Emerald Tree Boas

The purpose of this article is not to instruct you or tell you how to keep your emerald tree boas (Corallus caninus). It is simply a guide; a guide based on my experiences with these wonderful animals. Through my experiences, I have been through all of the ups and downs of emerald keeping. I have brought animals back from the dead and have accidentally killed perfectly healthy specimens.  I'm not proud of the latter but my interests in keeping emeralds began at a time in herpetoculture when relatively little was known about keeping these animals and information was guarded.  I had to learn things on my own and its on this page that I look forward to sharing this info with you.  This is a constantly evolving page and I welcome all comments.

Although I work with snakes as a profession, in no way do I consider myself an expert, just an enthusiast. Thereís something about this particular species and all of its variants which is just mystifying. Although my animals will sit for hours, sometimes days, on end without so much as moving an inch, I often find myself staring blankly into their cages for large portions of time, watching and adoring these incredible emerald beauties

Caging for emeralds has but four major requirements; proper temperature control, proper humidity control, ventilation, and perching space. Beyond this, it is completely up to you how it is that you would like to house your emerald tree boa. My personal opinion, which I cannot stress enough is SIMPLICITY, SIMPLICITY, SIMPLICITY. I have found that the simpler a cage is, the better it works for me. Although I favor a very sterile environment, I have to admit that there is no better display animal for an aesthetically pleasing setup than an emerald tree boa.  I've seen (and created) some breathtaking vivaria for keeping Emeralds however my personal taste with regards to my collection is somewhat bland.  When housing several animals, it is just not convenient to have naturalistic vivaria all over the place which warrant double the effort to keep clean when compared to a sterile-type cage.

Caging is completely relative to your taste however, make sure you meet the basic requirements as well as common sense safety requirements for you and your snake. When choosing a heat source, avoid a bulb or other heat source that is exposed to your snake. Emeralds are great at burning themselves on exposed light bulbs and ceramic heat-emitters. Another reason to avoid exposed bulbs is because emeralds are attracted to heat and will often zero in on the bulb as a threat or possible food item when provoked. I have seen emerald tree boas strike at and break light bulbs, sometime resulting in injuries such as cuts and burns. If you do opt to have a bulb in the cage, make sure it is shielded from the snake. This can simply be accomplished by making a small cage around the bulb which prevents any type of contact. Just be extra careful when disturbing your emerald tree boa as it could still probably injure itself even with the wire caging.

For substrates, I like to use paper towels (simplicity, get it). This proves to be the easiest to maintain both humidity and a clean environment, the only drawback being that it is not all that aesthetically pleasing. Besides easy maintenance, I feel that it is much healthier for the animals and allows you to spot any potential health problems easily. Although many people successfully use mulch or commercial bedding for their cages with no problems, I have seen severe cases of mouthrot resulting from small pieces of substrate lodging itself in the snakeís mouth.   There's alot of surface area inside of that mouth in order to house those large canine-like teeth and the tiniest piece of bedding could be enough to cause infection.  It's extremely difficult for emeralds to work pieces of substrate out of their mouths.

  Another aspect of caging not to be overlooked is perching which is vital for properly keeping this arboreal species.  Remember in that inside of a cage, the perches you provide are the only "habitat" it really comes in contact with.   In the wild, emeralds live on limbs in trees of varying size and shape. I prefer to use branches taken from my local patches of woods (or backyard trees) which are changed several times throughout the year.  If using wood from outside, be absolutely positive that it's collected from an area which is not sprayed for pests.  It is important that you provide your emerald tree boa with the right diameter or it will feel uncomfortable and may refuse to perch.  Ideally, I try to use a branch that is at least as thick as the thickest portion of the snake, hopefully with some natural variation. A branch with additional sections that branch out is ideal since it will provide several different diameters for the emerald to rest on. I have noticed that they will often take advantage of forks or crotches in branches, or sometimes little thin areas will be utilized. No matter what variation there is always make sure that there is some portion about as thick as the snake itself. This is very important when you snake eats. It is vital for your emerald tree boa to be able to evenly distribute its weight along the branch. If it is unable to do this it will sit uncomfortably and sooner or later regurgitate any significant meal. The purpose of changing the branches is primarily to provide the snake with some stimuli but I also like to keep the wood fresh. Since I usually like to use pieces that have fallen naturally, they are often dry. When kept in a high humid environment they are very likely to develop some sort of fungal growth if your cage is not well enough ventilated. This may or may not be harmful to your snake but it is certainly an indication that your ventilation needs to be adjusted accordingly. Some forms of fungus can develop into a form of scale rot which is obviously not good for your pet. You can usually scrape it off and disinfect the branch again, I prefer to get a new piece. No matter what, it is very important to properly disinfect the branches you use. This is vital in order to remove any insects living in the wood as well as any pesticides or other impurities that may be found on the surface. I like to thoroughly clean branches under very hot water with a wire brush or scouring pad and use the tiniest bit of bleach to help disinfect it. Some people like to cook the wood in an oven before using it.

