Edited by Susan Horton, DVM
Amazon tree boas, also known as common tree boas, garden tree boas, and Ammies are found throughout South America in the rainforests. This species is highly arboreal preferring to drape on branches and exercise between tree limbs. Despite their preference for arboreal living amongst the thick and lush foliage of the rainforest, they are quite common in the fruit orchards caused by deforestation. The majority of Amazons are imported from areas surrounding Colombia and Suriname.
Amazons are a medium size nocturnal snake generally reaching 5-7 feet in length but with a rather thin sleek body. Despite their length and large heads, these snakes only weigh between 400 and 800 grams and are slow growers. One thing to consider with these boas is their long reach and defensive striking habit and continue to do so for the 20 plus years of their lifespan. These snakes are meant to eat avian prey with their large triangular heads, long teeth, and bulging eyes.
Amazon tree boas are not quite as diverse in the color region as some species of snakes such as ball pythons but they still have a natural ranges of color that are beautiful. There are two color phases the garden phase (black, browns, and greys) and the colored phase (reds, oranges, and yellows). Each phase can be patternless, speckled, banded, or saddled in appearance making this snake naturally diverse looking. There are morphs available in the pet trade including candy canes, tigers, leopards, Halloweens, and paradoxes.
Neonates are fed mouse pinkies and fuzzies every week until they reach one to two years old. Amazons should be upgraded to fuzzies as soon as possible due to the better nutrition offered. Once they are one year old they are upgraded to small mice if they can handle the size once every one to two weeks. As adults, Amazons can be maintained on medium to large mice every two weeks as well.
Imported Amazons can be incredibly finicky in their eating habits. The same feeding schedule can be utilized but the prey changes. Imported snakes have a primary diet of avian prey when they are adults and frogs and lizards when they are young. Converting younger snakes to frozen thawed rodents is easier than converting adults generally. Young snakes can be tempted into eating rodents by rubbing the body of the rodent on a frog that has been frozen and defrosted for such an occasion. Adults can be introduced to mammalian prey by wetting the mice and rolling them in natural feathers (not the dyed ones from craft stores). Feathers can be obtained from a local butcher usually.
All prey should be offered during the evening hours due to nocturnal hunting. The size of the prey should be no larger than the width of their head. It is recommended that adult rodents be used to feed whenever possible as they are the most nutritionally complete. Avoid feeding obese animals as this can cause obesity in snakes that do not receive enough exercise due to sparse caging or lack of interest in excercising. A good rule of thumb for snakes (although there are always exceptions to the rules such as emerald tree boas) is it is okay to feed again once they have defecated. For this reason it is recommended to soak Amazons a few days after being fed once the “lump” from the food disappears.
Neonates can be kept in an enclosure the size of a 10-gallon aquarium. Neonates alternatively can be housed in a Rubbermaid container which will hold the humidity around the higher end of humidity spectrum for the first year. This allows these young babies to feel secure and safe. Adults are best kept in an enclosure roughly the size of a 30-gallon to 50-gallon aquarium. Aquariums are not the best housing for these snakes however but work well for temporary housing. Amazons are best kept in specialty arboreal cages such as Neodesha Vision cages. These cages can be a bit pricey but they are an excellent investment. Keepers looking to create or purchase specialty cages should consider a cage at least 32” long, 32” high, and 24” deep. The higher the cage the better it is for exercise and temperature gradients. These size enclosures are not always feasible but the more room they have the better the snake will do. The general rule for the height of Amazon cages is that the height be at least 2/3 of the snakes body length.
Despite their nocturnal habits a regular light cycle is required of 12 hours of daylight to 12 hours of night. Although most keepers and breeders do not utilize UVB lights for their snakes it does not hurt to have a ReptiSun 5.0 UVB on during the twelve hours of daylight. These lights do not provide heat but mimic natural daylight which promotes natural behaviors. A 15-watt incandescent bulb can be used during day light hours.
Newspaper is effective, inexpensive, and easy to clean. It also allows direct visualization of feces. Newspaper however is not very exciting to look at and does not hold humidity well. Paper towels are another option that is inexpensive and more aesthetically pleasing as well as easy to clean. Paper towel starts to break apart when saturated and should be changed daily. Aspen is an excellent snake bedding as it holds in humidity well, is pleasant to look at in the cage, and does not cause respiratory tract irritation like pine and cedar does. Daily spot cleaning is required to remove soiled and wet bedding and weekly full substrate changes are required. Watch the substrate for mold especially under the water dish. The use of particulate bedding such as aspen can be ingested during feeding. Although this is not so much a problem with Amazons since they eat upside down from the branch it is still recommended to exercise caution and perhaps utilize a small feeding cage without substrate or remove substrate from the main cage prior to feeding. Again, the ingestion of bedding is not common in this species but still should be considered.
