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The General Care and Maintenance of Candoia :
THE PACIFIC BOAS
BY JERRY CONWAY

Introduction

 

What is Candoia? Candoia is a family or genus of snakes that includes 3 valid species at the time of this writing. Further taxonomic research may show Candoia to include 5 or more valid species within the genus. They are small boas, normally between 2 & 3 feet, which occur in many different sizes, colors and patterns.  Candoia look venomous, particularly the viper boa, which in its native habitat is killed routinely by humans who mistake it for the highly venomous death adder.  Many spectacular colors may occur in each separate species. Perhaps the most beautiful of all is the snow white background color of the Santa Isabel ground boa. They are truly unique, diverse snakes which deserve more attention in the reptile community. Candoia are very easy to maintain and even breed. It is with this book that I will try to help you discover the beauty, diversity and wonders of the world of Candoia: the Pacific Boas.

 

 

Descriptions and distribution

 

This species list is what I believe should be accepted as common & scientific Candoia species

 

Pacific or New Guinea tree boa (Candoia carinata carinata)

Pacific or Solomon Islands ground boas (Candoia carinata paulsoni)

Solomon Islands tree boas (Candoia bibroni australis)

Viper boas or New Guinea ground boas (Candoia aspera)

Fiji boas (Candoia bibroni bibroni)

Halmahera ground boas (Candoia carinata sp?)

 

 

The snake genus Candoia comprises a small group of boas found only on islands in the South Pacific. Candoia do not occur on any mainland country. They occupy a wide variety of habitats, which include dry grasslands, woodlands and rainforests. They are also common around villages where rodents are abundant. All specimens of Candoia have rounded, sausage shaped bodies with flattened, triangular shaped heads and upturned snouts. They all have thick, keeled scales which collect and retain tannin, dust, mud and other residue much more than any other snakes. It is this reason why I always wait patiently for a newly acquired specimen to shed its skin. It is truly amazing how a dull, drab looking snake can turn in to a gleaming, spectacular specimen right before your eyes. All Candoia have some kind of blotching, banding or zig-zag pattern down the length of their backs. Some Solomon Islands tree boas can be unicolored. All Candoia species have strong, prehensile tails. The size of Candoia ranges from 16 inches to over 6 feet. All species are nocturnal and seldom move during the day. 

 

 

Pacific or New Guinea tree boa (Candoia carinata carinata)

 

This tiny species is found throughout Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya and many offshore Indonesian islands. It is highly variable in color and pattern. Carinata can be striped, blotched , banded or solid. Most specimens seem to be blotched with a faint flowery pattern. Background colors can range from gray, black, beige, tan, cream, orange, yellow and red. Carinata occur in a wide variety of habitats in their range. Many are seen in low shrubbery near human dwellings and plantations. In captivity, carinata may prefer anoles, house geckos and green treefrogs when newly acquired. Most specimens will accept small fuzzy mice after settling down. Carinata will use branches in their cages. Thin, twiglike branches work best. Live plants can also be added to the cage for more humidity. A large water bowl is essential. Most specimens rarely attempt to bite. Adults can reach a maximum of 18-24 inches, but average between 16-20 inches.

 

Pacific or Solomon Islands ground boa (Candoia carinata paulsoni)

 

The medium sized Paulsoni is found mostly in the Solomon Islands archipelago but also is quite common on many islands to the north and east of Papua New Guinea. Highly variable in color and pattern, Paulsoni come in dozens of different colors and patterns. All have a characteristic zig-zag pattern dorsally from head to tail. Background colors range from red, gold, orange, gray, tan, lavender and white. It is the white specimens which are truly spectacular to behold. Many solid red or orange specimens are also highly sought after. The Indonesian island of Halmahera is home to another subspecies of ground boa. The Halmahera boas are smaller and more drab looking than Paulsoni. Only 2 or 3 color phases have ever been collected compared with the vast array of colors for Paulsoni. I truly believe that each little uncharted island may contain its own variety and differently shaped form of ground boa. Paulsoni are found in many different habitats including dry grasslands, wooded areas and coffee and pineapple plantations. Rodents are extremely common in and around human habitation and many Paulsoni frequent these settings. Newly imported specimens will do well on small rats or mice. The occasional problem feeder may need to have its rodents scented with lizard or frog. Although most adult Paulsoni are calm, some will bite constantly and may take a while to settle into their new environment. Paulsoni have the ability to change colors. A gray specimen may turn bluish or a bright orange specimen may turn a dull brown. Temperature, time of day, humidity, cagemates  and other stimuli will cause these changes. Despite their common name, ground boas will use branches if provided. Many will ambush their prey while hanging from the branch. A large water bowl is very much needed as Paulsoni love to soak.  Adults can reach maximum lengths of 3 feet for males and 5 feet for females but average in the 2-4 foot range.

