insights into the care and breeding of

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insights into the care and breeding of
Insights into the care and breeding of
Bolivian boas
The relatively unknown and yet distinctive Bolivian subspecies of the boa constrictor is a particular
favourite of snake breeder Robbin S. Robinson, from Tyne & Wear, and here he discusses the unique
features of these particular snakes.
F
irst off, let me say that I do not
pretend nor claim to be an expert,
taxonomist or anything other than
a self educated hobbyist who has
had great success in keeping and
breeding boa constrictors. This
species appeals to me most of
all, above the other snakes in
my collection, and I guess
the same applies for
hundreds of thousands of
other people too, based
on the boa constrictor’s
popularity today.
For me, there is simply
no comparison. I love all
snakes – and indeed all
animals for that matter,
although I have to confess to
not being too keen on arachnids!
– but there is something about the
boa constrictor in its many forms that
captivates me to the point of obsession.
Perhaps it’s the small scales, head
structure or markings? Whatever the
reason, I was hooked from the first day
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that I saw one. Asking me for specific
dates is fruitless. I’m terrible with dates
and times. Perhaps it is to do with my
misspent youth and thousands of
destroyed brain cells, or just the fact
that I have never been bothered
about dates? It’s more about
savouring the moment and
memory for me.
I have always been an
animal fanatic since I
learned to walk, according
to my parents. I clearly
remember running around
during the odd downpour
in Estartit, Spain, watching
and catching frogs emerging
from the mud during one of
my many childhood visits there. I
even remember an iguana along
with the hundreds of other lizards
around the campsite’s pool. It was
obviously an escaped pet - but seemed
to be doing very well, living off the salad
and fruit that people left on their plates
or dropped onto the floor.
All snake photos within the article itself by the author.
Bolivia is a land-locked
nation, lying centrally in
South America, and some
distance south from the
course of the River
Amazon.
that stage onwards. I had to have these
snakes! Getting my hands on a pair was
pretty difficult then (and it’s still not that
easy today!) but eventually, I sourced
some from Paul Harris who had got
some off a breeder friend, and I quickly
snatched a pair. That’s when my true
reptile journey started.
What are Bolivian boas?
They are a subspecies of the boa
constrictor, just like a BCi, but in this case,
their scientific name is Boa constrictor
amarali. What distinguishes them from
other boas?
Well, its official characteristics are
recorded as follows, with this subspecies
having been recognised in its own right
for the first time in 1932 by Olive Stull,
who was one of the leading female
herpetologists of the day:-
■ Dorsal scale rows: 71 - 79 (Langhammer, 1983)
■ Ventral Shields: 226 - 237 (Langhammer, 1983)
■ Caudal Shields: 43 - 52
(Langhammer, 1983)
The Bolivian boa is an unusual,
beautiful and generally small species of
boa constrictor, with my adult females
reaching between 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft). They
do not only occur in Bolivia, as their
common name suggests, but
populations are also to be found in
neighbouring Paraguay and Brazil, where
they are present in the south of the
country.
In terms of their profile, Bolivian boas
are decidedly stocky, as emphasised by
their short tail. Their background colour
can range from pale grey or brown to a
silvery appearance. Their head is
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FEATURE
| BRAZILIAN BOAS
muscular and flat in profile, and reminds
me of that of a Staffordshire bull terrier.
Some of the highest widow peaks that I
have ever seen belonged to one of these
snakes. They have a higher scale count
than the BCi and feel almost like velvet to
the touch.
In terms of temperament, the Bolivian
is generally a calm boa, but remember all snakes are wild animals and they
should be treated with the respect that
they deserve. One particular thing that I
have noticed regarding this
subspecies is its intelligence. I
get the impression that it’s
almost like they are trying to
figure you out sometimes
when I walk into my reptile
room. They are highly alert
and inquisitive by nature.
I generally have
nothing but the utmost
respect for the taxonomist
or scientists. We would be
nowhere without the hard
work and dedication these
people have put into it. I am,
however, a free thinker, and rightly
or wrongly, I don’t believe everything
that’s put in front of me - especially when
people are make a living out of it.
First and foremost, when it comes to
these snakes, don’t believe that this
bloodline for example is a pure locale,
collected from whatever location in
Bolivia is claimed. The fact of the matter
is that this should be taken with a large
pinch of salt. The city or area stated is
usually nothing more than the port of
export from where the original stock was
shipped. The snakes in question could
have been collected hundreds of
kilometres away, before being exported
The next reptile encounter I
remember was when I got whipped
across the face by another, different
iguana at a local garden shop. It left a
welt, and I was impressed! I won’t bore
you with every reptile or animal
encounter since then, but the first snakes
I kept were garter snakes and a dice
snake. Since then I have kept and bred
corns, kingsnakes, countless species of
python and Boa constrictor imperator
(BCi) morphs.
I was already heavily into the BCi
morphs when I first saw a picture of a
Bolivian boa in some reptile book. Game
over - it blew me away! Pale grey, widow
peaks that Batman would die for, along
with an arrow-shaped head. It had me
more captivated than true red tailed
boas, and I did not think that was
possible!
The quest to find out everything that I
could about these snakes then began.
