ECUADORIAN BLACK BELLIED BOA

     BOA C.C. ”MELANOGASTER”

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

For years I wanted to keep Boas, but had difficulty with the space which they would take up in my snake room. In this same amount of space I could have kept a lot of small snakes of different types!  After carefully consideration, though, I decided to keep boas, but on the condition that they had to be very beautiful animals. After carefully researching in books and looking around at exhibitions I also decided that any animals I acquired must be thoroughbred.  OK, there are all kinds of colour morphs which I find beautiful, but I would rather have a natural colour alternative which we as people had not messed about with. Therefore I had two problems; finding a beautiful as well as thoroughbred specimen! Thoroughbred can be a problem with many boas, and they are not always available. In fact, many owners do not know if their animals are thoroughbred. Or you find owners who say their snake is thoroughbred, but they can’t give you details such as what the parents are, where their country of origin is, or who the previous owner was. This means I have seen many cross-breeds of constrictor with imperator, or I have doubted what subspecies it was. I have also been offered many imperators as constrictor constrictor and the other way around. People sometimes hardly know what is real. Admittedly, though,  it’s not always simple to see or recognise the different types. I also saw some thoroughbred animals, but I didn’t find them beautiful enough to buy. Therefore I had to keep searching further. My preference was for occidentalis, nebulosa, amarali and melanogaster. These types are not often available, so I hadn’t made it easy on myself! Occidentalis were sometimes available but, on second thoughts, were not entirely what I was looking for. So I then tried to find one of the other types. After a long search I was able to buy melanogaster. You get crazy, and instantly devoted when you see this type for the first time. It is definitely one of the most beautiful boas. The adults are beautifully dark with a splendid mahogany red tail, an iridescent skin like a rainbow and, of course, a black abdomen with light spots. The Latin name says it all; melano = black and gaster = abdomen. These boas are seldom kept or offered, and are only sporadically bred. Rare stuff therefore! The young animals have very light coloration and do not yet resemble the dark adult form. They do, however, have a splendid pattern and a superb red tail. They already have dark spots on their abdomen and, as they grow older, these become larger and more intensively black.

 

AS LONG AS IT HAS A NAME?

 

tn_buik hammThe correct scientific name for this snake has been a talking point for many years. Should it be Boa constrictor constrictor melanogaster or Boa constrictor melanogaster? J.K. Langhammer, in a publication in 1983, called this animal Boa constrictor melanogaster, a new subspecies of Boa constrictor from Ecuador.  This was in Tropical Fish Hobbyist, volume 32/4, Dec. 1983, page. 70-76. After this article was published an enormous discussion began between scientists, herpetologists and hobbyists. Vincent Russo also entered this discussion and published some comments. At the moment this animal is still considered to be Boa constrictor constrictor, but the discussion continues! As a snake-lover I don’t join in the discussion but wait to see what the scientists decide. Perhaps, however, I have slightly taken sides by choosing the title of this site. What is certain, though, is this Boa is a rare and splendid natural colour variation from the Boa constrictor group. I don’t really care how the nomenclature uses will be resolved, which perhaps is not professional, but I am primarily a snake lover who wants to enjoy his animals. In Latin melano means black and gaster abdomen. You can see why this name has been chosen.

 

 

CLASSIFICATION

 

Below a classification which is frequently used and undoubtedly will change in the future. Boas are divided into three groups, namely the Constrictor and Imperator group and the island forms. Concerning this last group a discussion also still exists. There is much to be said for this as, during the evolution on their islands, these types have developed in slightly different ways. This is particularly notable in external characteristics such as colour and length.

 

The most used classification is;

Constrictorgroup

Imperatorgroup

Islandform

constrictor amarali    

constrictor imperator

constrictor nebulosa

constrictor constrictor

constrictor longicauda

constrictor orophias

constrictor melanogaster 

constrictor ortonii

 

constrictor occidentalis

constrictor sabogae

 

 

constrictor sigma

 

 

For sub species determination by scale counts and saddle spots I  refer to the diagrams in the book „Boa constrictor“ by Hubert Bosch 1994, ISBN number 3-9801853-5-4. This is a good book with all kinds of useful information for a reasonable price.