 

Solomon Islands tree boa (Candoia bibroni australis)

 

These long, slender serpents are found all across the Solomon Islands in addition to several nearby eastern Indonesian islands. They are extremely variable in appearance and coloring. Most Australis have a faint banded or blotched pattern. However, some specimens look incredible with solid reds, oranges and yellows being fairly common. Australis also have the ability to change colors. This happens when the snake seems to darken or lighten up. Some of the changes are dramatic and can happen within just a few minutes. Australis are rarely exported compared to Paulsoni. There is no known explanation for that fact. Prices seem to be very similar and the snakes are quite common in areas that they occur. Adult Australis will eagerly accept rodents or chicks as prey.  Australis are semi-arboreal and need sturdy branches to climb on in addition to a large water bowl. Most specimens are fairly calm and deliberate, but once in a while you will run into a nasty individual. Adults can reach maximum sizes of 3-4 feet for males and nearly 7 feet for some females. Average size is 3-5 feet.

 

Fiji boa (Candoia bibroni bibroni)

 

These rather large snakes are found in southern parts of the range. The islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and other smaller South Pacific islands are home to Bibrons boa. Little is known of the Fiji boas. Because of their protected status, there are never available to the pet trade. They occupy a varied tropical habitat and are mostly terrestrial. Although colors vary, most Bibroni are a rusty chocolate color with faint blotching and banding. Rodents and birds are the main diet for this species. I personally believe that Bibroni and Australis are the same snake from different localities. Similar to the Solomon & Halmahera ground boas. Millions of years of evolution has given us slightly different looking snakes from the same species in different localities. Although  Australis is smaller and more slender, the 2 species look remarkably similar. More scientific and taxonomic studies are needed to confirm major differences in these and other Candoia species. Fiji boas can reach maximum lengths of 3-4 feet for males and over 7 feet for females. Average size is 3-6 feet.

 

Viper boa or New Guinea ground boa (Candoia aspera)

 

Short and chunky is the best way to describe viper boas. Aspera are found through most of Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya and hundreds of offshore Indonesian islands. They are very common in certain areas where they occur. Viper boas resemble and mimic the highly venomous death adder. They can often be nasty snakes, which may bite repeatedly and viciously. Colors range from black, brown, tan and gold, with most specimens having a variety of these colors. All Aspera are either blotched or heavily banded. The occasional specimen can be incredibly colored with bright red or orange coloring. Viper boas are ambush predators as are all the Candoia species. They will lie in wait at the edge of a trail or swamp and attack prey as it passes by. Leaf litter or shallow pools of muddy water are favorite haunts of Aspera. Viper boas have by far the thickest keeled scales of all Candoia species. Mud and leaf tannin become embedded into and under the scales of the snake, camouflaging it perfectly. When viper boas are exported out of Indonesia, most are a muddy solid brownish color. The first shed of a newly acquired Aspera is a special thing. It will look like a completely different snake after the shed.  Beautiful colors and patterns can then be seen, and that dull brown snake may turn into a golden beauty. These snakes will readily accept rodents in captivity. They prefer rat pups over adult mice. Stubborn feeders may need a little more time to acclimate. Scenting methods can be used if the specimen starts to lose weight. Not all Aspera are nasty. I own many specimens which can easily be picked up and handled without incident. Aspera will often spend all or most of their day in the water bowl. They will use the water bowl for defecating and also breed while in the water. Maximum size for viper boas is 24-36 inches but average approximately  22-28 inches.

