Red Tail Boas

Red tail boa
Red tail boa on a branch with leaves in the background. Getty Images/JH Pete Carmichael

The red tail boa, also referred to as a red tailed boa and correctly identified as a boa constrictor, is a very commonly seen pet snake. Red tail boas can be easily acquired from a breeder, pet store, or reptile show and are identifiable by their red patterned coloration on the end of their tail.

Red tail boas are native to Brazil and nearby areas where they spend their time in rain forests and lowlands and while their environments vary they are considered moderately arboreal.

Red Tail Boa as Pets

The red tail boa grows to be 8 to 10 feet in length and can weigh about 50 pounds when they are full grown. They will live 25 to 30 years in captivity if well cared for and are a big snake for the average pet owner. Red tail boas need to be seriously considered before being purchased due to their strength, size, amount they eat, and their ability to constrict. They are not legal to own everywhere so be sure to check your local laws as well.

The reason red tail boas are so popular is due in part to their typically docile temperament. They aren't usually aggressive snakes but even if they aren't upset they can do damage to a person quite easily by constricting (to hang on to someone's hand, neck, or arm) or biting them if they think your hand is food.

Housing Red Tail Boas

A 10 foot snake needs a little room to move about but they don't typically like stretching all out. Snakes feel more secure when they are hiding under something and are curled up.

If they are all spread out they feel vulnerable and threatened. Therefore, an enclosure that provides 8 to 10 feet of floor space, is a couple of feet high and a couple of feet wide is plenty big for an adult red tail boa.

Probably the most important thing about an enclosure for a red tail boa is how secure it needs to be.

Snakes are escape artists and will push their way through unlocked lids and squeeze through small openings. All snake enclosures should have locks or latches to prevent an escape. Escapes are dangerous to both the snake and people, especially children, living in the house and nearby areas. Placing a red tail boa inside a tied pillow case works well for transporting or to temporarily hold them while cleaning their enclosure.

Since red tail boas come from a tropical environment, the ease of maintaining humidity levels should be taken into consideration when setting up a cage. Glass or plexiglass sides and lids help to keep humidity higher in an enclosure but you will want to make sure enough air is still able to circulate inside and nothing will melt from the heating devices.

Your snake needs a large, sturdy bowl for water. They should be able to easily fit their entire body in the bowl to soak. Red tail boas should also have a hide box or place to escape the heat and to curl up in a quiet, hidden place whenever they want to. Many owners use wooden or cardboard boxes for hides and replace or clean them as needed. Tree branches may or may not be used by your snake.

The kind of bedding you choose should be easy to clean since a large snake produces quite a large amount of waste material.

Paper towels are great for young red tail boas and reptile cage carpet or indoor/outdoor carpet cut into removable sections are easy to clean for adult snakes. Other materials that are often use include reptile bark, reptile dirt mixtures, and other natural floor coverings. Sand is not appropriate for red tail boas.

Lighting and Heating For Red Tail Boas

Since red tail boas are from Brazil they like their environments warm. A basking spot of 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit should be maintained using heat lights or other means but stay away from hot rocks (they can cause thermal burns). The rest of the tank can be in the upper 80's and at night it can drop into the lower 80's.

Heat lights, ceramic heat emitters, undertank heaters, and incubator cages are all acceptable means of heating a snake cage.

Just make sure your snake cannot get to the heating element and burn themselves.

UVB lighting is not mandatory for red tail boas, but if you want to offer supplemental white light during the day, a UVB light is a great option. It may even help stimulate appetite, decrease stress and make your snake an overall happier, active snake.

Feeding Red Tail Boas

Juvenile red tail boas will be fed fuzzies, then mice, then rats, and once they reach adulthood, will be eating rabbits and large rats. Prey items should be pre-killed prior to feeding them to your snake and offered in an enclosure used only for feeding. Do not feed your snake in their regular cage. This will decrease the likelihood of them thinking you are food and accidentally biting you or ingesting their substrate. The feeding tank should be covered with a towel while feeding to provide a sense of security to your snake, or you can place your snake's hide box in the feeding tank while feeding.

Red tail boas are large, strong, long-lived snakes and aren't for everyone. Feeding them can become more expensive as they get larger, as will the time it takes to clean their cage. Therefore, make sure you are prepared and know what to expect before taking home any pet, especially one that lives up to 30 years.