 

MY ANIMALS

 

In 2000 I was able to buy 1 male and 4 females. Later I acquired 1 other female. The first 5 animals came from Ecuador east from the Andes at the city Lago Agrio / Nueva Loja, and the last female was from Puyo. Six a beautiful number for a breeding group, but in this group the sex ratio is not ideal. With only 1 male you are very vulnerable, as he could become ill or, far worse, die.  I have searched everywhere but, unfortunately, have not been able to find a second male. I have even visited several exhibitions abroad but could still not find a melanogaster. Even Internet searches within Europe yielded no result. There was some information about these animals, but none for sale. In the meantime my animals have reached a respectable length of two and a half meters. The older they become the more beautiful their patterning becomes. Generally they are rather quiet and easy to handle, but sometimes when they have an off day, they strike out if I walk past the terrarium. If they are in this sort of a mood I leave them in peace and simply stay away from the terrariums. Sometimes they are just like people! 

   

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HOUSING

 

As young animals they lived in a fully glazed terrarium 70 by 70 by 100 cm high. The terrariums were filled with branches so they could climb to their heart‘s content. Slowly and surely they outgrew this terrarium and I then housed them in a fully glazed terrarium of 60 by 40 by 200 cm. By this time they were a lot heavier and made less use of the branches. At present there are 2 animals in one terrarium at 60 by 80 by 244 cm made of dark green concrete plywood.

 

The terrariums are stacked. In the floor of the upper 2 terrariums there is a door.  In the mating season, if required, it can be turned into 1 big terrarium. In front of the terrariums over the full length are 2 glass windows 6 mm thick. 30 cm above the floor there is a shelf along the full length and approximately 30 cm wide.  This increases the available floor surface by 1/3. A simple but easy way to increase the floor space in your terrarium! The substrate is peat, this is cheap, simple to use and can be bought in any garden centre. There is ventilation on the lower and upper part of the front.  This is provided by galvanised and perforated metal strips along the full length of the terrarium. The air humidity can be regulated with an ultrasonic humidifier controlled by a time switch. This is only to stimulate mating, however, as they are kept quite dry for the rest of the year. Instead of using a humidifier you can spray the peat.  This allows the water to evaporate slowly. Peat still has an advantage above other materials, namely; it is slightly acidic and as a result less bacteria can develop in the floor. Also moisture from defecation stays tidily in its place and is easy to clean up. The terrarium is heated in 3 ways.  Firstly the whole room is heated with central heating, which is set to 24 degrees. Secondly, 3 reflector lamps, each of 25 Watts and regulated with a dimmer, ensure light and radiation warmth. These lamps are placed in a PVC tube, so that the snakes cannot burn themselves. Third and finally, on the peat is a large green Thermolux heating mat.  This ensures the animals can pick a place where they are most comfortable. If you use a heating mat do not put it under the peat, which will insulate it, possibly causing it to burn through or, worse still short circuit. There is a combined thermometer /hygrometer with memory in the terrarium, so temperature and air humidity can be checked at a single glance and if necessary be altered. If it becomes really hot, because of a heat wave for example, then all the heating goes off and a mobile air conditioner is installed.

 

FEEDING

 

In general Boas are not difficult animals to keep and are certainly unproblematic eaters. As a consequence, however, we run the risk of overfeeding them. Yes, but they eat so well! Of course it is beautiful to see how they eat, but do not feed them too much. Overweight animals get health problems and there is a risk that they will not be able to reproduce. My animals get 2 to 3 rats, or 1 rabbit, of approximately 2 kilos each time. The time between feedings differs 1 up to 2.5 months. Animals which are sick, thin or have just delivered, of course get what is necessary. I feed both living and dead prey. If I feed living food I stay nearby so if necessary I can intervene. Animals which are not eaten are removed after approximately a half hour. Never leave living rats overnight in the terrarium, because they can cause ugly wounds. At night a rat goes looking for food. Do not think; that snake is big enough to defend himself. A rat can keep coming back and continuously biting your snake. Believe me, in the past I have seen terrible wounds on a Boa which had been to a veterinarian. This really annoyed me and I wanted to punch the owner on the nose. So, think before you act! Of course I have also made mistakes, but there is a difference between errors and blunders.  Perhaps it is better to kill the rats or rabbits yourself and immediately give them to your animals, then you take no risk. Of course it is also possible to feed frozen food. Before the Boas are fed they are separated. I place them in a large plastic container with a closeable lid, provided with many ventilation holes. Only then I bring the food into the room. They just need a couple of molecules in the air to smell the food and they are then not well behaved any more.  They bite at everything that moves! Naturally there are also Boas that give absolutely no problem. There is always a large water dish in the terrarium, so they can drink after eating. These are regularly cleaned, preventing bacteria and other pathogenic agents.

