Shrinking snakes, commonly called “boids” (members of the taxonomic family Boko), is a different set of snakes. Several breeds are popular as pets, and while some may be suitable for beginner snake owners, some are not.
These snakes share the common trait of killing their prey by suffocation, but differ significantly in habitat, natural history, and care requirements. While the words boa constrictor and boa constrictor often conjure up images of large killer snakes, that’s not all.
- name: Ball Python (python king) red-tailed python or boa constrictor (Boa constrictor imperator or Boa constrictor constrictor); Burmese python (python) reticulated python (reticulated python) and others
- size: 15 to 20 feet long (or longer) and weighs about 200 pounds
- life: Can live up to 50 years depending on the breed
Behavior and Temperament of Shrinking Snakes
There are large and potentially dangerous snakes in this group, but smaller, docile members of the family can make fascinating pets. Some are very curious, active and easy to tame.
Unfortunately, there have been several cases of large pythons causing serious injury or even death to humans (children and adults). While this has occurred with very large retracting snakes, they are certainly isolated events. Risks exist, however, and proper education and precautions are necessary to prevent tragic events from occurring.
Don’t buy unhealthy snakes, and if you already have snakes in your home, quarantine new snakes for at least three to six months (and be sure to wash your hands between snakes).
house shrink snake
A length of eight feet is generally considered a safe threshold. Any snake over 8 feet in adult length needs a very secure enclosure, and experts often recommend the presence of two people to handle a snake of this size. It is a good idea to have one handler for every four feet of snakes; for example, three people for a 12-foot snake and four people for a 16-foot snake.
Feeding is a vulnerable time for owners of large snakes, and it is advisable to have at least one other person present at feeding time to help if necessary. (Most shrink snakes only eat once every 10 to 14 days).
Besides size, other important considerations include source, animal needs, and species-dependent housing. There are significant differences in care and housing arrangements between species.
food and water
A general rule for feeding snakes of any breed is to avoid giving prey food that is larger than the widest body part of the snake. While you shouldn’t hand feed a python or boa constrictor, you should also avoid handling it for at least a day after it’s eaten. Rumination is very likely if the snake is not given enough time to digest its prey.
Most boa constrictors and boa constrictors prefer to hide while eating their prey. Their enclosures should have hiding boxes for this purpose; you can expect your pet python to disappear into the hiding area at mealtime and for a day or two thereafter.
Many experts recommend feeding large snakes in a different cage than their home cage if you have the space and resources. As such, they tend to associate feeding only with feeding cages and are less likely to be close to people entering the home cage.
Choose Your Shrink Snake
Burmese pythons are usually gentle, but they are very large and powerful snakes. They are one of the most popular pet breeds, but it is important to note that even Burmese have been involved in fatal incidents.
The red-tailed python (commonly known as the boa constrictor) is not that large, but still powerful and not recommended for beginners.
Reticulated pythons grow quite large and have a reputation for having a bad temperament; they are only suitable for very experienced handlers, if they are kept. The reticulated python is the longest snake in the world and a great swimmer.
Captive-bred snakes are more popular than wild-caught snakes because captive-bred snakes are generally docile, less nervous, less stressed, and less ill. It may also be easier to feed them, especially if the prey is killed.
Tree pythons and pythons tend to have stricter housing and humidity/environmental control needs; they can be more challenging than terrestrial species.
For starters, the best shrinking snakes are the ball pythons, although these snakes are notorious for refusing to be kept in captivity: make sure your snake is captive, and if possible ask the seller to show how it eats. Also, consider the lifespan of a snake: a healthy ball python, for example, is expected to live 30 to 40 years.
All of these snakes are carnivores, and most experts recommend that you feed dead prey. Not only is it easier for the owner, but there is no risk of the snake being bitten by its prey or otherwise injured; a rat or rat can seriously injure a snake if given the chance.
common health problems
Inclusion body disease is an important consideration for boids. The virus is lethal to symptomatic pythons and pythons. It is impossible to determine if any snakes were exposed (some snakes are asymptomatic carriers), and it may take several months for signs to appear.
If a snake exhibits symptoms of IBD, they may have difficulty shedding, anorexia, constipation, tremors, and loss of motor control. Many snakes with this disease starve to death because they cannot digest any food.
Like many other reptiles, boa constrictors are susceptible to respiratory infections and oral decay or stomatitis. Oral decay can appear as red discoloration around and in the mouth of the animal. Snakes with respiratory infections will open their mouths to breathe or gasp.
All of these conditions should be treated by a veterinarian with expertise in reptiles, preferably one experienced with constrictors.
Types of boa constrictors
If you decide to keep a boa constrictor as a pet, you may want to consider some more captive breeds.
For an overview of pythons, boas and other snake species, check out our profiles on other snake species.