OWNING A BOA CONSTRICTOR: An Interview With BigReese
Brownie: Baby Red Tail Boa Constrictor
Owning a Boa Constrictor: An Interview With BigReese
While thinking about a snake as an ideal pet, research indicates that some planning, preparation and thought should go into the purchase. An easy way to prepare is to talk to someone who is a long time snake owner. So, I decided to interview BigReese.
BigReese has owned and cared for snakes going back more than 20 years. He has raised giant boa constrictors, baby boa constrictors, and pythons. Recently, he and his wife acquired a baby red tail boa constrictor (see photos below).
I interviewed BigReese at his home where he has created an optimum environment for his new addition. Her name is Brownie:
CG: Well first, why the name Brownie?
BR: My wife named her Brownie because she is brown.
CG: How can you tell if a snake is a female?
BR: The best way to be sure is to wait until she is older. She can be tested by using a special probing instrument. This probe is inserted anally. The further the probe goes in means it's a male. This should be done by someone who knows the snake's anatomy.
CG: Why a red tail boa constrictor? Are there other kinds of boas?
BR: The red tails tend to be the most docile. There are many kinds of boa constrictors, like Suriname boas, rainbow boas, rosy boas. All with different patterns. The red tail boa constrictor is from South America.
CG: You and your wife went to, was it snake shows? Is this where I should start my search for a snake?
BR: It's a good place to go. Shopping online, you don't know what you are getting. It's better to look, touch and feel.
CG: How could you tell if Brownie was healthy? Why pick her and not another?
BR: This is the importance of shopping in person. Her skin was clear, her scales were even. Also her nose and eyes were clear. I looked around the edges of her mouth. If a snake has folds on her skin, you don't want that. I spent a 1/2 hour handling her so I could feel how she was breathing.
CG: What should I expect to pay for a red tail boa constrictor? The price range?
BR: Generally, between $100-$300. The dealers at the last show we went to had lots of snakes so the prices were competitive. Dealers make most of their money on the rare snakes like the albino boas and pythons.
CG: Before I even think about buying a snake, what preparations should I make at home?
BR: Have a low traffic area to put the tank, not where a lot of people pass by who can bother your pet. Provide a peaceful environment. The enclosure should have branches and hiding places. You also need a way to regulate the temperature; it should be between 80-88 degrees. Snakes are cold-blooded. You should also be able to control the humidity.
CG: How big will she get?
BR: Right now, Brownie is about 18 inches long at 8 months old. If you buy a red tail boa constrictor, be prepared for a small snake to become a very large snake. Females can grow to be 8-10 feet long and males can be about 8 feet.
CG: Few people can start out by setting aside a room for snakes, let alone redoing the heating system as you did in this room. And now I see that you have purchased a gigantic tank. What is this new tank for?
BR: The new tank is for her rapid growth rate. I like to be prepared. Within a year she will outgrow the tank she is in, which is 24 inches long and 15 inches wide. The new enclosure is 48 inches long by 24 inches in depth and the height is 24 inches. The new tank is made of polyethylene; it retains heat better than a fish tank and provides a more secure environment. It has glass only in the front. But in 2-3 years she will outgrow the new tank.
CG: Is it okay to put more than one snake in a tank?
BR: No. A couple reasons are, if one snake gets sick then the others will get sick. Also it would be difficult to feed two snakes at the same time. The only time to put two together is for breeding.
CG: OK, so now I've bought my snake home. What is the diet? Vegetables? Bugs?
BR: For a young snake you start with a live mouse once a week, the smallest size. An adult eats large rats, rabbits, guinea pigs; one every 10-14 days.
CG: Where do you get this snake food?
BR: I get it at a reptile store.
CG: I have to say, the first time I saw one of your snakes eat its prey I was amazed! The speed of catching that mouse! If I had blinked I would have missed it. What does your wife think about this feeding?
BR: She was amazed too and for an hour she talked about it.
CG: How does a boa constrictor kill its prey?
BR: They bite it, then coil their body around their prey.