Temperature and Humidity
Amazons fare best when the ambient temperature in the cage between 75 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit with the preferred zone being between 80 and 82 degrees for most individuals in the middle of the enclosure. The lower level of the enclosure should be around the high to mid 70’s. This species rarely basks but gravid females have been documented basking under heat bulbs bringing the temperature up to 90—92 degrees. Since this species is nocturnal it is a good idea to use a ceramic heat emitter or moonlight bulb for. At night the temperatures should drop between 75 and 77 degrees. Another alternative for heating is to utilize radiant heat panels. Care must be used that the snake cannot make direct contact with them!
Daily misting is required to keep humidity levels between 60 and 80% or the use of a humidifier or reptile fogger is effective also. The higher end of the range should be used during shedding. A hygrometer is required for proper monitoring of relative cage humidity. A fogger system attached to a hygrometer is the best option. Misting allows the snake to drink droplets off its body which is ideal for imported individuals who may be reluctant to explore their cage for the water dish.
Horizontal perches of varying widths are a must! The smallest branch should be as thick as the snake. Amazons prefer to sit in “V” shaped branches rather than drape over a single branch like the emerald tree boa. This allows for proper perching. Some perches should be placed at slight angles to facilitate exercise along with true horizontal perches. Branches should be made of various woods avoiding pine and cedar which can have aromatic oils that irritate the respiratory tract of the snake. Corkboard is an excellent shelf as it is extremely resistant to mold growth.
Hiding spots, referred to as hides, are required for the well being of this species. Amazons will still seek out ground hides created from half of a flower pot, simple wooden box with an access hole, or other customizable objects such as large cat litter boxes turned upside with an entry hole. An arboreal hide should be offered to Amazons as well. Again, wooden boxes with an entry hole are excellent as well as a corner shelf large enough for the snake to lay on with heavy foliage covering it.
Plants can be either fake or real but fake plants are easier to clean and maintain. Fake plants can be bought from pet stores, craft stores, and even the local dollar store. The creative options for a vivarium utilizing fake plants is endless! An excellent idea to utilize both a hide spot and plants is to use a plastic coated mesh basket and place moss in it with leaves all around it.
Probing is the only definitive way to sex Amazon tree boas. This procedure should be performed by an experienced breeder or a veterinary professional. There is another method of sexing that is employed by some keepers and breeders called “popping”. This is the practice of everting the hemipenes but it is potentially dangerous to the snake and complications have frequently been reported especially in adults.
Breeding generally takes place between December and March with the male and female entwining themselves together. Amazons bear live young and their gestation is 7-10 months long because of it. 4-10 young (occasionally 14) are born between September and November. The young will shed around 2-3 weeks old and then are ready to accept food generally. Gravid females may not accept food especially late in the gestation period but food should still be offered every two weeks.
This species of snake is renowned for its aggression towards keepers. Some are docile but most fall into the aggressive to very aggressive category. These snakes have a long striking range and most will bite readily. Daily handling from a young age helps prevent some of this aggression. Amazons from the wild are more prone to very aggressive behavior. Snake hooks and pair of leather gloves are recommended to prevent minor injuries. Hooks allow the keeper to maneuver the snake appropriately from a distance without placing extremities in the striking distance. A word of caution, these snakes tend to strike at the face.
Imported snakes are generally stressed, irritable, and have a hard time settling into their new enclosures. These Amazons generally need a few weeks before handling is attempted. Domestically bred Amazons should also be allowed an acclimation period prior to handling of around a week.
Properly hooking the snake requires a bit of skill but most snakes will balance themselves on the end of the snake hook. It is recommended to have an experienced snake keeper demonstrate how to properly hook a snake or ask one of the professionals at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital for instruction. For overly aggressive individuals it is recommended to utilize snake tongs which can also be demonstrated by an experienced keeper or staff member. Amazons are more visualization snakes than tactile snakes for the comfort of the animal and the safety of the keeper.
Resources and Suggested Reading
The Guide to Owning Tree Boas and Tree Pythons, Tom Mazorlig
Kaleidoscopic Tree Boas: The Genus Corallus of Tropical America, Peter J. Stafford and Robert W. Henderson
Neotropical Treeboas: Natural History of the Corallus hortulanus Complex , Robert W. Henderson
Living Snakes of the World in Color, John M. Mehrtens
Snakes of the World, Manuel Areste and Rafael Cebrian
An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians. Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.