Healthy Colombian red-tailed boas (Boa constrictor imperator) are typically enthusiastic feeders, even as neonates. They’re rarely fussy or picky eaters and thrive on a diet of appropriately sized, already killed rats throughout most if not all of their lives. Some very large red-tailed adults outgrow even the biggest jumbo rats, when already killed rabbits become the more suitable food choice. Feeding frequency for boa constrictors varies according to the individual’s age and length.
How Often, How Much
Newborn to 3-month-old red-tails 18 to 22 inches long should have a pinkie rat every four to five days. Juvenile snakes 3 to 12 months of age and 2 to 3 feet long may have one fuzzy or pup every seven days. Young adults between 1 and 2 years old and 3 to 4 feet long require a food item once every two weeks. At this age, feed weaned or small rats to keep your pet at a more manageable adult size, or give him medium rats if you don’t mind him growing a little larger. Adults over 2 years old and 4 feet long need one rat every two weeks. Offer females large or jumbo rats and give males small or medium rats. Depending upon the girth of your snake, rabbits may be appropriate.
Prey size is important to your red-tailed boa. If you offer rats that are too small, he’ll ignore them entirely. Give him one that’s too large and he’ll readily take it -- and regurgitate it within a day or two. You haven’t lived until you’ve cleaned up a partially digested rat.
From largest to smallest, mice and rats are designated as XXXL, XXL, extra-large (jumbo), large, medium, small, weaned, pups, fuzzies and pinkies. Pinkies are typically between one and four days old and hairless. Rapidly growing neonate boas usually need a pinkie only once or twice, after which they’re ready for fuzzy rats. Fuzzies are about 10 to 13 days old and have fur. Your snake should be on them for about two months. Thereafter feed him rats with a girth size equal to his own. If he outgrows XXXL rats one day, you can reward your boa with rabbits.
No Thrill in This Kill
Whether you’re a seasoned herp keeper or the greenest newbie in doubt about feeding live prey to your boa, just don’t do it -- it’s not worth the consequences. Feeding the snake living adult or sub-adult rodents is dangerous and eventually ends ugly for the boa.
Rodents aren’t shrinking violets. They’re smart, fast, fearless and extremely aggressive and will fight when threatened, to the death if cornered. If the snake is disinterested in a rodent meant for his dinner, he’ll ignore it. This scenario nearly always concludes with the mammal chewing on the reptile.
All it takes is a single rodent bite or scratch that breaks the skin to dump your prized pet into a world of certain pain and torture, and very possibly death. Because rodents have incredibly filthy mouths, their bites almost always result in infections that require emergency veterinary intervention.
Captive red-tailed boas can live to the ripe old age of 25 or 30 with good care. During that time, your pet should attain a typical length of 7 to 8 feet. The animal’s eventual size is dictated by heredity and the amount he is fed. Boas that are fed minimally may only reach 5 feet in length. Aggressively “power fed” boas can end up 10 to 12 feet long.
Power feeding is basically overfeeding and consists of regularly offering prey items that are too large for the boa, rapidly feeding several prey animals in a row during a single feeding, or offering food too soon after the last feeding. These practices force the boa’s organs to grow and mature too rapidly to support the rest of him. Power feeding is a bad idea that is likely to sentence your pet to an early death at around age 4 or 5.
- Red Tail Boas: Ultimate Red Tail Boa Care Guide -- Feeding
- King Snake: The Boa Page -- Feeding
- Red-Tailed Boa FAQ -- Feeding Your Red-Tailed Boa
- Reptile Channel: Caring for the Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor
- Anapsid: Reptile Veterinarians and Zoo Reptile Curators on Feeding Live Rodent Prey
- Reptile Channel: Snake with Rat Bite
- LLL Reptile: Feeding Pre-Killed Prey to Reptiles
A full-time writer since 2007, Axl J. Amistaadt is a DMS 2013 Outstanding Contributor Award recipient. He publishes online articles with major focus on pets, wildlife, gardening and fitness. He also covers parenting, juvenile science experiments, cooking and alternative/home remedies. Amistaadt has written book reviews for Work At Home Truth.