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Old 03-16-18, 04:11 AM   #1 (permalink)
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My Boa Feeding Regimens - TL;DR Warning

Since other keepers have expressed worry with my snakes' feeding habits and growth rates, I'm posting a thread here, to either assuage fears, or receive feedback. I feed my boas with a slow, healthy growth in mind. Keep in mind, I do not view boas that reach 6' by/before 3 years old as healthy or properly-fed, and I do not aim for my females to be breeding size before 5-6 years old. I am defining breeding size as 6' minimum, considering I own regular "Colombians."

I am perfectly willing to listen to advice, if it makes sense, and comes from boa-specific experienced keepers and breeders. I am not interested in hearing about your 2-3 year old females breeding at 6'. Breeders such as Vin Russo, and Dr. Warren Booth (who has been studying boa constrictors in the wild as well as in captivity), as well as several other very experienced keepers in other forums and on FB, have all agreed that my feeding regimen is acceptable and have been getting very similar growth as I have in my boas (some are growing them even slower than I do but I prefer my current feeding regimens). I haven't talked with Russo directly, but he has a very large influence over the other conservative feeders I have talked to, and I have interacted with Dr. Booth on several occasions. Gray Rushin is another breeder considered a conservative feeder, but I am not as familiar with his feeding habits as I am with the others. I just know that he advises females be slow grown to be bred at 5-7 years old at 6'+ and 9-12 lbs, and males at 3-5 years.

Considering that current research shows rapid growth, overfeeding, and lack of exercise opportunities are incredibly unhealthy for our reptiles, I am not looking for advice that is too extremely on the heavy end than I am currently feeding. Too many people overestimate the amount of food boas require to grow, and snakes in general, and overestimate the growth rate considered healthy that also still does not limit adult sizes.

Let me be clear here: my feeding regimens are not intended to be maintenance feeding. I do not feed my boas to limit their adult size, only to slow their growth to levels that are healthier for them long and short term, their growth is likely still much more rapid than their wild counterparts but much slower than the average captive boa. My feeding regimens still facilitate upward growth, just not at the absolutely insane levels that have become the norm in the hobby (such as 5' by 1-2 years, 6' by 2-3 years, 7'-8' before they even turn 6 years old). Since you cannot accurately track fat deposits by simply looking at a boa, I have instead opted for a feeding regimen that is reasonably able to keep my adult boas at a healthy weight while still allowing growth in babies.

First up is Nymeria, who I have raised from a hatchling on a conservative diet. She is the thickest boa in girth I own besides Dominika (who is a full grown mature female).

Here is when I first got her at 1 month old, and 80 grams. She measured out at 20". She was started out on hopper mice every 10-14 days for the first year of her life, and then 14 days during the second year of her life. She is in her third year now (she'll be 3 in June, which will begin her fourth year), and normally gets fed every 3 weeks. I fed her a week early to take some feeding photos for this thread, since one week early here and there won't hurt her.



Plus, a photo from later in 2015, to show body tone after she had been eating with me for a few months. This one was December 2015, after she was with me for about 5 months. She has clearly grown significantly, and has a lot more girth.



I don't have any good full body photos of her from June 2016 (her 1 year birthday), so here's one of her from July 2016. She weighed in at 284 grams (before defecating - it was 272 grams after she defecated) and measured 31"-32" in June 2016, a weight gain of almost 200 grams and a length growth of 11"-12" in 1 year's time. When she was 9 months old, she moved up from hopper mice to small adult mice, and then once again to jumbo mice about a month before her 1st birthday. So she only had 2 adult mice before I opted to move her to jumbo mice. During the ~4 months I had her on jumbo mice, I noticed a lot of weight gain but almost no length growth, so I went ahead and moved her up to weaned rats at ~15 months old and 360+ grams.

I believe she reached 3' exactly at around 13-14 months old.



This next photo is a few weeks earlier than the June weight/lengths, from the end of May 2016, to maybe show her body tone a little better and a 2 month size difference. The photo directly below was in May 2016, and the photo directly above was in July 2016.



