Care Sheet for Amazon Tree Boas (Corallus hortulanus)
Common Name(s): Amazon Tree Boa, Garden Tree Boa, Garden Boa, ATB
Latin Name: Corallus hortulanus
Ease of Care: Moderate
Native To: Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Peru, Brazil, and most of the Amazonian River Territory
Adult Size: Six feet but very thin
Life Span: 20+ years
Brood Size: Up to 12 young
Appearance: Corallus are beautiful specimen that have an extremely variable coloration and a strictly arboreal appearance. They usually measure about 5-6 feet (1.5m) when full grown, but when they are balled up on a limb you would never expect this length do to their slender build. Amazons are very slender animals with comparably broad heads and large, beautiful eyes. Their eyes are very useful in finding these snakes because they have the distinct characteristic of giving off what is called “eye shine”. Eye shine is a reflection of light within the pupil that glows a bright red in darkness and can be very eerie when you’re reading your book at night and see your snake glowing back at you. Under these big eyes are another characteristic that furthers the beauty of these fine snakes – heat sensing pits. These supralabial pits detect heat much like a pit viper would, giving the snake the ability to see perfectly at night when it is most active. The normal phase, also known as the ‘garden phase’, of these beautiful snakes is a brown or grey color with a variable patterning of dark blotches that may have an ‘oil on water’ iridescence that makes these snakes beautiful under lighting. One of the most fascinating things about ATBs, however, is that they are extremely variable in color ranging from the normal phase to bright yellows, oranges, and reds. These animals are very sought after in the animal trade, and currently there is very little that points to what colors are going to come out of a single litter! One litter can be variable enough to contain specimen of all these colors when the parents may have been two separate colors as well! One of the most beautiful morphs, in this author’s opinion, is the “Red Hot” morph that has been produces containing no black pigmentation and a deep, beautiful red from head to tail.
Temperament: This is the kicker with these amazing snakes. They are extremely aggressive in true arboreal fashion. I have personally had a lot of luck with hand-taming my ATB, but it takes a lot of work, dodging, and bleeding to get to that point. They have very long teeth for the size of their head, and will strike at any movement they detect. Because of this, it is often good to place aggressive specimen in areas that see little or no traffic because they can actually hurt themselves while striking repeatedly at the glass as people walk by. This is the reason I have placed them as a moderate difficulty, because a snake this aggressive should not be kept by novice herp keepers. The only way to calm these snakes is through patience and repeated handling.
In the Wild: Where Amazon Tree Boas are present they are quite common in the wild, but this could change in the near future due to collection for the pet trade and habitat destruction. They can be found during the daylight hours both in the trees and on the ground in loose coils or tight balls waiting for the night to return. They are strictly a nocturnal snake, spending most of their time in the canopy as they are perfectly adapted to arboreal life with a prehensile tail, heat sensing pits, a long, slender body, and large eyes for hunting. They will readily take birds, lizards, frogs, and small mammals in the wild and this should not be overlooked when finicky eaters are encountered in captivity.
Caging: Amazon Tree Boas are a semi-arboreal species that will utilize both the floor and the vertical limits of the vivarium they are kept in. This being understood, it is very obvious that the tank have both a good amount of floor space and a decent amount of vertical limitations. A good sized enclosure for an ATB is (width x height x depth) 32”x32”x24” (in cm – 80x80x60) and that will satisfy the needs of a full-grown adult. What I would suggest is to get an enclosure that will satisfy an adult’s dimensions and add or take away the amount of cage decorations as the snake ages to provide the proper amount of hides so they don’t feel too stressed out. The cage needs to have enough ventilation to breathe and allow for good clean air to enter the cage, but not so ventilated that it compromises the high humidity that is needed for this species to thrive. The bedding for the cage can be aspen, shredded coconut husks (eco-earth), newspaper, or paper towels. I have had the most luck with shredded coconut husks because it seems to hold humidity better than other beddings and these snakes need a very high humidity. With an arboreal tendency, it is obvious that they need some sort of cage décor that goes beyond the general water bowl of an appropriate size and a ground hide. They need to have multiple places in the vertical space of the cage where branches form a “T” because they don’t form loops like a Green Tree Python or Emerald Tree Boa, but they make a loose set of coils at places where the branches T-off. The branches need to be 100-150% the diameter of the snake, and stable enough in the vivarium that they can support the full weight of a climbing snake. I have found the arboreal needs of these snakes to be a creative venue rather than a burden because it really allows me to get creative with how naturalistic I can make their vivarium and really make their colors pop! The use of the proper, nontoxic plants can help with the humidity needs of the snake as well as provide a very aesthetically pleasing vivarium that can be a centerpiece of a room. Get creative, but remember that these snakes will utilize the ground as well so allow for this aspect of ATBs.
Lighting: As with all snakes, Amazon Tree Boas do not need UVB light, but these lights do allow for live plants to be placed in vivariums and the presence of UVB light may have some benefits to your snake’s health. A 10-12 hour light period during the day can be beneficial as well, and can be used to help stimulate breeding during the winter months by decreasing the time period that light is present in the snakes cage.
