Small but Impressive, Keeping Dwarf Boas
Not all Common Boas ( Boa Imperator) grow to be nearly 3m long monster snakes weighing 20kg. There are some island Boas and certain mainland localities which remain much smaller.I was lucky enough to aquire two Dwarf Common Boa females and later a male. These Boas are from a line were the male was a true Dwarf Boa ( locality unknown) and the mother was a normal Common Boa. This article will cover my experience with keeping these smaller Boas and their differences from normal Common Boas.
Common Boa vs Red Tailed Boa
Now you may have noticed that I did not refer to my Boas as ” Red Tailed Boas” like most people do. The reason being is that the true Red Tailed Boas ( Boa Constrictor) which come from the Amazon Basin are a different species from the Common Boa, if you actually had a Red Tailed Boa it would cost you way more than the R350 you spent on your Boa at the expo, there are very few people who actually have true Red Tailed Boas in South Africa. Common Boas ( Boa Imperator) evolved east of the Andes Mountains in South America and range as far north as Mexico where you can find a locality of Dwarf Boas. Note that Common Boas have long been a subspecies of the Red Tailed Boa but have recently been given full species status.
Dwarf Boa Natural Habitat
When most of us think of Boas natural habitat we think of sweltering hot jungles dripping with humidity. In actual fact Dwarf Boas can be found on various islands off the coast of South America and in certain main land localities. These Boas live mainly in tropical deciduous forests with a hot humid warm season and a colder much drier cold season. The Mexican form of Dwarf Boa can experience lows of 18 to 20 degrees in winter, although I would not recommend that you keep your Boas at these temperatures as they are on the extreme end of what most Boas can tolerant. The islands on which many Dwarf Boas can be found such as Hog Island, Crawly Cay and Corn Island also experience these seasonal changes and islands often have different climates to the main land often with less rain and battered by storms so Dwarf Boas have to be tough little guys, also there is less prey on islands than on the mainland and wild Dwarf Boas are often very skinny.
Dwarf Boa Captive Habitat
When housing Dwarf Boas you must remember that they grow extremely slowly, especially the males so you will not need a 1.5m long cage by the time they are two years old as you would if you had a normal sized Boa. My females spent the first year of their lives in 11L Addis tubs in a racking system with a hot spot of 26 to 28 degrees, they were then moved into tubs measuring 50cm x 40cm x 20cm in a custom made rack heated to the same temperature. At three years of age and only between 1.2m and 1.5m long the females were moved into a chipboard terrarium with a glass front measuring 1.2m x 45cm x 45cm, the chipboard was treated with several coats of boiled linseed oil to prevent moisture damage. I do not use melamine cages as they cannot take any excess humidity and quickly get water damaged. Another caging option is plastic Boa tubs which I will more than likely be housing my Boas in the very near future. I have developed a hatred for wooden cages because of their difficulty to clean and their lack of tolerance to moisture. Both females are housed together and I only separate for feeding and have encountered no problems with keeping them together. The male Dwarf Boa is housed separately, he spent the first two years of his life in an 11L Addis tub, he grew very slowly and at 3 years old is only around 70-80cm in length. I have moved him to a 26L tub in racking sytem, I am certain he will be able to stay in this size enclosure his entire life. Paper towel or newspaper is used as a substrate and a large water bowl and spraying of the enclosure before the snakes shed is used to maintain a moderate level of humidity. I have found that these Boas do not seem to require excessively high temperatures and humidity levels, however I would keep an eye on them in winter as they can get respiratory infections if kept too cold, this is a problem many inexperienced keepers face. It is my opinion that many of the reptiles we keep are overheated as many keepers do not understand how the temperatures can vary day to day and month to month and despite being tropical snakes the Dwarf Boas seem to be very temperature tolerant and tolerate a winter drop in temperature very well, I only drop the temperature lower than the normal 28 degree hotspot in order to cycle the Boas for breeding. Heating is provided by 20 to 30 watt heat cable controlled by a digital thermostat. In very hot summer temperatures I will turn heaters off completely.
