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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of non-venomous snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning non-venomous snakes.

Rosy Boa or Colombian Red-Tailed Boa? Choosing the Best Snake Pet

Large adult Boa Constrictor

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pavel Ševela

Boa Constrictors have been pet trade staples for decades. Of the 10 described subspecies, the Colombian or Red-Tailed Boa (Boa constrictor constrictor) is the best known, and is in fact one of the most popular snake pets. Commercially bred in huge numbers, the Colombian Boa is an excellent choice for some, but not all, snake enthusiasts.

North America’s Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata), on the other hand, has only come into its own recently as a pet, but interest in now skyrocketing. Those with limited space who are seeking a “big snake in a small package” need look no further than this inoffensive beauty.

In the following article I’ll compare the care needs of Colombian and Rosy Boas, so that you’ll be able to plan ahead and maximize your pet-keeping experience and your snake’s quality of life. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”. As always, please also post any questions you may have, and let me know which species gets your vote.


Rosy boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Theodore Garland, Jr.


Although individual personalities vary, both adapt well to gentle handling. Rosy Boas tend to hide their heads when frightened, and their smooth, glossy scales may render handling a bit tricky. As with any snake, care and adult supervision must be exercised, and the animal’s head should never be allowed near one’s face.


Colombian Boas are not domesticated animals and must never be handled carelessly, as even long-term pets may react to scents or vibrations that people do not perceive. Bite wounds from Colombian Boas can be severe, and pets should never be carried about one’s neck (other similarly-sized constrictors have caused human fatalities by tightening quickly about a handler’s neck). Two experienced adults should always be on hand when specimens over 6 feet in length are fed, cleaned or handled.



Colombian Boas average 5-8 feet in length, and are stoutly built. However, some individuals grow quite a bit larger – up to 13 feet, 6 inches and 14 feet for the record holders, both captured in Surinam.


Averaging only 24-30 inches in length but also heavily-built for their size, Rosy Boas are obviously much easier than Colombian Boas to house and maintain.


Boa constrictor in natural habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Belizian

Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but they regularly move between basking sites and shelters, and are likely to wander about the cage when hungry.


Life Span

The published longevity for a Colombian Boa is just over 40 years; pets regularly survive into their 20’s and 30’s.


The published longevity for a Rosy Boa is 29+ years (living at time of publication), and many captives approach and exceed age 20.


Newborn boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by DestructiveEyes

Breeding Potential

Both species breed reliably, and make an excellent introduction to this fascinating aspect of reptile-keeping. I especially like the fact that they bear live young, doing away with the time, expense and worry (for us!) of egg-incubation.



The purchase price for a normally-colored individual is similar for both snakes. Prices increase for rare or unusual color morphs – to $5,000 or more for “special” Colombian Boas!


However, the normal coloration of each species is spectacular, and natural variations, especially for the Rosy Boa, are seemingly endless. Several Rosy Boas that I encountered while studying insects in Baja California, which were blue-gray and marked with 3 pinkish-orange stripes, stand out as being among the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen.


The Colombian Boa’s great size makes it vastly-more expensive to keep when compared to its smaller cousin, the Rosy Boa.


Rosy boa, adult

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Shane O. Pinnell

Terrarium Size (single adult)

Colombian Boa: 250-300 gallon terrarium or a huge custom-built cage


Rosy Boa: 20-30 gallon terrarium



Colombian Boa: 75-85 F, with a basking site of 90 -95 F; basking bulb and sub-tank pad recommended.


Rosy Boa: 75-85 F, with a basking site of 90-95 F



Food intake will vary among individuals and with temperature, season, life cycle stage, and other factors. Both accept pre-killed rodents.


Rosy Boa feeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cole Shatto

Colombian Boa: 1 appropriately-sized mouse each 7-10 days for youngsters. Adults do fine when offered an appropriately-sized rat each 10-14 days. Some keepers use guinea pigs or small rabbits for especially-large adults.


Rosy Boa: Fuzzies and young mice are preferable to adult mice (Rosy Boas have rather small heads and their jaws are ill-suited to swallowing large meals). Youngsters should be fed each 7-10 days, adults each 10-14 days.




Further Reading

Breeding the Rosy Boa

Boa Constrictors and Their Relatives: Care and Natural History




Savu Python Care: Keeping One of the World’s Smallest Pythons

Savu Python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TomVickers

Pythons are highly valued by snake enthusiasts, but most become too large for the average household, and cannot be safely handled by young or inexperienced keepers. But in the early 1990’s a “big python in a small package” appeared in the pet trade, and its popularity has since soared. Averaging only 3 ½ to 4 ½ feet in length, the Save or White-Eyed Python (Liasis savuensis) is beautifully iridescent and calm in demeanor. And, with a natural range that spans a mere 60 square miles, this interesting snake is also important from a conservation perspective.