At the time this photo below was taken (July 2017), she had been on weaned rats for 9 months. Again, no full body size photos for her in June, but this one was taken in July. During June 2017 of her 2nd birthday, she weighed in at ~500 grams. I don't have a weight recorded for June 2017, but the following month she was 528 grams, so following her historic growth, 500 grams give or take seems a reasonable guess.

I don't have a single length recorded since January 2017 (which was 3'1" according to SerpWidgets), but I have a photo saved that shows her length at 3'8" when put into SerpWidgets, taken around the time of her 2nd birthday. I had stopped taking length measurements last year since SerpWidgets seemed incredibly inaccurate, and it's difficult to get them to stretch out completely. All previous lengths given were hand-measured, but all measurements taken by hand are much more rarely taken than SW photos allow me to measure, simply because of difficulty level of getting them to cooperate.

The lengths I got from SW varied wildly, bouncing back and forth, and being off by as much as 4"+ when I did get around to hand-measuring the snakes.



Finally, this was her most recent photo, taken March 10 of this year. She won't turn 3 until June 5, but she weighed in at 644 grams on March 16 of this year. Her growth has slowed down considerably this past year, but for anyone not aware of my fiasco last year, she spent quite some time with my mother with either spotty or nonexistent feedings.



She spent a total of ~4 months with my mom, where I would make the trip to my mom's house to go out and feed the snakes there, but on the feeding days I couldn't make it out there, my mom would not feed them in my stead. Then, after 1.5-2 months in, my car completely broke down and I could not feed them at all, and still my mom refused to feed them. They all went ~2.5 months without a single meal, plus the previous 1.5-2 months where they didn't get to eat every meal. So, as to be expected, everyone's yearly growth for the past year has slowed down. I am feeding a bit heavier right now to make up for that period of lost growth, but not by much. I'm feeding every other meal a week earlier (including the meal in the photos I am providing for this thread), and I'm moving my snakes up in prey size a little earlier than I'm 100% comfortable with, but making up for that by feeding their normal smaller meals in between the larger meals.

This is her feeding photo from March 15. The rat was 62 grams, and she weighed in at 644 grams, making the rat 9.6% of her weight. It left a bulge, more than I normally allow for in her, but again, I'm giving the growing boas a bit more food here and there to make up for lost feeding time last year. Usually she gets the smaller of the small rats from the batch, but I wanted to show something close to the 10-15% people keep telling me is the "appropriate" meal size for my boas. This isn't even quite 10% of her weight, and still leaves a visible bulge, albeit a small one. 10% is my max for smaller boas, but I try not to go much above that if I can help it, and my adults certainly do not get meals even close to that large.



A rat 15% of her weight would be 96.6 grams, which is even bigger than the rat I gave my 830 gram boa (which will be posted in another reply to this thread, due to photo number restrictions on this forum), and a rat 10% would be 64.4 grams, which is only a couple grams higher than what I gave her. Which I am comfortable offering to her every once in awhile, but not for every single meal. I do not feel 15% is appropriate for a meal size, even as the occasional meal.

The entire bulge after swallowing has been circled, for your convenience.



She has also been getting day old chicks, which are roughly equal to a weaned rat in weight. I don't have any weights on those atm, so I can't give you an exact percentage, but Perfect Prey lists their chicks at 1-2 oz (28-56.7 grams), which is 4-8.8% of her current weight, and roughly 4.6-9.5% of her weight when I first started offering them to her (600 and 614 grams). Just going off of the listed weight, and not the actual weights of what I've been feeding her. I don't normally weigh my feeders, I go off of bump size immediately after swallowing, I only weigh my feeders when others need the information. I can weigh the next chick I feed her, but I'm only feeding them every other meal.

I plan on trying to get her stretched out here soon to try for another length record, now that she has been eating reliably in my care, and has probably put on a little more growth than she was during the time with my mom. I don't think she's quite 4' yet, but has to be very close by now, but very well could have reached 4'. Guess I'll find out.
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