Boa books, internet searches, plus
contacting and listening to breeders
took up majority of my spare time from
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FEATURE
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by a dealer based in that locality.
If breeders can provide video proof
and GPS coordinates of where their stock
originated whilst they or the parents
where being collected, I may change my
mind. Essentially though, I see it just as
sales talk. I think it’s best just to call them
Bolivian amarali. Beware of crosses
though, always ask for paperwork with
CITES documents and pictures of BOTH
parents. The same of course applies to
many other snakes too – don’t get
caught out!
Genetic traits
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There are already a few mind-blowing
genetic traits that are emerging in
amarali bloodlines, and the future
appears very exciting. Silverbacks, orange
crush, domino, hypos and what I believe
to be some form of albinism are some of
the better-known varieties at present.
They all seem perfectly healthy with no
genetic defects. The future looks very
exciting for the breeding and popularity
of the Bolivian amarali.
General care
I house my babies in plastic containers of
appropriate size, while all my adult
females are housed in 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft)
long vivariums - a Vision Boa rack or
something of similar size.
For the most part, their care needs are
not very dissimilar from those of BCi,
certainly with regards to their heating
and humidity requirements. It is in the
feeding area where you have to pay
careful attention, as this is where the
difference lies.
I keep my amaralis in my snake room
with a background temperature of
22-26°C (72-78°F). A hot spot of 32-36°C
(90-96°F) is provided for each animal. I try
and provide hide boxes and branches for
all my snakes. Even though the Bolivians
are the heaviest-bodied boa out there,
they do still like to climb and exercise if
given the chance.
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sexually mature from five years of age
onwards, whereas males will breed from
three years onwards. For breeding
purposes, I stop feeding around the end
of November, and then start to condition
the snakes. I then wait until they have
defaecated all signs of their last meal.
Next, I start to reduce the night-time
low (NTL) in their quarters by about 1°C
(2°F) over two nights, until it is down to
24°C (75°F). No hot spot is provided. I raise
the daytime temperatures up to 30-31°C
(86-88°F). I also watch them very closely
indeed during this time for any signs of
respiratory illnesses. Humidity is a major
factor in this type of disease in my
opinion.
I keep the humidity at around 45-55%
during the winter - no lower. By the end
of December or the beginning of January,
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Cleaning
Feeding
It goes without saying that this is a major
factor in any animal’s care. Water is
changed every two days and the bowls
are thoroughly cleaned with a suitable
reptile disinfectant. Waste produced by
each snake is removed on a daily basis,
and again, the area is thoroughly
disinfected as required with the
appropriate cleaning solution. No bowls,
bedding or any other equipment are
swapped from animal to animal. The
health of my snakes is my number one
priority
The trick to catering for amaralis successfully is to feed them a relatively small
prey item, and then only after they have
defaecated. These particular boas have a
slow digestive system and overfeeding
may cause regurgitation problems, not
to mention an overweight snake which
could well lead its premature demise. Go
slow and easy, and try not to handle the
snake for at least 3-4 days after each feed.
Breeding
Female Bolivian boas usually become
I will have reached my
NTL limit. No food
whatsoever is offered
during the cooling period.
After 6-8 weeks, I start to raise
the NTL back again to normal, in
the same steps that I did when
cooling the snakes. This is done slowly
therefore: about 1°C (2°F) every 2 days.
I place the adults together during this
time. They will then court, mostly at
night. I only offer small, infrequent meals
once the temperatures have been raised
back to normal. After a few months of
courting, I usually witness ovulation.
Some boa breeders regularly witness two
separate ovulations. However, I have only
witnessed one big ovulation in all my
time breeding boas of any type.
My Bolivians ovulate between March
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and June. Aside from the usual ‘football
lump’ indicator of ovulation on the body,
another good sign that the female has, or
is about to ovulate is when the male has
lost interest and he wants to head off
elsewhere! Once I have witnessed the
post-ovulation shed (usually 15 - 20 days;
longer than a normal shed), I feed the
female on one small rat. That’s it then,
until she has her young.
A hot spot of 36-37°C
(96-98°C) is provided. The
female will usually spend all
her time coiled up in the
gravid position on the hot
spot. Clean water is offered
every day. The gestation
period has been 104-106 days
for every Bolivian litter that my
snakes have produced. It really
is that precise!
The babies accept frozen fuzzies
or rat pups straight after their first
shed. Some of them have a great set of
lungs and will let you know they are in
the room as soon as you walk through
the door. Amazingly enough, this
characteristic seems to disappear after a
few months.
I take it easy with the young boas well,
with regards to feeding. I keep them on
mice fuzzies or rat pups for the first six
months of their life before moving them
up to hoppers or crawlers. I always wait
until they have defaecated before their
next meal. I think that I have had only one
case of regurgitation in all my litters of
Bolivians after sticking to this particular
rule.
So how to sum up these snakes? All in
all, they are my favourite boa constrictor
(apart from south Brazilians, and I’ll leave
those bad boys for another time). Bolivian
amaralis are truly amazing boas, with an
intelligence and beauty I have yet to see
in any other snake species that I have
had the good fortune of keeping. ✥
Contact details
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Robbin’s website is at www.
natures-perfection.com and here
you can see other types of boa that
he breeds as well.
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