The Savu Python was first described in 1956, at which time it was classified as a one of three subspecies of the Macklot’s Python. Today, there is disagreement as to its species status, and many herpetologists continue to list it as Liasis mackloti savuensis.


Savu Python Description

The Savu Python’s outstanding features include brilliant iridescence and its noticeably-white eyes. Hatchlings are reddish-brown to rich orange in color. They undergo a radical color change with maturity, by which time most are dark brown and bear rusty-orange spots on the belly and sides. Some adults, however, are nearly black in coloration, while the scales of others retain an orange tinge.  Few adults exceed 5 feet in length, with most topping out at 3.5 – 4.5 feet; only 3-4 of the world’s 40 python species are as small.


Range and Habitat

The Savu Python is found only on the 10 mile x 6 mile Indonesian island of Sawu (also known as Savu), off Australia’s northwestern coast. It has the smallest natural range of any python.


Liasis mackloti savuensis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TimVickers

Although this snake’s natural history has not been well-studied, reports indicate that it is a habitat generalist. Savu Pythons have been found in wooded grasslands, palm thickets, thorn scrub, and along the ocean shore.


The Terrarium

Hatchlings may be started-off in 10 gallon aquariums. Adults can be accommodated in a 30-55 gallon aquarium. Screen tops must be secured with clips and a hide box should always be available.



Newspapers and washable terrarium liners may be used as a substrate. As some keepers have reported that Savu Pythons seem prone to mouth irritations and infections, those kept on cypress chips http://bitly.com/Plr8BA or similar substrates are best moved to bare-bottomed enclosures at feeding time.



Pythons do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of a UVA bulb.



The ambient temperature should range from 75-84 F. Incandescent bulbs can be used to create a basking site of 90 F. Ceramic heaters or red/black reptile “night bulbs” may be employed to provide heat after dark. If needed, under-tank heaters http://bitly.com/SRpr5g can be used to further warm the basking surface.


Provide your snake with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow reptiles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.



Little is known about the diet of wild Savu Pythons, but they likely prey upon small mammals and, perhaps, ground-dwelling birds and lizards. Small food items, such as mice or rat pups, are preferable to large, even for adults. Except for females being readied for b breeding and growing youngsters, Savu Pythons are best fed every 14 days.


Water should always be available. Bowls should be filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up within.



Savu Pythons are typically calm in disposition, and generally tolerate gentle handling. Like all snakes, however, care must be exercised when working around them.



Breeding activity is stimulated by a 2-3 month period of reduced temperatures (72 F by night, 82-85 F by day) initiated in late autumn. Clutches generally contain 5-10 eggs, which may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 88-90 F for 55-65 days. Hatchlings average 11-14 inches in length.




Further Reading


Python Eats Crocodile: Giant Snake Meals


Green Tree Python Care and Natural History

The World’s Most Colorful Snake: 100 Flower Rat Snake Care

Mandarin Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Papas2010

Although various American ratsnakes have long been pet trade staples, Asian species have received far less attention from snake enthusiasts.  Among them, however, we find a fantastic diversity of colorful, interesting species, some of which are now being bred in captivity.  My favorite is the magnificent Moellendorff’s Ratsnake or 100 Flower Snake (Orthriophis moellendorffi).  It’s other common names – Red-Headed Ratsnake, Flower Snake and Trinket Snake – are a testament to its striking coloration.  Considered by many to be the most beautiful of all ratsnakes (“designer morphs” included!), Moellendorff’s Ratsnake care is now fairly well-understood…and it may well become the next “break-out” species from Asia!


Please Note: Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding photos that would reproduce well for this article.  The youngster pictured below is not as colorful as are many.  The other ratsnake species pictured here will give you some idea of the beautiful colors and variations exhibited by this fascinating group.  Please click here to view other photos of the 100 Flower Snake.


Juvenile100 Flower Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Etienne Boncourt


The Chinese name for this striking creature – 100 Flower Snake – seems to me to be the most appropriate of all.  A dazzling variety of blotches, which vary in color from rust-red to black, mark the body.  Areas of red or orange usually adorn the head, and re-appear along the lower third of the body.  The jet black eye is encircled by brilliant orange.


Individual 100 Flower Snakes exhibit a mind-boggling array of variations to this basic pattern…even, it seems, within the same geographic area.   In fact, breeders are generally unable to predict what the youngsters will look like!  Adults reach 5-8 feet in length.


Natural History

Field studies are, lacking, but over-collection for the food trade is said to have placed this snake in jeopardy.  As far as is known, the 100 Flower Snake is limited in range to southeastern China and northern Vietnam.


Copper-Headed Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by steve kharmawphlang

It is most frequently found in and near limestone caves on rocky hillsides, and among nearby bamboo thickets.  Lightly-wooded fields and riverside brush are also utilized. Hopefully, further studies will shed more light on its range, habits and conservation needs.


Scant published observations indicate that the 100 Flower Snake preys upon ground squirrels, rats, bats and other small mammals, birds and, perhaps, lizards and frogs.


