Amazon Tree Boas: Keeping Rainforest Jewels In Your Home – May 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Every reptile keeper has a different animal that first attracted them not just to reptile keeping, but to going above and beyond that first snake, lizard, or pet that they kept in the beginning.  For some, it’s breeding fancy colored morphs.  For others, it’s keeping a species they initially thought too difficult for their experience level, or a type of animal that is completely different than the one they started out keeping.  For me, I spent nearly a decade admiring the beauty of arboreal snake species such as Green Tree Pythons and Amazon Tree Boas, but never felt that I had enough experience to maintain them successfully in captivity.  After working here at LLLReptile for several years, I finally took the big step and acquired a couple exceptional animals from my good friend, Danny Mendez.  Very quickly, I felt very silly for not trying to keep them sooner, because they’re not nearly as difficult as I’d always believed.  It’s my hope that more keepers will branch out from the easy ground dwelling species and try their hand, as I did, at keeping a fascinating, beautiful snake species.

One of the first issues to tackle that always made me hesitate when it came to keeping Amazons was my belief that they needed constant high humidity, in a range of 80% or more.  This is not quite the truth.  They do require humidity, yes, but they do not require constant sky high levels nor do they require constant hovering and attention to moisture within their cage.  Personally, I have found it to be almost deceptively easy to keep and maintain my Amazons by housing them in a living vivarium, full of live plants.  I raised my amazons from young ages in planted vivariums, and experienced little to no difficulty in maintaining acceptable levels of humidity for my boas.  I highly recommend creating a suitably sized vivarium for your boas before you bring them home.  Many keepers do not house their Amazons in planted cages, but as I have experienced such easy success with mine (and those at the stores) by utilizing vivariums, this article will describe the care for amazons utilizing those conditions.

Babies can be housed individually in 12 x 12 x 18 front opening terrariums.  When I built my vivariums, I used small ficus trees as the live plants, and included a couple smaller plants such as earth stars and tillandsias.  For babies, usingsmall pieces of manzanita branches crossed throughout the cage will provide them with suitable perches.

For best viewing of your boa(s), set up perches in such a way that they can rest several parts of their body on their branches, and simply have that arrangement right in the front of the cage! I highly recommend including a layer of moss, eithergreen sphagnum or New Zealand Sphagnum moss working well in this situation.

Keep that layer of moss nice and damp, and if your boas feel the need for higher humidity than the cage currently offers, they will readily rest on the bottom of the cage.  It is not a cause for alarm if your boa routinely spends time at the bottom of the cage; this species in particular will readily hang out at the bottom of the cage, seemingly for no reason at all.

A single small adult can be housed in an 18 x 18 x 24” front opening terrarium, although large (over 5’) individuals should be provided with a larger enclosure.  As most adult Amazon Tree Boas will reach at least that length, be prepared to purchase or make a larger cage than the bare minimum.  A pair should be housed in a cage no smaller than 36” wide by 18” deep by 24” tall.  Once the lights turn off, these snakes become much, much more active than they seem by day, and providing them with room to explore and hunt helps to maintain your snakes with good body condition.

Amazons are meant to be slender bodied, muscular snakes, and providing them with space to exercise and perch within their cages affords them the ability to exercise on their own terms.

So by now, you’ve set up your beautiful, lush vivarium with various live plants, branches for your snake to climb on, and a layer of moss covering the bottom.  There’s more to it than that! You’ll also need to light and heat your enclosure.   I prefer to use a 2.0 UVB compact fluorescent for basic lighting in my cages, as these bulbs are nice and bright and display both the animals and the plants beautifully.  I set my lights on timers, and depending on the time of year my lights are on for 12 to 14 hours a day.  In addition to a fluorescent bulb for lighting the cage and providing light for plant growth, I also use a basking bulb for my snakes to bask as needed.  In the smaller 12 x 12 x 18 size terrarium, you should not need a bulb any hotter than 50 watts in winter, and 25 watts in summer.  Basking temperatures 3 to 6 inches below the bulb should be about 85 degrees at most; spikes close to 90 degrees can be tolerated, but temperatures that high often dry out your cage(s) unnecessarily.  In the larger cages, 50 to 75 watt bulbs should be adequate depending on time of year and ambient temperatures in your home.