Next comes the water bowl, I have seen countless pieces of literature that say emeralds wonít drink out of water bowls... this is not the case. Almost all emeralds will drink from a bowl whenever they come in contact with it, this is the key. Contact with the water bowl can be achieved by either providing a very large bowl on the floor of the cage or an elevated bird-type bowl adjacent to the emerald tree boaís branch (or both). I like to use a disposable Rubbermaid shoe box on the floor of the cage directly underneath the perch. The snake can easily reach this from its perch and will often drink from this bowl with no problems. A large water dish can also be very helpful when trying to provide humidity in the cage. A higher humidity level can be reached by simply placing the water dish over (or under) the heat source or by placing an air stone in it. The latter keeps the water a bit fresher, longer, which will aid in getting you snake to drink from a dish. Iíve noticed that emeralds will sometimes not drink from water that has been sitting too long. Sometimes, as soon as I change their water dish they will immediately come down for a long drink so if at all possible try to refresh their water bowls regardless of how clean it looks at least once every 48 hrs or so. No matter what type of water dish you put in the cage, never keep from spraying you snakes, this is very important in my opinion. Spraying snakes is vital because not only do they drink from their coils but you can see a considerable difference in skin tone and scale iridescence when they are sprayed often. They best type sprayers are the small hand-held pump-type sprays that are usually readily available at Home Depot. These sprays work best because they emit a nice steady mist versus the disturbing pump action of the typical spray bottle which will only disturb and agitate your emerald. The pump mister spray bottle has a nice even spray that is more naturalistic, I often see my snakes drinking as I gently spray them down with this type of bottle. I also use the larger versions that consist of a larger (about 5 gal.) container, a hose and long nosed sprayer with an adjustable nozzle, similar to what exterminators use. When spraying an emerald, it is best to try to come from above in order to prevent spraying into the thermo-sensitive pits located on the snakeís labials. When you spray into these pits, you will often annoy the snake and disturb it from its typical resting position. This must be a horrible sensory overload, avoid doing it. Obviously, your ultimate goal with all of this is to achieve the proper hydration and humidity levels, but there is such a thing as too much humidity. Always try to have some sort of drying out period for your snakes. At least a few hours in every 24 hour cycle. This is important in order to prevent any fungal infections that usually occur on the ventral surface of the animal.  (Note: I have employed the use of an automatic mysting system since the writing of this article).

 As with all Neotropical snakes, it is best to provide a 12/12 photoperiod for your emerald tree boa. In the Neotropics, there really isnít a significant change in photoperiod that coincides with the seasons, so you can pretty much keep this schedule all year round.  Any type of bright lighting causes noticeable stress in my experience. Emeralds do not tolerate bright lights very well, often opting to stay as far away from the light as possible or spending the daylight hours with their heads tucked tightly in their coils. In a well established emerald, lighting may be more tolerated but it is my belief that this can be detrimental when trying to establish a fairly recent import or an animal that just isnít well established in your collection yet. The best thing to do is to reach a comfortable balance between the two, if using a bright light be sure to provide cover in the way of real or artificial foliage.

Now, there will probably be people who will argue with my temperature regimen, but no one will ever be happy and thatís just something weíll all have to live with.
For the most part, I like to keep my temperature steady for my babies, juvies, and non-breeding adults. For these animals I like to keep a nice stable 80-82F all day long, sometimes with a slight drop at night and a slight raise during the day that happens naturally without any intentional manipulation.  It usually never swings more than two or three degrees in any given direction. At these temps the animals remain nice and metabolically stable and have no problems whether digesting or shedding. Adults, especially breeders go through a much more complicated scheduling which I donít want to get into in much detail because of the fact that it is very variable. As a rule, I try to keep adults at 80-85F during the day and dropping down into the mid-seventies at night during the off season when they are just putting on weight. Towards the end of September, I begin nightly drops into the lower 70's. The temperature sometimes dips as low as 68F but rarely does it go lower than 70F. The day time highs reach about 82-86F in order to offset the NTLís (night time lows). This continues throughout the majority of the breeding season, when actual breeding is observed I often employ the use of rain chambers to increase humidity drastically which seems to put the icing on the cake. Later on, about mid to late March the males and non-gravid females are returned to the regular 80F ambient temperatures. Possibly gravid females are also maintained at an even 80F but are offered a basking site in excess of 100F with enough sapce to thermo-regulate on their own.  It's vital to provide a cooler area dipping down to the upper 70's in order for the female to choose a comfortable gradient. After parturition they are returned to normal steady temps until the next season. Now many people will recommend the use of lower temperatures, even going so far as to say that lower temps will correct regurgitation problems. This is true to an extent but care must be taken that an animal with chronic regurgitation is not exposed to sub-optimal temperatures that will further debilitate digestion. You want to keep that metabolism going at a decent rate.  It is my personal belief that an emerald tree boa should not be dropped below 65F, ever.