CG: In other words they are constricting?
BR: Yes and no. They don't crush their prey like people believe they do. They hold the prey tightly so the prey can no longer breathe, hence the name constrictor. Once the prey is dead the snake will dislocate its jaw so it can swallow the prey whole.
CG: How often do you feed Brownie?
BR: Every week I give her one mouse because she is still small.
CG: Does it matter if it is a mouse or rat?
BR: Size matters so a mouse for a baby snake. At about a year and a half, then you can feed it a small rat.
CG: I don't particularly want a snake to be gigantic. Is there any way I can control the growth of the snake?
BR: No. You can't control it. A boa constrictor is destined to be a big snake. If you want a small snake get a Ball Python. I had a Burmese Python but they get big too.
CG: Brownie has just shed her skin. What does that mean? And how often will that happen?
BR: It means she is growing. A snake's skin doesn't expand like ours does when we grow. When she grows she has to shed her skin. This will happen about once a month when she is young and less as she gets larger. I save skins to check her growth pattern.
CG: Do snakes need playmates?
BR: Other snakes? No. But if you want your snake to be a pet you have to be the snake's playmate starting at a young age. Take them out of the tank maybe twice a week for at least a 1/2 hour each time.
CG: Do they need exercise?
BR: Yes. When you handle them you can allow them to climb on different safe objects specifically for them.
CG: And what is the life span?
BR: In captivity, approximately 20 years.
CG: What if I think my snake is sick?
BR: If you hear wheezing, or see bubbles coming from the nose or mouth, or small black dots crawling, which are commonly mites, take your snake to a vet immediately.
CG: I know your wife has never raised snakes. What does she think about having a snake as a pet? I mean, she looks very happy when she holds Brownie. Has she gotten involved in the feeding, or taking her out of the tank?
BR: She takes her out of the tank and she'll clean the tank. But no feeding! That'll probably take some time.
CG: Have you ever been bitten by one of your snakes?
BR: Yes. When you get bitten, it's usually because of something you've done.
CG: Like what?
BR: If you startle the snake, like grabbing it out of the tank too fast. Or if you smell like the food. One time my big snake bit me after I handled rats. I forgot to close her tank and she was trying to get out; when I went to close the tank, she bit me. When they are shedding they can bite you because thy can't see. So at that time leave them alone.
CG: Do you think you might like to breed Brownie?
BR: Yes, in the future.
CG: How many babies are normally produced?
BR: Boa constrictors are born live and 25 can be born at one time.
CG: What would you do with all of those baby snakes?
BR: Buy more tanks for them.
CG: One more thing I need to know and I think the readers would want to know. Any dangers? So often we read about a snake, or maybe this is just an urban legend, but a snake gets out of its tank and eats a family of 6, or someone comes home and the cat or dog is missing. Are snakes known to eat people?
BR: No, snakes don't eat people but a large boa constrictor or python is a big responsibility. When Brownie is 8 feet long, only experienced snake handlers should be around her.
CG: BigReese, Thank you so much! There seems to be a rather large 'snakes as pets' community out there. But I think, for now, I will just enjoy visiting Brownie. If you get more snakes or when you breed Brownie, can I come back and interview you?
CG: I'd love to see baby snakes! Thanks again!
For more information and slide shows see the two links below:
- Feeding a Baby Boa Constrictor: Interview 2 with Big...
The following interview “Feeding a Baby Boa Constrictor” is the second interview with BigReese. The first interview covered the basics about purchasing a boa constrictor; since then many specific...
- Providing an Optimum Environment for Your Boa Constr...
This is the third interview with BigReese. He has been a snake owner for more than 20 years now. After purchasing his new red-tail baby boa constrictor named Brownie, I asked him many questions about buying...
- Adding Another Boa Constrictor to the Home: Intervie...
Adding Another Boa Constrictor to the Home: Interview 4 with BigReeseIf you already have a pet snake and you are thinking about adding another one, it is best to be well prepared. You cannot just put your new...