 

General husbandry

 

  

Caging

 

Since most Candoia are relatively small, larger more elaborate caging is not necessary. In fact, simple is better with all Candoia species. I use many different types of cages including Vision, Neodesha, old aquariums and the standby Rubbermaids. Newspaper makes daily maintenance very easy. As soon as the newspaper is soiled, it should be changed immediately. All Candoia love to soak in their water bowls. A large water receptacle is needed so that the specimens can enter and exit without spilling it over. I have witnessed Aspera and Paulsoni copulate in their water bowls. Wet newspaper should be discarded as soon as possible and replaced with clean, dry newspaper. Branches should be provided for all species except viper boas. Both Australis and Carinata will utilize their branches frequently although will spend most of their time on the substrate. Hide boxes are essential for all species of Candoia. They need a place to hide during the day. I recommend standard cardboard boxes with the hole cut out in the top of the box. This gives the snake a feeling of security by being able to come down on top of the prey item. It will also prevent a rodent from crawling into the hidebox and possibly annoying the waiting snake.

 

 

Temperature

 

As with all tropical species, temperature plays a vital role in a Candoia environment. I keep the ambient temperature at approximately 80-84 degrees year round. A brief winter cool down is needed for breeding Candoia species. Humidity is kept between 50-80% with occasional cage misting. I have witnessed some specimens become restless or uneasy when exposed to temperatures near 90 degrees.  Gravid females also tend to stay away from their heating pads. Temperature is not a major concern for Candoia maintenance. They will do just fine at room temperature and require no special needs.

 

 

Feeding

 

Because of their seemingly slower metabolism, adult Candoia do not need to feed as often as other boids. I feed my adult specimens one large rodent every 3 or 4 weeks. In the case of Candoia, large rodent usually means a weaned rat or adult mouse. Large or jumbo rats are not needed due to the relatively small size of most specimens. Babies and juveniles are fed every 10-14 days. This appears to be just the right amount as I continue to successfully breed my Candoia every year. They maintain good body weight and are in prime physical condition. Many adult specimens will often go off feed for as much as 6 months for males and a full 8 months for gravid females with no ill effects. Many people shy away from purchasing Candoia because of the myth that babies or juveniles do not eat. This is only partly true and I will try to explain why. Pinkie mice are an acquired taste for most neonate Candoia. Many will start out on small lizards and treefrogs before they switch over to pinkies. All neonate Candoia shed their skin immediately upon birth. When a litter of Candoia are born, it is important to wait at least 2 weeks before offering any food. Many neonates are born with big yolk reserves and are just not hungry for the first few weeks after birth. Try to house your neonates in individual shoeboxes or larger deli cups. When 2 weeks have passed, place a live day old pinkie in with the snake at night and leave it alone. It is important to not pick up or handle the neonates during this pre-feeding time. When you wake up in the morning see how many of the neonates took a pinkie on the first try. Separate the ones that have eaten and place them in slightly larger shoeboxes and label them as feeders. All you will need is a paper towel and a small water bowl for each neonate. If the pinkies are still in the containers, take them out and try offering it to another neonate later that night. Repeat this sequence over a period of 4-6 weeks. After 6 weeks have passed it is important that your neonates get something to eat on their own. 5 out of 10 neonates should accept pinkies or scented pinkies within the first 8 weeks of birth. I keep a small deli cup of anoles, house geckos and green treefrogs in my freezer. Place a newborn pinkie in the deli cup with the thawed out frogs and lizards. I usually add a few drops of water to create a slightly wet “broth”. Let the pinkie roll around on top of the mixture for approximately 1 hour. This will allow the pinkie to absorb the scents onto its skin. This method should be done only at night. Carefully place the pinkie in with the snake. You can then refreeze the deli cup. You can use the same deli cup mixture for a month or so before it will have to be discarded. In the morning you will take a look to see if your attempt worked. Problem feeders like these may need to be offered live small anoles, house geckos or green treefrogs. They will usually be taken immediately as they are offered. These stubborn babies will learn to eat the lizards or frogs and then switch over to pinkies on their own after a period of several months. Do not be afraid to offer these food items to your snake. Placing mouse tails in the neonates throats, force feeding or pinkie pumping will cause too much stress for the baby and may eventually kill it. I have spoken with many other Candoia enthusiasts over the years who have told me of their experiences with feeding neonates. Earthworms, minnows, feeder guppies and tiny goldfish were all accepted as first meals by neonate Candoia. I personally, have used tuna fish to scent pinkies with amazing results. Neonates that accept pinkies on the first try are often the exception as most baby Candoia instinctively prefer to reach out and grab swift moving prey items such as lizards or frogs. Newborn viper boas are the best pinkie feeders. This is due mostly to their nippy attitudes.  Once your neonates are established rodent feeders they will begin to grow fairly quickly and will double their size within the first 6 months. Lizard and frog feeders will slowly catch up with the growth rate of their siblings after the switch over to pinkies. I have also seen several instances of  cannibalism with neonate Paulsoni. This has occurred when several hungry neonates were housed together. It does not happen when they become established feeders. 

