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Madagascar Tree Boa

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Is the Madagascar Tree Boa right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Malagasy Green Tree Boa

Scientific name: Sanzinia madagascariensis

The basics:
The Madagascar Tree Boa is regularly bred in captivity but facing extinction in the wild. In addition to being well-suited as a pet, this species offers us a chance to assist in ensuring the survival of an endangered reptile. Once found throughout all but the southwestern corner of Madagascar, deforestation now confines the Madagascar Tree Boa to perhaps 10-20% of its former range. Quite adaptable (to all but habitat loss!), it may be found in rainforests, humid mountainside woodlands, and arid, brushy scrub. Except when young, this nocturnal snake is not nearly as arboreal as the Amazon Tree Boa and similar species; adults spend most of their time on the ground, but will hunt in trees.

Appearance / health:
Two subspecies, differing somewhat in coloration, are known; both are well-established in the pet trade. The eastern subspecies of the Madagascar Tree Boa, Sanzinia madagascariensis madagascariensis, is green to grayish-green in color. Those living in the western half of the range and on the island of Nosy Be, S. m. volontany, are known in the trade as “mandarins”. Most have distinct yellow or reddish casts over a brown to tan background. Both races bear black reticulations and are heavily-built. They range from 4-7 feet in length, with “mandarin” specimens tending to be a bit larger than those from eastern Madagascar. Although they stand out in bare terrariums, Madagascar Tree Boas are nearly invisible against the leaves and ground cover of their natural habitat.

Behavior / temperament:
Although often calm in demeanor, these large, powerful constrictors must be handled with care. Two experienced people should always be on hand when snakes of 6 feet or more in length are fed or handled. Individual dispositions vary, and hungry individuals may strike at nearby movements. In general, however, Madagascar Tree Boas adapt well to human contact.

Housing:
Madagascar Tree Boas are relatively inactive and do well in modestly-sized enclosures. Youngsters may be accommodated in terrariums of a length equal to their own, while adults require custom-built cages measuring at least 4 x 4 feet. Newspapers, cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. A dry cave or hollow log serves well as a shelter; a retreat stocked with damp sphagnum moss should also be available. Youngsters will utilize climbing branches, but these are not necessary for adults. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 75-80 F; basking temperature: 86 F.

Due to their large size, adult Madagascar Tree Boas produce copious amounts of fecal material which must be removed regularly. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

Diet:
Wild Madagascar Tree Boas feed upon rodents, bats, and birds, which are killed by constriction. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats.

Breeding:
A winter cooling period of 60-65 F by night, with a daytime high of 72 F, will stimulate breeding. The presence of multiple males “wrestling” for breeding rights is useful, but not essential. The young are born alive, after a rather long gestation period of 6-9 months, during which time the expectant mother will not feed (nerve-racking for some owners!) Females produce 6-12 youngsters per litter, and generally breed only once each 2-3 years. Newborn Madagascar Tree Boas average 9-12 inches long at birth, and can take fuzzy mice as their first meal.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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