 

REPRODUCTION

 

By the end of November I start changing the climate in the terrariums. The heating inside the terrariums slowly becomes less. Of the three reflectors lamps I switch one off, a couple of weeks later followed by the second lamp. There remains one lamp for a bit of light and warmth. The heating mat stays on during this period. Finally the heating mat is turned of and at the same time a lamp is switched on again, otherwise the air temperature inside the terrariums becomes too cold. Our central heating, however, continues to ensure there is background warmth in the room. The air humidity is gradually raised. This happens mainly with an ultrasonic humidifier by means of a time switch which runs 3 to 4 times per day for a half hour. The terrariums are then entirely filled with fog, which falls down onto the terrarium floor and onto the snakes. Sometimes the complete terrariums are sprayed until soaking wet. During this the male is kept separated from the females. In 2006, for the first time I undertook a breeding attempt as I believed the animals were now sexually mature. At the end of the cold period I put the male with 2 of the females and a week later with the other 2 females. I observed no mating. Also, as nothing was noticeable on the females, I assumed nothing had happened.  However, in august 2006 one of the females laid 21 unfertilised eggs. Shit, is the male not OK? Is he infertile or was he not at the right time in the right place. Or do the females have to be put in with the male?  I assumed it was my mistake and I had not put the male with the females at the correct time. I learn rapidly, therefore I did not make the same mistake twice. The male can choose from 5 females now. However, during the breeding season, I bought a fertile cross-bred Boa male for a cheap price. Not to pair but to make my male crazy. But how do you prevent this male pairing with my thoroughbred animals? A simple wooden travelling box with an open lid covered with a double layer of plasticized canary gauze became the new accommodation for this male. This way I could put him in the terrarium with the females without any risk of pairing. This way you get the scent of the other male in the females‘ terrariums. I also have used a shed skin, which I had retrieved earlier and put into the fridge, then thrown into the terrariums at the same time I have put my own male with the females. The scent of the cross-bred Boa was therefore strongly present in the terrariums without him being able to get to the females. This eventually had as a result, as my male rose to the occasion and courted one of the females frequently. This female slowly became thicker and fortunately continued to carry on eating. However, I adapted the size of the rats as she became thicker. You could see the white between her scales and she started to lie more and more on her side.

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OFF-SPRING

 

On august the 4th 2007 all this eventually resulted in a number of young melanogasters. Fortunately we were just in time to see the last babies being born. A splendid sight and an unforgettable experience. As you can see the babies do not have the same dark colour of the parents yet.  As they become older the colour intensity increases and they get darker. In the beginning the young animals are frequently seen as Peruvian, Colombian or Surinam „red-tails“. The last however can be distinguished, because of their pinkish colour, from melanogasters. With the other two it is more difficult, but if you see the parents there is no doubt possible.

 

I experience getting off-spring as a reward for taking care for the adult animals in a good manner. What is more beautiful than a terrarium full of all these little snakes hanging, lying or crawling around? It is then that the most formidable challenge frequently starts. Getting them to eat! Of course one type of snake is easier than the other. Young constrictors generally are quite easy. In general I offer food after the first shedding, but if they react attentively I even offer food before they shed. Frequently there are a couple of snakes which then already start eating. The young snakes that have not eaten before shedding are offered food as soon as they have shed.. After 2 or 3 times they eat your head of. For that individual which haven not eaten yet after offering food for 3 times, more time must be taken. Offering living or other kinds of food can help, for example: little rat, hamsters or many nipple mouse (Praomys natalensis ) are generally sufficient to get them eating. Do not leave living food unguarded behind with a snake, because this causes stress and possible bite marks to your just born off-spring. If they still have not eaten, then offering, with long tweezers, a just killed little rat with a small cut in the nose or head, can do the trick. If the young snake is still not eating and is strongly losing weight, then research of the faeces is advised. In an extreme case I proceed force feeding. Do take in account that in nature only some animals survive and we want to preserve 100%. Outburst is very normal. Raising the snakes is no problem if you apply the same care for the young snakes as for the adult animals. If you want to buy young animals ask the breeder to feed them in your presence, this way you can be certain that they eat well. Have you interest in one or more young snakes mail us for further information.

 

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Photo collectors must make do with this site, as no other photographs are available.

 

INTRODUCTION

CLASSIFICATION

ANNULATUS

CANINUS

HORTULANUS

MELANOGASTER

MEDICATION

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