The Terrarium

100 Flower Snakes seem stressed by small enclosures, and should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations than their American counterparts.  While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small individual, larger adults are best provided custom-built cages measuring at least 6 x 4 x 4 feet.  Stout climbing branches should be provided.


Cypress mulch is preferable to newspapers as a substrate.


Heat and Humidity

100 Flower Snakes seem adapted to cool conditions, and fare best at temperatures that are relatively low by snake standards; wild individuals shelter in caves and forage in the early morning and evenings. An ambient temperature of 70-77 F should be established, along with a basking temperature of 78 F; a dip to 68 F at night may be beneficial.


Some keepers indicate that their snakes show a decided preference for subdued lighting.


Shedding difficulties often occur in overly-dry environments.  A humidity level of 50-60% is ideal, but dry basking areas must also be available.  A hygrometer and small reptile mister may be useful in maintaining proper humidity levels. The need for dry and moist areas and a varying temperature gradient argues in favor of providing this species with the largest possible enclosure.


A dry cave or other shelter, and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss, should be provided.



Despite their size, adults should be fed smaller meals than would be offered to similarly-sized individuals of other species.  Although we still have much to learn, it seems that adult rats may cause digestive problems.  Fuzzy rats (“hoppers”), rat pups and pink or fuzzy mice are often favored.  Some individuals prefer chicks, but usually accept chick-scented rodents.



Captive breeding is infrequent but on the rise…this trend will undoubtedly continue as more snake enthusiasts become aware of this beautiful snake.  A 2-3 month cooling off period at 58-62 F seems to stimulate breeding behavior. Clutches generally contain 5-8 eggs, which should be incubated at 80-82 F for 80-90 days.



Individual tolerance of handling varies almost as much as does their color pattern!  As with most snakes, wild-caught animals may remain defensive for quite some time.  It appears that the 100 Flower Snake is a retiring species that prefers to be left alone.  However, captive-bred individuals usually adjust well to careful handling.  As with all snakes, caution must be exercised when they are being fed or handled.



Further Reading


Natural History and Captive Care of the Taiwan Beauty Snake


Keeping Red-Tailed and Jansen’s Ratsnakes

Keeping the USA’s Longest Snake: Eastern Indigo Snakes as Pets

Eastern Indigo Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Arjuno3

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.  The magnificent Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon couperi, is the longest of all snakes native to the USA, but occupies one of the smallest ranges.  These facts, along with stunning coloration and its reputation as a responsive pet, place the Indigo on the wish lists of serious snake keepers and zoos worldwide.  I had the good fortune to assist with an Eastern Indigo breeding/release program headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, which was both fascinating and frustrating.  Today I would like to pass along some thoughts on its natural history and captive care.


The Eastern Indigo Snake is among the longest of all North American snakes; in the USA, only the Bullsnake, Pituophis catenifer sayi, regularly rivals it in size.  Robust and alert, the Eastern Indigo Snake averages 5-6 feet in length, with a record of 8 feet, 5 inches.  The glossy, blue-black coloration is unique to this species.  Some individuals, greatly favored in the pet trade, sport heads and chins highlighted by a reddish tint.

Natural History

The Eastern Indigo Snake is restricted to southeastern Georgia, southeastern Mississippi, and Florida.  Although coastal dunes, Palmetto scrub, agricultural areas and marsh fringes are colonized, healthy populations seem to require large expanses of longleaf pine forest and similar upland environments.  Human development within prime Indigo habitat has severely threatened this species’ future.  Today, only captive-born individuals may be legally sold, but over-collection was a severe problem in the past.

The Texas Indigo Snake (D. corais erebennus) ranges from southern Texas to central Mexico, while other relatives, known as Cribos, inhabit Central and South America.

Read More »

Captive Care of Latin American Ratsnakes – The Tiger Ratsnake

The first time I saw an adult Tiger Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus pullatus) streaking through the brush in Costa Rica, I was immediately struck by the appropriateness of its local name – the Thunder and Lightning Snake.  Large, fast-moving, and eye-catching in coloration, this impressive beast stopped me in my tracks and made me gasp.  I’d captured dozens of adult Green Anacondas and handled thousands of other snakes in zoos and the wild, but this Tiger Ratsnake was in a class by itself.  Small wonder that it draws attention throughout its huge range, where it is known by many common names, including Tropical Ratsnake and Tropical Chicken Snake (the latter refers to its food preference on farms).  The first individual I encountered eluded me, but I was eventually able to get my hands on other wild specimens, and to care for a few in captivity.

Tiger Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Geoff Gallice


Although not usually classified among the “giant serpents”, the Tiger Ratsnake is actually one of the longest snakes in the Americas.  Adults average 6-7 feet in length, but may reach 10 feet; 14-foot-long individuals have been reported.  They vary a good deal in color and pattern, but whether lemon-yellow with indigo-blue blotches or solid black speckled with orange, they are always stunning. Read More »

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