Viper Boas are a wonderful species of snake to look at. They are very robust, with hard keel-shaped scales and an arrowhead. They are usually quite a dull brown, although they can be a wonderful bright red or orange. However, they change color with the seasons, temperature, and perhaps mood swings. I have had wonderful orange specimens that turn dark brown over time. Almost all Viper Boas are wild caught, in fact I have not heard of any successful breeder who has raised and bred them. Gravid (pregnant) females are often imported and their young are held in captivity. However, most of them die within 6 months for little or no apparent reason. Over time, hopefully we can learn more about this species and breed it successfully in captivity. Viper Boas are fairly calm snakes, but when handled improperly they can glide from side to side with the speed of light. Although they are not poisonous, they do have a rather nasty bite. Adult females can reach 80 cm; males are less than half the size.
When you have a pet snake, you generally want to be able to view the snake from outside its enclosure, in the most natural setting it can offer. This will be more aesthetically pleasing and will also help the general condition of the snake. If the snake likes its environment, it will have a better feeding response and will generally grow faster. A larger nursery also brings more interest to the snake’s life, and by adding twigs and other natural products, you will improve the snake’s quality of life and prevent it from becoming lethargic and overweight. Also, being stronger, you should have more resistance to viral infections or any other problems you may encounter later in life.
For an adult boa viper, a 60 cm long x 45 cm wide x 45 cm high nursery is sufficient. This is a shy species; many specimens, when purchased in captivity, can go many months without feeding. It is important that this transition period is as stress-free as possible. A small, confined enclosure without additional lighting, away from human “traffic” may be required. Once the boa is fed on a regular basis, a larger vivarium with lighting can be offered.
Snake enclosures can be made from various materials. The most widely used is a melamine-coated wood that covers all sides except the front, which has sliding glass doors. Aquariums can also be used for Viper Boas, although a special lid must be purchased or manufactured instead of the original aquarium lid. It is essential that when you think about what type of enclosure you use, you think about these 6 ‘SSSHHH’ factors:
1) Safety – Can the snake or owner injure themselves by the enclosure or any device inside?
2) Safe – Can the snake escape through some small hole or cavity?
3) Size: will the enclosure be the right size?
4) Heating: can the cabinet regulate the temperature correctly?
5) Humidity – Will the cabinet last well in humid conditions? Is there enough ventilation for moisture to escape?
6) Hygienic: will the enclosure accumulate a lot of bacteria in the small cavities? Is it easy to clean?
By following the steps above, you can have a suitable cabinet made from a variety of materials.
Decorating your tank serves two purposes. First, it is an additional cover for your snake, and second, it allows for a more natural and pleasant appearance. When choosing decor, think about the safety of the snake. Make sure that whatever you decide to use is securely attached and that no stone, wood, or any heavy object can fall and possibly injure or even kill the snake. You should also make sure that everything used is free of parasites. If something has been picked from the outside, or has originally come from the outside, such as cork bark, you should either boil it or place the item in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. Freezing works for some parasites, however others have been known to survive for months in freezing conditions. Some parasites found in English conditions last in cold winters, so it is not entirely effective.
Once all of your decor is parasite free, it is safe to place it inside your enclosure. As a general rule of thumb, if you can press down on an object to knock it down, a Viper Boa is certainly capable of doing it. When placing rocks or heavy objects, make sure they are completely secure. If you still don’t feel comfortable, screw them on or use glue to fix them securely. If not possible, the rule is simple: Do not put the item in the nursery!
If you decide to go for a larger enclosure, you must provide enough cover and areas to hide. A stash can be anything from a tupperware box with a hole to a naturalistic piece of cork bark. There are many brands of fake plants and decoration that you can use, which is safe for the animal and pleasing to the eye. Cork bark is available at almost any reptile pet store in the UK, and can be ordered if they don’t have it in stock. This is an excellent cover for any reptile and is 100% natural. One thing to consider when thinking about nursery size is that the larger it is, the more hiding areas you need to provide. I recommend at least one hideout per foot of enclosure length.
NOTE: Never use masking tape in an enclosure; this is an accident waiting to happen. Trust me; Removing the duct tape from any snake is no easy task!
Viper Boas are found in dense forest soils and are exposed to a fairly constant air temperature. They don’t bask, so it’s not that important to provide them with a specific hot spot. Instead, having a fairly constant air temperature of 85-90ºF during the day and 80-85ºF at night is fine. A large bowl of water should be offered for the snake to fully submerge if necessary. If your viper boa does this constantly, the nursery is most likely too hot and needs to cool down a bit.
In my opinion, the ideal way to heat the case of a Viper Boa is to use a power plate. It is a small, thin square plate, about 25mm thick, that is screwed onto the top of the nursery. You don’t need protection as there is no way a snake can grab you. It is almost invisible to the eye as it simply sits on the roof of the nursery. The only brand available in the UK is HabiStat Reptile Radiator; It is 75 watts and is sufficient for any nursery up to 4 feet long and possibly larger. It does not produce light and therefore in a nursery you will also need a form of lighting. A power board should be used in conjunction with a HabiStat pulse proportional thermostat, which will stop power reaching the power board as soon as the temperature exceeds the setting and will turn back on as soon as it is too cold. This is one of the most accurate thermostats on the market today.
Ceramic heaters, spot bulbs, and heating mats are also ways to heat a nursery. All of these have their pros and cons, but in my opinion, none weighs to be as good as a power board.
Viper Boas are primarily nocturnal, which means they venture into the dead of night. This is when their top predators sleep and their prey is awake. Lighting for this species is not important. However, having artificial lighting in a nursery is aesthetically pleasing to the owner and makes a nice addition to a snake’s enclosure. They will use this as a photo period, and your regular time clock will generally adjust to the setting where you have the light set.
They do not require any special lighting, such as a D3 ultraviolet light that is commonly used for daytime species. An Arcadia Natural Sunlight Fluorescent Lamp is a good form of lighting. This comes in lengths from 12 “up to 48” and I suggest you use the largest size that will fit inside your nursery.
Viper Boas are found throughout much of New Guinea and the surrounding islands and are therefore exposed to high humidity. This should be repeated in captivity to help your snake’s overall health and well-being. A humidity range of 80-90% will allow the snake to shed its skin properly and be less prone to problems like respiratory infections.
Young or male should be offered hairy or small mice and as they grow, the mice or rats should grow. An adult female viper boa should feed on weaned rats. One of these every 2 weeks is sufficient. An adult male can take hairy rats or large mice. Juveniles should be fed regularly, every 7 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is higher than that of adults, and as they get older, they need a lot more food to keep going. Viper Boas have a low metabolism compared to many snakes, move very little, and do not require the same amount of food as many other species. Snakes have the ability to accumulate a huge reserve of fat and they become obese very easily. However, losing weight is a much more difficult task. Obese snakes will not live nearly as long as a healthy snake would due to liver and kidney problems. If you are unsure of your snake’s weight, check with a reptile vet.