 

 

Sexing

 

One of the easiest aspects of Candoia husbandry is the ease of sexing your specimens. There is never a need to probe or pop any Candoia species. To sex any specimen, just look for spurs or absence of spurs on either side of the vent. Male Candoia of all species have very large hooks for spurs. Females have no spurs at all. It is very easy to see provided you are looking in the correct place. All male Candoia are smaller than females.  It is especially noticeable in Paulsoni, where most males are dwarfed by females that may be 10 times larger and heavier.

 

Breeding

 

Never has the phrase multiple males meant so much. In my 20 years of Candoia husbandry, I have always used multiple males to induce breeding activity. There are exceptions, such as the 12 year old boy in Anytown, USA who breeds his lone pair every year and successfully produces litters every time. That is the exception to the rule. Candoia will be more active and productive by using multiple males. All Candoia species require a 6-8 week cooldown period to ensure breeding success. I normally drop the temperature to the mid to upper 60’s at night. Make sure you bring the ambient temperature back up to near 80 degrees during the day. The snakes cannot be kept in the mid 60’s for the entire breeding process. After the cooldown time has passed. i will usually place a female with a few males in a large cage. It will become immediately apparent which male is compatible with that particular female. Although there is no real combat, male Candoia will jerk their bodies and try to push their competitors off the females back. I will then separate that particular pair and place them in another cage by themselves. Copulation can last for weeks or even several months with males and females being rotated to ensure diversity and a higher fertility rate. Courtship consists of the standard boid method with the male lying on top of the female using his spurs for stimulation. He will then use his tail to lift up hers, aligning the cloacas for eventual insertion of the hemipenis.  It is truly amazing to see a 26 inch male Paulsoni on the back of a nearly 5 foot female. But yet, they get the job done and in approximately 7-9 months a litter of neonates will be born. As with all boas, Candoia give birth to live young. Paulsoni litters are the largest, with total amounts of nearly 100 babies at a time possible. Standard size litters average 20-40 for a normal size 3-4 foot female.  All other Candoia species average 5-20 young per litter. I highly recommend giving a female a year off after giving birth. Too much stress can be detrimental to her health and future breeding success.

 

 

Choosing a species for you

 

All Candoia species are enjoyable to work with. Now that you know their requirements, it is up to you to pick one that is to your liking. Try to buy captive born specimens. Many wild caught adult females drop litters when brought into the United States. Unfortunately, many of these neonates are doomed from the start by dealers and wholesalers that have neither the time nor patience to deal with large litters of young that eat lizards or frogs. They cannot separate or individually house hundreds of babies during their daily routine and usually the animals will suffer. Ask the seller what they have been feeding your particular choice for a pet. Try asking if they would toss in a food item while you’re watching. If you are buying your specimens sight unseen ask for a recent photograph. If the seller is honestly representing the animals it should be no problem. Make sure it has good body weight and muscle tone. Clear eyes and nostrils are also very important factors. Bring your pet snake home and set it up. Usually, a small plastic shoebox for a neonate or a larger enclosure for adult specimens will be fine. Let it get settled in and leave it alone for a few days. Try to avoid handling it also during this time. After 4 or 5 days offer it a meal. If the seller was an honest person, your pet snake will eat and be on its way to a healthy life in its new home. Use all of the feeding tips and methods that I have mentioned here earlier. You should have no problem with your newly acquired Candoia.

 

 

Summary

 

Candoia still has some confusion surrounding the genus. More research, fieldwork and scientific studies need to be undertaken. I am sure that several species may still await discovery. Candoia seem to have a mysterious, prehistoric aura about them. They seem to be quite primitive in their appearance compared to other boas or pythons. Although I am considered to be quite knowledgeable in the study of Candoia, I am continuing to learn additional information every day. They are so different from any other snake that I have ever owned. They are affordable, easy to keep, colorful and make good pets. I hope I have helped you in your quest for a new herpetological venture. You will see that your Candoia will bring you years of enjoyment. It certainly has for me.