20 Mar Emerald Tree Boas, Corallus caninus. Part One: General Care and Husbandry
Out of all the boas we know the Emerald Tree Boa is one of the most desirable and distinctive out of all the boas in the hobby today. Their beautiful colours and patterns resemble fresh new green leaves spotted with white bird droppings. Occasionally some specimens have yellow on them too. Their scientific name Corallus caninus means coral-like snake with a head like that of a dog. This name most likely came about due to their intense colouring like that of coral. Their angled snout and shape of their head is reminiscent of a dog, and their long teeth may also resemble the canine teeth of a dog.
There are two varieties of Emerald Tree Boas, which are the Suriname and the Amazon Basin. There are noticeable differences between the two locales in the way of coloration, scaling, pattern, markings and temperament. The Suriname is smaller than the Amazon Basin locale and has a lighter green colouration with white dorsal markings that do not connect, as they do in the Amazon Basin variant. The Amazon Basin Emeralds also have a very yellow belly, and their nose scales are significantly smaller than those of the Suriname variant. The Amazon Basin variant has been the most popular over the years probably due to their more striking patterns, colouration and more friendly and clam temperament and nature. All juveniles are a bright red to orange color developing their classic emerald green colors within the first year.
Due to the true beauty of this snake many of us who are keen on snakes have always wanted to own an Emerald Tree Boa, but one must keep in mind that this is a delicate species of boa and is not suitable for beginner snake keepers. The wrong care and husbandry will inevitably result in disappointment and health problems. I have heard of people having trouble with Emerald Tree Boas with problems such as prolapsing and regurgitation, and many times the problem is ultimately related to an incorrect physical environment with captive conditions that are not suited for this boa.
Emerald Tree Boas can grow to an impressive length of 2 meters and can live up to 15 – 20 years. They have a reputation for being nippy and a bite from and adult can be an unpleasant experience! Their strong jaws and powerful strike are the least of your worries as these boas boast some of the largest teeth of all non-venomous snakes. Bites from adult specimens can cause serious lacerations and therefore this snake should not be handled by the inexperienced. Being boas these snakes give birth to live young. They can have 5 – 12 bright reddish-brown young. They will take on their beautiful emerald green colour at about a year of age.
Housing and Lighting.
Emerald Tree Boas are arboreal specie. Individual adults can be house in an enclosure that measures a minimum of 80cm x 70cm x 45cm. Cages are best made out of plywood and melamine materials. Whatever materials you decide to use you will need to make sure that they can withstand the daily spraying and the high humidity inside the enclosure. Many people think they will just use a glass cage, but this is not ideal as glass is a bad heat insulator, which means you will have high heat loss and higher variations in temperature. In the front of the cage it is best to use glass sliding doors. Being arboreal you will need to make sure that their enclosure provides them with plenty of climbing and resting perches. Try and make sure that you provide perches at different heights in the enclosure and the perches should also have varying thicknesses. The perches must also have lots of hiding places which can be created by using synthetic plants, which are hung from the ceiling of the enclosure and draped past and over the perches. The perches can be made from beechwood or even synthetic materials such as plastic, but natural wood branches always look and feel better, even to the snakes. It is important that the cages are well ventilated, and this can be achieved by drilling holes in the top and bottom of the enclosure and using plastic vent plugs.
In the enclosure it is essential that both humidity levels and temperatures need to be in balance. Daily temperatures should be between 26 -29°C and night temperatures should vary between 20 – 25°C. Heating can be achieved by using basking lights or heat panels. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the Emerald Tree Boa can be kept the same way as the more common Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis), but this is not true. Emerald Tree Boas are kept at lower temperatures because this replicates their natural environment and they take longer to digest their food. If temperatures are too warm these snake may regurgitate which is a common problem with Emerald Tree Boas that is associated to improper temperatures and humidity.
Humidity will need to be in the range of around 70 – 85% and this can be achieved by misting the cage once or twice a day. Some people also provide ample water with very large water bowls, which helps to maintain the high humidity. I would also recommend placing a water bowl high up in the enclosure where your snake can drink. Try and spray the enclosure in the mornings and after dark. When spraying the enclosure spray the walls substrate and branches and then lightly spray your boa. Emerald Tree Boa do not like a to be sprayed directly and it can stress them out. Excessive humidity will lead to health problems and prolonged periods with a humidity of 90% and higher can be harmful to your snake and will lead to respiratory problems. Organic substrates that hold moisture can be attractive but care must be taken as these substrates provide perfect conditions for fungal and bacterial growth. I would recommend newspaper as a substrate as it is easily removable and helps to maintain a clean environment for you snake. Encourage your snake to exercise. This does not mean taking it out for a walk! By exercise we mean make it’s enclosure interesting so that it stimulates your snake to want to move around. Try and place some hardy pot plants in the cage as this will not only help with humidity but also help in keeping the snakes enclosure fresh and can even stimulate your snake and encourage exercise and therefore help in defecation.
Emerald Tree Boas are nocturnal and therefore hunt at night. These snakes should not be fed very often and if they are there is a good chance that they will regurgitate, which is what you want to try and avoid at all costs. A rat or mouse no thicker than the snake’s girth once every 2 – 3 weeks is sufficient. I would recommend feeding you snake freshly killed or freshly thawed rodents from long tweezers. Only feed live food if you have the time to watch and make sure that your snake eats it right away. I live rodent running around in your snakes enclosure can stress it out and pout it off feed. As Emerald Tree Boas don’t eat very often they also don’t defecate very often. As a husbandry rule it is important that your Emerald Tree Boa defecates after every three meals. Exercise, moisture and not over feeding are the keys to successful regular defecations. If your snake dose not have regular defecations then it is at risk of regurgitating. Make sure not to feed it more than three meals without it defecating. If it dose not defecate try and do a full cage mist just before lights out as this will induce activity after lights out. If this does not work you might need to soak your snake which is not desirable as it puts your snake under allot of stress. If you find you need to soak your snake then adjust its living conditions so that it defecates regularly without soaking. This could mean your snake might need a larger enclosure to encourage more exercise, or it means you might need to mist your cage more or it might need smaller meals less often. It is very important that your Emerald Tree Boas feeding and defecation cycles are recorded as this will allow you to keep track and to make sure your snake is feeding and defecating properly.
So to simplify what has been said lets break it down into 6 rules:
1. Don’t keep them too warm
2. Maintain proper humidity cycles
3. Don’t feed them to often
4. Feed proper size meals
5. Allow for regular defecations
6. Make sure your snakes exercises
The Emerald Tree boa is probably one of the most beautiful snakes in the world, but in captivity there is no margin for error. This snake demands allot of respect and if the above rules are not followed this snake will most likely not live long. Emerald Tree Boas are not so common in South Africa although there are a few breeders that are successfully keeping and breeding them, and if you feel you are ready to take on the challenge, these beautiful boas are available. If you are passionate about boas then keeping the Emerald Tree Boa is a very rewarding experience, and well worth the effort!
Make sure to keep a look out in the next issue of Ultimate Exotics for the part 2 article, where we will discuss everything you need to know when it comes to breeding Emerald Tree Boas.
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