How to Handle a Red-Tail Boa

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to keep an 11-feet, 40-pound giant snake as a pet? Scary right? Well, yes, it’s a scary thought if it’s your first time. But you’d find that Boas might not be so dangerous if handled properly. 

Whether you want it as a companion, for display, or educational purposes, the skill of handling a red-tailed boa is one you’d thank yourself for learning. There’s been much fearmongering about large snakes – from snake movies to short clips on social media. 

Reading this article, however, you’d find it exciting to learn that these reptiles aren’t so unfriendly. In fact, by learning to handle red-tailed boas correctly, you wouldn’t need to disturb your vet about every little new thing you notice in your Boa. On the Boa’s side, they might enjoy your handling as an opportunity for beneficial exercise.

red tail boa in tree

A Little Background to Red-tailed Boas 

The red-tailed Boa, also known as a boa constrictor, is one of the choicest snake species for a pet. You can easily identify them by the red color pattern on their tail’s end. These colorful giant snakes are native to Brazil and the surrounding regions where they spent most of their lives in lowlands, woodlands, and rain forests, often hanging on tree branches as arboreal snakes do. 

A fully grown boa constrictor can measure up to 11 feet and weigh up to 60 pounds. Their immense strength, voracious food consumption, and constrictive muscle make it no wonder they can live up to 30 years in captivity if well catered for. 

As beautiful as it is to own one of these, not every community legalizes the keeping of boas. Hence, be sure to do your research well before bringing one home. Boa constrictors have become popularly accepted as pets partially due to their docile temperament and non-venomous nature. 

Nonetheless, they can still damage by constricting (hanging around a person’s arm or neck) and biting if they feel your hand as food. 

Five Tips for Successfully Handling a Red-tailed Boa 

Although docile, snakes aren’t naturally comfortable with being handled by people. So if you wouldn’t frighten them or get bitten, it’s important to know how best to handle and tame them. Let’s dive into a few helpful guidelines: 

Wash Your Hands 

Washing hands is the topmost priority when handling any pet, much more reptiles. Reptile skin has a higher sensitivity to germs and oils on human skin. There’s a possibility of injury or skin irritation if you handle your Boa with unwashed hands. 

Please use antibacterial soap and warm water to give your hands a thorough scrub for 20 seconds, then dry them with a towel before handling. If you’ve spent a good while with other animals earlier, changing clothes is best before approaching your Boa. 

Make First Approach With a Snake Hook 

Snakes might not be intelligent enough to tell the difference between your hands and their food. So an initial approach with your hands might not be a good idea. Instead, use a paper towel-wrapped snake hook gently towards their head. Make sure you position the hook where they can see it and wrap around it. 

You can pick it up if they stay calm and don’t move away. Make your hands visible in the tank. A rule of thumb in dealing with a boa is not to make any surprises. Surprise visits may trigger the snake’s hurting instincts and attack mode. 

Place your hands right before the boa constrictor, not above its head. When a boa senses an unseen approach from behind, it’s their natural response to run or attack. It’d help if you start at the opposite side of the tank from where your Boa can see you. 

red tailed boa in grass

Look Out for Stress Signs

As you advance towards the Boa, watch to see if there are any stress signs. This includes heavy breathing, tense body, and quick fear-based movements.

If it quickly moves away from you, it’s stressed, and now’s not the best time. 

If you really need to handle it at that point, try stroking its body away from the head using the hook. If it still slithers away, you better leave it and try another day. Also, you don’t handle a snake when it’s shedding. You’ll know its shedding by its blue or milky eyes and the loosening and graying of its skin. 

There’ll be a drop in food intake during the shedding period, and some owners have said they are “cranky and irritable” during this period. 

Provide Support with the Hook Under Its Body

Place your hook under the Boa’s body near the head and slowly drag it towards yourself. You want it to see you as a tree, so it wraps itself around you. It’s not an attack; hence you need to stay cool and collected at this point. It won’t be difficult picking it up if it’s a young or infant boa. But otherwise, you might need extra hands. 

Your being intentional about providing support to the Boa when it’s on you makes it feel safe and relaxed. Try panicking or dropping your hands, and the Boa tightens itself around you for security. And you don’t want that. Please ensure to watch your neck closely at this junction. Boas are expert chokers as they aren’t venomous. But this only happens when they feel threatened or surprised. 

Return the Boa and Wash Your Hands

After 15 minutes of handling, gently guide its body back to its enclosure by supporting beneath its head. Then confidently unwrap the rest of the body from yourself alongside. Be careful not to “drop” any part of the Boa down. 

Rather, place it down with ease and caution. Reptiles may carry bacteria that may be unhealthy to humans. Then scrub your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap for 20 seconds. 


Red-tailed Boas are intelligent creatures with individual personalities that owners should consider. Although they’re generally docile, some are safer to handle (and appreciate handling) than others, just like dogs and cats. Please take note of what your Boa wants and respect its choice. 

If, after you’ve done all you can, it prefers its privacy to your handling, use it as an attractive display animal. If it doesn’t mind being shuffled around, you’ve got yourself a good educational animal. 

However, if its handleability is of major concern to you, make inquiries from the breeder about the snake’s disposition and its parents before buying. If you successfully go through this procedure thrice, you can call yourself “good” at handling red-tailed Boas.

handling a red tail boa