Boa Constrictor Imperator: The Columbian Red-Tailed Boa
The BCI (as the Columbian is commonly called) is one of the best pet snakes anyone could ask
for. As well as being relatively easy to care for, this ‘large’ snake usually only attains sizes of 6ft or so
(and that’s the females!). So along with relative ease of care, they become a great starter snake for
anyone looking to begin a collection and eventually move on the such things as dwarf Kayuadi
Reticulated Pythons (usually attains 10ft). They eat about once a week and usually only defecate about
once a month - sometimes less. And they can easily live in a large rack system their whole life, with
room enough to stretch out as an adult. Life Expectancy: 20+ years if well kept.
Terrarium: A hatchling up to 30 inches can easily be kept in a 10 gallon and a juvie can live happily in a
20 long or 29 tall until about 40 inches, but after that a large tub or tank 55 gallon size + or equivalent
would be more appropriate up to adult size unless they exceed 6ft. Most snakes reach about 3ft in a
year, but these snakes can grow rather slowly when not over-fed. It usually takes 3-4 years for one to
reach 4-5 feet, and these snakes are not incredibly heavy-bodied so that’s not such an impressive size.
Even when fully grown, an adult should be perfectly safe to handle alone. Just keep small mammals
away from them while they are out for safety of both the snake and the pet. These snakes also thrive in
an environment where they can climb. Branches or vines or steps of some sort are much appreciated.
Plant cover is often MUCH preferred by these snakes as well, as opposed to a hide cave. Babies will also
commonly burrow and bury themselves so loose substrate is useful. Water bowls big enough to soak in
are best as well though it can become problematic at large sizes. A small, CLEAN tub with warmer water
is fine to use for baths once or twice a month. And the tank should always be very secure, as these
snakes are strong even when young.
Heat and Humidity: These snakes do best when kept at about 60% humidity, with a bi-daily misting just
to soak the snake. They often lick water off of things in their terrarium so it’s best to mist everything
well and heavily. When shedding, raise humidity to 70% or give them a good soak after they clear up
pre-shed. Due to high humidity I suggest a type of cypress or coconut mulch substrate to prevent mold
and sustain better humidity. As far as heat goes, they should have a cool end at about 80, a hot end at
around 90, and air temp should overall be about 77. Temps can safely drop to 75 at night with a night
time heat lamp or heat matt providing a warm spot around 80 degrees F. If you must choose between a
heat mat or a light, go for a light until you can get the heat mat. Belly heat is far better for these snakes
but ambient temps are also very important. A combination of both is best.
Diet and Feeding: The BCI as a hatchling is usually about 18 inches long and can be started on fuzzy mice
or rat pinkies. After reaching about 24 inches, they should be moved up to crawlers or hoppers, or rat
pups. Keep upping the size appropriately as they grow – after feeding they should have some kind of
lump visible in their sides or else the meal is not large enough. A fully grown adult at 5-6ft can be fed
adult rats, and if they surpass that length by a foot at any time, it is perfectly safe to feed jumbo rats.
Adults only need to eat once every 10 days as opposed to juvies and babies who should eat every week
on a regular basis. I also strongly suggest feeding these snakes in a tub or box instead of in their tank.
They live strongly out of habit and will accidentally strike at you at some point if you feed them inside
their tank. And a fully grown red-tail can inflict an awful bite. You should also always use feeding tongs
when feeding any snake of any kind. This is much safer for both of you.
Communal Housing: Though these snakes are not known cannibals, it does occasionally occur and
because of both this and the risk of egg-binding, these snakes should be kept separate. They are solitary
save for breeding in the wild as well.
Handling: When bringing home any red-tail, they do best given a full 5 days acclimation time before
feeding or handling. Choose a day to schedule for feeding every 7 days and stick to it. They should be
given 2-3 days after feeding before handling due to their slow digestive nature. At first, handle for only 5
minutes at a time. As the snakes calm down, 10 minutes. Calmer still (relaxed, not waving head about,
comfortable in hands), and you can begin to walk about with them wrapped around you hand or neck or
where ever they like to be for about 20 minutes. As they grow you can slowly increase this time, and
eventually they should be safe outside their tank for about two hours. I would not suggest any more
time than this though, as they still need the higher humidity and heat of their enclosure for healthy
regulation and hydration. At this point though, even a hatchling that was nippy or grumpy should have
grown into a calm, gentle giant.
NOTES ON LARGE SNAKE SPECIES: This snake, though very easy to care for, to love, and even to
propagate, is NOT a pet for young children. Though they are not aggressive when properly raised, boas
of 3ft plus can accidentally constrict a child’s head or neck when not supervised, simply because it feels
unsteady and needs something to grip on to. This is true of any large snake. If constriction feels like a
threat, begin at the tail and slowly – calmly – unwind the snake like a spool of yarn, giving them your
arm or something else to hold onto. They do not WANT to harm you. They are just feeling unsteady or
If for any reason you think your snake is becoming aggressive, the best thing to do is raise heat, raise
humidity, and leave them alone for a few days. Then return to handling for short sessions and build up
If a large snake of any kind latches on to you, a surefire way to get them to release is to put a little bit of
alcohol in their mouth (like a beer, not rubbing alcohol). They spit you out quite promptly and the tiny
amount of alcohol will not hurt them or their liver. Just make sure to put them away after this. And one
ABSOLUTELY important rule or keeping large snakes is to FEED them large enough meals on a regular
basis. A well-fed snake is a happy snake and one that is EXTREMELY unlikely to bite – for any reasons.
Do not intimidate them as babies with a huge tank for them to ‘grow into’. This overwhelming space can
cause aggression out of fear. Start with the smaller tanks and work up – it’s well worth it to keep them
feeling safe and happy and smaller habitats are very easy to manage. A large terrarium does best with
automatic misters or foggers so that humidity is maintained, and glass tanks need to have the top
covered almost completely to keep humidity in.