Temperature & Humidity: One of the prime things to remember with Corallus care is that the temperature and humidity are vital to the snakes survival and overall wellbeing in captivity. The temperature should be taken in two ways inside the vivarium: the first temperature should be taken of the ambient heat because these snakes don’t spend much time on the ground and it should be 77-86 F (25-30 C), the second temperature should be taken of a basking spot in the upper-reaches of the vivarium during the day and this temp should be kept at about 90 F (32 C). I have had a lot of luck staying between the 82-84 F (28-29 C) mark during the day and letting my nighttime temperature drop to 75-77 F (24-25 c) at night. For humidity, this snake resides in the tropical forests of the Amazon and its enclosure humidity should reflect this habitat. A good humidity to strive for is one that is between 60-80%. There shouldn’t be standing water in the bottom of the cage, and with humidity this high there should be a careful watch for mold. The amount of ventilation in the cage may need to be changed in order to prevent mold from growing. A good general rule of thumb for keeping the humidity of the cage at the right level is to mist the cage 1-2 times a day depending on where you live and what the humidity level in the cage is. A good digital thermometer/hydrometer is of priceless necessity for these snakes as it can warn you immediately as to what might be wrong with your husbandry and how to fix it by turning down the heat or misting more or less. I can’t stress enough how vital the proper humidity and temperature levels are to these magnificent snakes, so take the proper precautions to make sure you’ve got it right!
Feeding: This is one of the most amazing things to witness as a Corallus owner! These snakes usually have a great feeding response and it makes for some very interesting viewing. These snakes will actually strike and grab from where they are perched on a limb and wrap the prey up as they hang. Watching a beautiful ATB hanging upside down and eating in this manner is a very intriguing experience that should not be missed by owners that aren’t squeamish about this sort of thing. I have had a lot of luck feeding f/t mice of appropriate sizes to this species. I suggest f/t over live rodents because f/t are readily available in most areas and on the internet, and live have the ability to seriously harm the snake. A point should be presented that because of their long, slender build it may be necessary to feed multiple prey to the snake before moving up another size in rodent so that proper care is taken not to distend the snake to an uncomfortable proportion. A good rule of thumb for all snakes is not more than 150% the size of the snake’s body. If your ATB is unwilling to take mice as prey, and some imports may not, their natural prey are mostly lizards and frogs and these can be used as prey or to scent prey with finicky eaters. Juveniles can be fed every 5-7 days, but sub-adults and adults should only be fed every 1-2 weeks. Overweight ATBs can be very unhealthy and this should be watched for in order to make sure your ATB is as comfortable and healthy as possible.
Sexing: The only way to appropriately sex this species is by probing them properly. As mentioned in previous caresheets, this can be very dangerous to the snake and should be done with proper care by somebody who is experienced or should be overlooked by somebody who is experienced.
Breeding: These snakes are relatively easy to breed in captivity and this aspect makes these snakes very good entry level breeders for those who want to move onto breeding more difficult species like Green Tree Pythons. Breeding takes place during the winter months and this is usually instigated by a slight drop in temperature of about 9 F (5 C). This coupled with a shorter daylight period of about 8-10 hours should be enough to stimulate breeding during the winter months. After being introduced the males should court the female and breeding should happen relatively quickly. Allowing the male to breed a female multiple times is always a good idea to ensure the best odds possible that she will get pregnant. This could from a few days to a month and the male should be introduced every few days until he no longer shows interest in the female. After a female is impregnated she will need to slowly have her temps raised in order to ensure proper gestation and her temps and humidity levels need to be monitored extra carefully in order to ensure that she is as comfortable as possible. Food items may or may not be taken depending on the snake, but they should be offered every two weeks. Gestation will last approximately six months and your female will look like she’s about to pop by the time she gives birth. Up to twelve, variably colored babies can be expected and they should be inspected upon birth for kinks and other birth defects before being placed in separate neonatal cubes.
Care of Young: Young are generally easy to care for. The set-up of their vivarium should be a tank that is a 12in (30cm) cube with paper towels for litter. A waterbowl should be present as well as one ground hide on the floor of the cube. A mesh can be used for a vertical climb with plastic leaves for an arboreal hide. A heating pad underneath the cubes should be sufficient for the heating aspect of the snakes and the cube should remain at the same atmospheric temperature as adults. One of the most important things to remember is that newborns should be handled as little as possible because they are very delicate for the first few months. A good rule of thumb is to not handle the snakes until they are taking naked mice repeatedly and consistently. A good once-over is needed at birth to inspect for kinks in the spine and any other birth defects that might be present. Another thing to watch out for is that young ATBs have a tendency to “knot” themselves at the tail and this can lead to necrotic tails that end up falling off within a few months. It is rare, but it has happened in the past and should be watched for.
In summary, Amazon Tree Boas are extremely variable, rewarding animals to keep. They are too aggressive for novice keepers, but can become hand-tame with patience and persistence on both the part of the snake and the handler. They make amazing centerpieces for any room and as long as their temperature and humidity needs are met, their caging can be just as much fun as the snakes themselves. I hope that this caresheet has helped you understand these beautiful snakes and that you will consider keeping them sometime in your future collections.
Frank and Gijs. “Husbandry.” Corallus.nl. <http://www.corallus.nl/index.html>
13 February 2008.
Mattison, Chris. Keeping and Breeding Snakes. London: Blandford, 1988.