A non venomous snake, the boa constrictor is nevertheless one of the most feared inhabitants of the jungle. But in reality it is much less terrifying than many people imagine. The boa constrictor kills its prey by constriction. Once it catches its victim, the snake wraps its body around the prey in coils, tightening its grip each time the victim breathes out. Eventually no longer able to breathe, the prey dies of suffocation.
Food and Hunting
The boa constrictor eats a wide variety of food. Young snakes eat mice, small birds, lizards, and frogs. As the snake grows, the size of its prey increases. Adults will eat monkeys, capybaras, agoutis, caimans, and wild pigs. The boa is a good swimmer and spends a lot of time near and in rivers. It waits for any prey which may come near the water to drink. Once a victim has been overpowered, it is swallowed whole. Since the boa is cold blooded and slow moving, it does not require a great amount of food. After eating large prey, such as a wild pig, the snake will not need to eat for a week or more.
The boa constrictor’s preferred habitat is rainforest, but it is also found in semiarid savannah. Because its range covers such a large area, the boa constrictor varies considerably in color, marking, and size. On Hog Island, off Central America, the boa constrictor is seldom longer than 3 feet; in most of Central America, it reaches 10 feet, while in Trinidad and Venezuela, it can grow to 20 feet. In the warmer areas, the boa constrictor is active throughout the year. However, in the cooler climes, it may spend long periods of time inactive. It is usually the more active young snakes that climb trees. Adults are slow moving and prefer the forest floor. A boa constrictor uses its prehensile (capable of grasping) tail to anchor itself to a branch.
The boa constrictor has appendages resembling claws on each side of its vent (genital opening). They are the remnants, or vestiges, of the hind limbs inherited from the boa’s lizard like ancestors. The appendages are generally larger in males than females and are thought to be used by the male to stimulate the female to mate. After fertilization, the eggs remain in the female’s body, where they develop over several months inside thin membranes. Unlike its close relative, the python, the boa constrictor gives birth to live, fully formed young. The protective membranes rupture as the young are released. As many as sixty snakes are born at one time, each measuring 17-20 inches. The young boa constrictor begins feeding within a week or two after its birth and grows quickly, usually reaching a yard in length after several months. It is sexually mature at 2-3 years when it reaches 6-10 feet.
Relationsip with Man
Man is the adult boa constrictor’s only enemy. However, young boa constrictors are preyed upon by a large variety of forest dwelling animals such as coatis, hawks, caimans, and wild pigs. In many parts of its range, the boa constrictor is considered a pest and is killed by farmers because it kills their chickens. It is believed that the snake kills other types of livestock as well. Boa constrictors are also hunted for their skins, which are sold at high prices. They are killed for food, and also simply out of fear of them.