The emerald requires the most specialized feeding regimen of all the snakes I have ever kept. Itís kinda like having a pet gremlin, there are certain rules you MUST follow or you will end up with a big mess on your hands, often compromising the health of your emerald tree boa. First and foremost is size of prey. Whether your feeding a neonate or an eight foot Basin, always feed slightly smaller than the girth of your snake. It is much better to feed smaller prey items a bit more often versus a larger one once in a while. Smaller food items get digested and assimilated much quicker adding weight and size a bit faster, and most importantly will reduce the risk of regurgitation. As a rule, even my largest adults get nothing larger than a 3-week-old small rat, something within the weight range of 40 grams is ideal, even for an adult. A small rat every 14 or so days will keep your emerald tree boa in perfect conditions. Babies should be fed a small fuzzy or crawler (according to the size of the baby snake) every 5-7 days. A juvie will do well with a crawler to weanling mouse every 10 days or so. Although your emerald tree boa, especially the youngsters will often tempt you to feed them by sitting in their characteristical hunting pose, DONíT! Youíll regret it later on, trust me. Try to feed prekilled whenever possible in order to prevent injury to your emerald tree boa, live rodents usually react violently when snatched by those huge canine-like teeth. Your snake can easily lose an eye or earn a permanent scar, something you definitely donít want. I feed thawed frozen rodents by warming them up with a space heater for a few seconds before offering them to the snake. Emerald tree boaís are so thermo-sensitive that once accustomed, they will often snatch their meal before you can get it in the cage, it really makes you think sometimes. If an emerald wonít take a warmed rodent at first, you can usually entice a really weird feeding response by putting the warm rodent up to the snakeís face (being sure not to touch its face or it will hide) and then gently, but firmly pinching or tickling the snake underneath. I say that itís a weird feeding response because often the snake will respond by simply opening itís mouth and almost gently taking the rodent. Sometimes, youíll get a violent grab but for the most part they just grasp the rodent and begin swallowing. Some people like to feed chicks to their emerald tree boaís, I donít recommend it because Iíve seen cases in other snakes where beaks can perforate certain sections of the G.I. tract and also because defecation from a chick meal smells absolutely horrible. In addition, there are salmonella possibilities if you really wanna get that anal, but letís move on. Recent imports may often prove a bit harder to get to feed.   One of the most common reason for annorexia in imports is dehydration.  If an emerald is dehydrated it may not want to eat.  Iíve seen many cases where C.B. animals will not eat for a while when transplanted to a new cage or shipped out, this also happens often in acclimated wild-caught animals. If a recent import will not feed then you must begin the waiting game.  Itís just a simple matter of offering a weaned rodent (live) every two weeks until one day you hear a shrill from the rodent as it is grabbed. Unless the animal is severely thin (which often denotes other underlying problems) you should never resort to force feeding. It is often very detrimental and can greatly lessen the chance of the snake ever feeding on its own. Be sure to warm up the rodent very well if you are feeding frozen thawed.  The secret here is to make sure the rodent is VERY warm, almost hot.

In general, emerald tree boaís are amazing animals, although difficult to keep in the sense that they require total dedication, but they are well worth the extra effort. Itís amazingly gratifying to look into a cage and see this massive head staring out at you trailed by huge emerald coils and topped with bright white triangles that play on the light. They are truly magnificent animals that deserve nothing but the best as our guests. If you are not ready to spend a significant amount of time and money on the proper husbandry techniques and necessary equipment then an emerald is not for you. Why would you buy a brand new Lamborghini and park it out on the street? The same goes for this snake. Donít buy an emerald if you expect to place an adult in a 10 or 15 gallon tank with a screen lid and a spotlight. If youíre looking for something cool to hang around your arm and show of to your friends, get a corn snake, or a Burmese python, not an emerald. In other words, this snake is a display animal, it is not in the nature of this snake to be handled and prodded. In the wild, an emerald is only seized seconds before its skull is pierced by a hawk, falcon, cat, or even monkey. All of my enclosures are fitted with removable perches so that if I have to remove the animals for any reason it does not involve directly handling the snakes.  As a good general rule, these are not handleable animals. I know that tons of you out there are getting ready to write me and tell me that Iím wrong, youíre right. The point Iím trying to make is that although there are tons of exceptions, this is an animal that best benefits from being left alone. Treat them like the gems that they are and I guarantee that you wonít be disappointed.