Viper Boas are a wonderful species of snake to look at. They are very robust, with tough ‘keeled’ scales and an arrow like head. They are usually a fairly dull brown, although can be a wonderful bright red or orange. They do however, change colour with seasons, temperature and perhaps mood changes. I have had wonderful orangey specimens turn a dark brown with time. Nearly all Viper Boas are wild caught, in fact, I have not heard of any successful breeder who has bred and reared these. Gravid (pregnant) females are often imported and have their young in captivity. However, most of these die within 6 months for little or no apparent reason. In time, we can hopefully learn more about this species and successfully reproduce it in captivity. Viper Boas are fairly calm snakes, but when handled incorrectly can swipe from side to side with lighting speed. Although they are non-venomous, they have quite a nasty bite. Adult females can reach 80cm; males are less than half the size.
When keeping any snake as a pet, you generally want to be able to view the snake from the outside of its enclosure, in the most natural surroundings you can offer. This will be more aesthetically pleasing and also aid in the general condition of the snake. If the snake likes its surroundings, it will have a better feeding response and generally grow quicker. A larger vivarium also offers more interest to the snake’s life, and by adding branches and other natural products you will enhance the quality of life the snake has, and stop it from becoming lethargic and overweight. Also, being stronger it should have more of a resistance to any viral infections or any other problems that it may encounter later in life.
For an adult Viper Boa, a vivarium 60cm Length x 45cm Width x 45cm Height is ample. This is a timid species; many specimens when bought into captivity can go for many months without feeding. It is important that this transitional period is as stress-free as possible. A small, confined enclosure with no added lighting, away from human ‘traffic’ may be needed. Once the boa is feeding on a regular basis, a larger vivarium with lighting may be offered.
Snake enclosures can be made from a number of materials. Most commonly used is a melamine coated wood which covers all sides except the front, which has glass sliding doors. Aquariums can also be used for Viper Boas, although a specialist lid should be bought or made rather than the original aquarium lid. It is essential when thinking about what type of enclosure you use, you think about these 6 ‘SSSHHH’ factors:
1) Safety – Can the snake or owner injure itself from the enclosure or any appliances held within?
2) Secure – Can the snake escape through any small hole or cavity?
3) Size – Will the enclosure be appropriately sized?
4) Heating – Is the enclosure able to regulate the temperature properly?
5) Humidity – Will the enclosure last well in humid conditions? Is there enough ventilation for the moisture to escape?
6) Hygienic – Will the enclosure build up a lot of bacteria in small cavities? Is it easy to clean?
By following the steps above, you can have a suitable enclosure made from a variety of materials.
Décor in your tank serves two purposes. First being extra cover for your snake and second, allowing for a more natural and pleasing appearance. When choosing décor, think about the safety of the snake. Make sure that whatever you decide to use, it is securely fixed and that no rocks, wood or anything heavy can fall and possibly injure, or even kill the snake. You must also make sure that everything used is parasite free. If anything has been picked up from outside, or has originally come from outside, such as cork bark, you should either boil it, or place the item in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Freezing works for some parasites, however others have been known to survive months in freezing conditions. Some parasites found in English conditions last winters in minus temperatures, so it is not entirely effective.
Once all your décor is parasite free, it is then safe to place inside your enclosure. As a general rule, if you can put pressure on an item to knock it down, a Viper Boa is certainly capable of doing so. When positioning rocks or heavy objects, make sure they are completely secure. If it is still uneasy, screw them or use superglue to fix them securely. If it is not possible, the rule is simple: Do not place the item in the vivarium!
If you decide to go for a larger enclosure, you must provide plenty of cover and hiding areas. A hiding place can be anything from a tupperware box with a hole cut out to a naturalistic piece of cork bark. There are many brands of fake plants and décor you can use which is both safe for the animal and pleasing to the eye. Cork bark is available from almost any reptile pet shop in the UK, and can be ordered in if they do not have it in stock. This is excellent cover for any reptile and is 100% natural. One thing you must consider when thinking about the size of the vivarium, is the bigger you go, the more hiding areas you must provide. I recommend at least one hiding place per foot in length of the enclosure.
NOTE: Never use sticky tape in an enclosure; this is an accident waiting to happen. Believe me; removing sticky tape from any snake is no easy task!
Viper Boas are found on dense forest floors and are exposed to a fairly constant air temperature. They do not bask in the sun and so it is not as important to provide them with a dedicated hot spot. Instead, having a fairly constant air temperature of 85-90ºF during the day and 80-85ºF during the night is fine. A large water bowl should be offered for the snake to fully submerge if required. If your viper boa does this constantly, the vivarium is most probably too hot and should be cooled down slightly.
In my opinion, the ideal way of heating a Viper Boa’s enclosure is to use a power plate. This is a small thin square plate, about 25mm thick which is screwed into the top of the vivarium. It does not need to be protected, as there is no way a snake can grip onto it. It is almost invisible to the eye as it simply sits on the ceiling of the vivarium. The only brand available in the UK is HabiStat Reptile Radiator; it is 75 Watts and is sufficient for any vivarium up to 4ft long and possibly larger. It produces no light and therefore in a vivarium you will need a form of lighting as well. A power plate should be used in conjunction with a HabiStat Pulse Proportional Thermostat, which will stop the power reaching the power plate as soon as the temperature goes above the setting, and turn back on as soon as it is too cool. This is one of the most accurate thermostats on the market today.
Ceramic heaters, spot bulbs and heat mats are also ways of heating a vivarium. These all have their advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, none quite weigh out to be as good as a power plate.
Viper Boas are primarily nocturnal, meaning they venture out in the dark of night. This is when their main predators are sleeping, and their prey is awake. Lighting for this species is not important. However, having artificial light in a vivarium is aesthetically pleasing to the owner, and is a good addition to a snake’s enclosure. They will use this as a photo-period, and their regular time clock will generally adjust to the settings on which you have your light set to.
They do not require any form of special lighting, such as a D3 Ultra-Violet light commonly used for diurnal species. An Arcadia Natural Sunlight Fluorescent Lamp is a good form of lighting. This comes in lengths of 12″ up to 48″ and I suggest you use the largest size able to fit inside your vivarium.
Viper Boas occur over much of New Guinea and surrounding Islands and therefore are exposed to a high humidity. This should be replicated in captivity to aid to the general health and well-being of your snake. A 80-90% humidity range will allow to snake to slough it’s skin properly and become less prone to any problems such as respiratory infections.
Juveniles or males should be offered fuzzy or small mice, and as they grow the mice or rats should become larger. An adult female viper boa should be fed on weaner rats. One of these every 2 weeks is ample. An adult male may take fuzzy rats or large mice. Juveniles should be fed on a regular basis, every 7 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is higher than adults and as they are growing, they need a lot more food to keep them going. Viper Boas have a low metabolism compared to many snakes, they move very little and do not require the same quantity of food that many other species do. Snakes have the capability of building up a huge fat reserve, and become obese very easily. Taking the weight off however, is a much more difficult task. Obese snakes will not live nearly the length as a healthy snake would due to liver and kidney problems. If you are unsure about your snake’s weight, check with a reptile veterinarian.