Dwarf Boas grow slowly even when fed an appropriately sized rodent on a weekly basis. Up until they reach sexual maturity I feed my Dwarf Boas weekly after that they get fed every two weeks. My adult females get fed frozen thawed medium rats and the adult male eats frozen thawed small rats. During breeding season they are fed smaller prey items less often. During the 1980s when Boas were being imported as wild caught adults the longest longevity records were reached by individuals that were fed very infrequently. In the wild on the islands where many Dwarf Boas come from food is scarce and often consists of less fatty prey such as lizards and birds. Calorie packed rodents like we feed them in captivity were introduced latter on in these boas evolutionary history by sailors which visited the islands. Never power feed Boas even if they look like they are growing too slow this is natural for Dwarf Boas.
How Do I Tell If My Boa is a Dwarf?
The best way to ensure that you get a Dwarf Boa and not a plain old normal Boa is to purchase one from a well known breeder who will know the genetics and lineages he or she is selling, so when you ask for a Dwarf Boa you actually will get one as the breeder knows what they are selling. Other markers for Dwarf Boas is colour many are lighter in colour than normal Boas and resemble a pastel Boa. I have also noticed that the Dwarfs have larger eyes as babies. Of course this only applies to babies as you will soon see that the Dwarf Boa you purchased will grow slowly and reach a smaller size, therefore you know you have a Dwarf Boa. An adult female Dwarf Boa will be about the same size as a yearling normal Boa, this is the case with my females. Males are even smaller and are very small as adults.Dwarf Boas can be more aggressive than normal Boas, however I have not found this to be the case with mine.
Dwarf Boa Morphs
There are T+ albinos of both Niguagran and Sonoran Dwarf Boas. Most Dwarf Boa morphs are locality based or line bred. Hog Island Boas are natural hypomelanistic which means they have less black pigment, these rare Boas have been mixed with normal Boas to get the bigger snakes to take on the hypo trait. My Dwarf Boas are line bred with the one female being a brown pastel/visual hypo and the other female looking anery with white calico markings on her sides. I do not yet know if the anery look in this female is genetic or not but some Dwarf Boa localities have natural occurring specimens that appear anery but do not prove to be a ressive genetic trait as in normal Common Boas. My male Dwarf Boa is light in colour with peach coloured sides. I am hoping to produce some very unique babies this season. Dwarf Boas can also lighten and darken with temperature changes and at night. Sometimes my Boas look so dark I think they are in shed and a few hours later they lighten up again.
Dwarf Boa females reach sexual maturity at 3 years old but many will only start breeding successfully from 4 years of age. Males can breed from 18 months to 2 years of age. These Boas require a Cooling period in winter during which breeding will take place. Drop the hot spot to 25-27 degrees Celsius and keep the cold end at 20 degrees. Start cooling down your Boas as the temperatures begin to drop in April and introduce your male to your female in May. You can leave your male in with the female until you notice her swell up with babies. Female Boas will have a post ovulation shed and should give birth 100-105 days after this shed. Boas give birth to live babies and due to their smaller size Dwarf Boas will give birth to fewer babies than their larger counterparts.
Care of Neonates
After birth separate the newborn Boas individually into 5L tubs. Make sure to keep the tubs moist as this will assist in helping them shed properly, which they will do a week after birth. After the babies have completed their first shed you can start offering them food. I start out feeding baby Boas warm frozen/thawed rat fuzzies. offer food on feeding tongs this should allisit a strike, the babies will try and constrict the food after which they should eat it. After 3-5 meals your Boas will be ready for sale. Remember to keep one or two of your best looking babies should you wish to line breed some awesome Dwarf Boas.
Dwarf Boas offer the opportunity to keep a Boa for those with limited space. These Boas also offer breeders a different way of breeding morphs by keeping locality specific Boas or by line breeding. Dwarf Boas are not offered for sale very often so if you get the chance to work with smaller Boas take it you will not be disappointed.