At night, temperatures can dip into the mid to upper 70’s, with the coolest parts of the cage ranging down into the high 60s during winter (Danny Mendez, pers comm).  Personally, I would recommend the use of a heat pad for keeping temperatures at acceptable levels during nighttime, as continual use of a heat bulb can dry out the air and make it difficult for you to maintain humidity at acceptable levels for your snake.  A heat pad for night time should provide enough heat for your boas to stay healthy, and help keep your electricity bill down!  If you’d like to be able to see your snakes at night, I highly recommend using a black light bulb for viewing – it emits only low amounts of heat and a purple light that will not affect your snake’s nocturnal behavior.

The vivarium for Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas

In addition, a popular method of heating humidity loving species such as Amazon Tree Boas is to utilize radiant heat panels.  These do not heat up the air, nor does the heat panel’s surface actually become warm; they just heat up surfaces underneath them utilizing infrared radiation.

Feeding your Amazons should not be too difficult, at least not if they’ve settled in and acclimated to your cage.  When you first get your new boa, give it at least 5 days to settle in before attempting to feed it for the first time.  Amazon Tree Boas are slender bodied, arboreal snakes, and should not be fed anything much larger than their body width.  You should see only a very slight bulge in your snake’s stomach after it eats; too large of a prey item and you risk regurgitation and the problems that go along with it.  Babies and juveniles up to 2 years of age can be fed every 7 days, while older animals can go 10 to 14 days between feedings.  Again, keep in mind that these are an arboreal species – they are meant to be slender bodied, not chubby little sausages like other pet snake species!  I highly recommend purchasing a pair oftweezers or hemostats for offering food to your snake.  Babies often begin feeding easiest when offered live prey, but once they are feeding consistently in your care you should experience little to no difficulty switching them to frozen/thawed feeders.  Tweezers are a must for offering frozen/thawed prey items, and they make offering live prey significantly easier as well.

Handling an Amazon Tree Boa is the type of endeavor that usually makes experienced keepers chuckle and wince at the same time.  They are notorious for poor attitudes and a penchant for biting anything and everything even slightly warm in their vicinity once they’ve been disturbed.  For many amazon tree boas, this is certainly the case, and whenever you encounter a strange boa, it is best to assume it’s going to try and bite you.  Even with your own boas that you know well, it’s typically safe to assume they’re going to try and bite you.  For this reason, Amazon Tree Boas do best as display-only pets, because even if you don’t mind being bitten, the act of biting you can have problems for your boa.  Biting you can dislodge their teeth, leading to potential mouth infections, and it’s stressful for your boa to be in a situation where it feels threatened enough to try biting you.  For these reasons it’s best to avoid handling your amazon tree boas unless you absolutely have to.

This is why.

In addition to the grey coloration most commonly available, Amazon Tree Boas come in a range of colors that rival a rainbow.  They also have a handful of genetically inherited pattern mutations, which in combination with the beautiful colors they naturally come with, can create some truly spectacular “designer” morphs.  Selective breeding has also taken many of the colors found in wild specimens and intensified them, resulting in snakes so brightly colored they look unreal.

Depending on what you want out of your display, you can go with a grey or a colored amazon, and for the most eye catching animals, it is often worth it to go to a private breeder and purchase a line bred animal.  Amazon Tree Boas change color as they mature, with patternless or uniquely patterned juveniles often developing different colors as they grow.

If you are looking for a beautiful reptile to keep and display in your home or office, I highly recommend Amazon Tree Boas.  Their lower price tag keeps them in reach for keepers not quite ready to spend several hundred dollars on a pricey green tree python or emerald tree boa, and they come in a much wider range of colors than a simple green snake.  Amazon Tree Boas have tons of attitude and spunk, coupled with a beautiful range of colors and patterns that make no two snakes alike.  This individuality and uniqueness makes them extremely enjoyable captives, and I highly recommend them to the snake keeper looking to make the next step into keeping something more interesting and involved than your average ball python or cornsnake!

Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas