bit at night since they are nocturnal. The enclosure also must be large enough to create an appropriate temperature gradient for the snake to thermoregulate with. Without a good temperature gradient, your boa can’t regulate its body temperate and will most likely get very sick. (Read more about temperature gradients on the next page.)

Be prepared to make your own enclosure. If you don’t have the space or don’t want to make/pay for a big enclosure, then a large snake is simply not for you.

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Boa Constrictor Terrarium Ideas

A gorgeous example of a spacious boa enclosure. Contributed by Rhonda Miller

Can you house a baby boa constrictor in a larger enclosure?

Yes, as long as you do so carefully. Although boas are generally considered slow-growing, babies can still triple in size by the end of their first year. So if you buy a baby, it’s generally cheaper and more efficient to start with a larger enclosure to accommodate that rapid growth. In fact, babies can be housed in a full adult-sized enclosure if you set it up correctly.

Think about how boas grow up in the wild — they don’t confine themselves to a small box just because they’re young. They still have to travel to hunt. So think of it more as taking an enclosure-sized slice out of their native habitat.

Providing lots of hides/cover is the key to success when you’re putting a young boa in a large enclosure. Provide lots of places to hide: cork bark half-buried in substrate, loose burrowable substrate, foliage, dead leaves, caves, etc. Also partially cover the climbing branches to provide arboreal hides.

The primary concerns with keeping a very young boa in a large enclosure are the following:

  • Can be stressful if done wrong
  • Can be hard to find your hatchling
  • Difficult to monitor defecation schedule
  • Large (deep) water bowls can pose a drowning risk

If you’re still worried by the idea of putting a tiny baby in a huge adult enclosure, you can use a plastic storage tub with ventilation holes as a temporary grow-out space. It’s not a very attractive option, but it is much less expensive, great at maintaining steady humidity, and you’re less likely to lose track of your baby.

Types of Boa Cages

Glass: Contrary to popular belief, glass enclosures (aka aquariums) are not evil. They do tend to be expensive, heavy, not very durable, and can present some trouble with maintaining consistent temperatures and humidity. But it’s because of that latter quality, glass is one of the best materials at dissipating heat, and that it makes creating a temperature gradient much easier. It also helps encourage a natural cycle of drying in the enclosure, which discourages mold growth in a humid environment that could otherwise go out of control very easily. When done right, glass enclosures are very attractive and easy to clean. For best results, help the boa feel more secure by using an opaque material like construction paper to cover 3 of the enclosure’s 4 walls.

Plastic/PVC: PVC is well known for holding both heat and humidity very efficiently, and it’s also very durable, making it the most popular reptile housing option in the hobby. Note that these larger enclosures can be incredibly expensive, so it can be more cost effective to just build your own at that point if you’re at all handy. However if you’re not (like me), then this is a convenient and reliable option.

ReptiFiles recommends the following brands:

Wood/Melamine: These materials are a go-to for boa keepers who wish to build their own enclosure, as they are easy to source, relatively lightweight, and fairly inexpensive (in the case of wood). But Melamine does not do well in a humid environment, as the moisture tends to make the material rot and crumble. It can also harbor mold, which becomes dangerous to your boa’s health. Wood can be treated with animal-safe (VOC-free) waterproofing agents to become a fairly reliable material for building an enclosure without fear of rapid degeneration.

Tubs/Storage Bins: I do not recommend keeping adult boa constrictors in tubs or storage bins. While the plastic is very durable and the bins themselves are very affordable, these “enclosures” are simply not large enough to provide adequate permanent housing for even the smallest boa constrictor subspecies.

Tips for Building Your Own Boa Enclosure

While commercially-available enclosures are often suitable for young boas, it’s very difficult to find housing larger than 4’x2’x2’ that is ready for purchase at an affordable price. So many keepers build their own red tailed boa enclosure to provide a more habitat for their pet that can accommodate its adult size.

While building an enclosure is not terribly difficult or expensive (by comparison), it can be complex and time-consuming. Here are some tips for success:

If you use wood, it must be coated with a waterproof (outdoor) sealant. Wood rots in the presence of moisture, and since your enclosure will be exposed to fairly high levels of humidity on a regular basis, a sealant will help ensure that your enclosure lasts much longer.

Beware of sealants with VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are bad for humans and even worse for reptiles, especially snakes. Kennel Seal, Pond Armor, and epoxy are recognized as safe to use for animal enclosures.

Do not use pine, fir, or cedar lumber. Wood is the most affordable way to build your own enclosure, but these three types of wood contain natural oils which can give your snake permanent brain damage. Kiln-dried pine lumber, however, is safe — especially after it has been sealed.

Expanded PVC boards can be used for building. This creates an enclosure with all the benefits mentioned above, and the corners/edges can be welded together to create a waterproof seal. However, note that PVC is generally more expensive than lumber.

Plan for the enclosure to be front-opening. Swooping in from above is predatory behavior and may evoke a defensive response from your boa if your enclosure opens from the top. For the peace of mind of both you and your snake, attach the front glass in a way (hinges or sliding track) that creates easy access.

Use glass, not acrylic. Glass may be expensive, fragile, and heavy, but it’s worth the investment. Acrylic is known to scratch easily and gets irreversibly cloudy as it ages. Sheet grade polycarbonate is another lightweight alternative that is up to 200x stronger than glass, but this is also very susceptible to scratching.

Turn furniture into a snake enclosure. If you like the idea of a custom enclosure but not the idea of building from scratch, you can convert furniture (like an entertainment center) into an enclosure that integrates well with your home décor. If you choose to go this route, beware of using furniture constructed from particle board.

Hire a local carpenter to build the enclosure for you. This costs more, but the finished product is usually more attractive and functions better than if you had made it yourself. Check your local reptile community first; there may be someone who specializes in building reptile enclosures.

Boa Enclosure Tips - preventing escape

Contributed by Chris Cooper

Securing the Enclosure

When was the last time you heard about someone’s snake escaping? Likely recently. This happens all the time because people don’t secure their snake enclosures correctly. Yet the best way to prevent an escape is really simple: just secure the lid properly. And whatever you do, DON’T USE TAPE! Tape is notorious for injuring snakes who accidentally come in contact with its sticky side.

If you’re using a glass aquarium, invest in at least 4 (more are required for larger tanks) lid clamps to keep it firmly in place.

If you’re using a front-opening terrarium, a lock or latch will keep it secured.

If you’re using a tub or storage bin, make sure that it has a latching lid.

Finally, if your snake still somehow manages to escape, here are some tips for finding a lost snake.

Can you house more than one boa in the same enclosure?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Like most snakes, boa constrictors are solitary creatures. They live their lives alone in the wild, and they like it that way. They do not need “friends” like dogs or humans. And in fact when boas who are housed together, it is possible that one may end up eating the other — and there are many documented cases of this.

Some people will justify cohabbing their snakes say that they’ve kept their boas together for years with no problems. That means they’re LUCKY, not smart. Cohabitation is a cruel and selfish practice that denies the snake of a space that could just as easily have been theirs, and there is no justification for it.

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Keep reading:

  1. Introduction to Boas
  2. Members of the Boa Genus
  3. Red-Tailed Boa Shopping List & Starter Kit
  4. How to Select and Buy a Pet Boa
  5. Enclosure Size ← YOU ARE HERE
  6. Lighting & UVB Requirements
  7. Temperature Requirements
  8. Humidity Requirements
  9. Substrate Options
  10. Enclosure Decor & Environmental Enrichment
  11. Feeding Your Boa
  12. Taming & Handling Tips
  13. Common Illnesses & Other Health Information
  14. Additional Resources