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ISLAND GEMS

CANDOIA: THE PACIFIC BOAS
BY JERRY CONWAY

INTRODUCTION

The genus Candoia is like no other boa species in the world. They are unique and rare snakes that make hardy captives and need no special requirements. Candoia are very easy to keep and breed. In addition, certain subspecies have the chameleon-like ability to change colors and most have a calm, gentle disposition.

Yet, despite all of these good qualities, they are virtually unknown, greatly misunderstood and highly underrated. It is my attempt to try to clear up the misconceptions and hopefully bring Candoia the attention and interest they deserve.

I am not a herpetologist, doctor or professional author. I am merely a fellow herper and hobbyist, just like you. I have been working with Candoia for many years and feel the need to educate and enlighten the herp public about these curious snakes. I hope this information will make you more aware of the beauty and diversity of these island gems.

DESCRIPTIONS

PACIFIC OR NEW GUINEA TREE BOA - (CANDOIA CARINATA CARINATA)

This small slender snake is found in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, in addition to several offshore islands nearby and also in Indonesia. Highly variable in color and pattern, this snake can be striped, blotched, banded or solid. However, most have a flowery blotched pattern and range in color from gray, beige, black, tan, cream, yellow, or even orange and red. Carinata are found in many habitats, but are most often seen in shrubs near human dwellings and plantations. Adults can reach an average of 18" - 24" in length.

PACIFIC OR SOLOMON ISLANDS GROUND BOA (CANDOIA CARINATA PAULSONI)

This medium-sized snake is found throughout the Solomon Islands archipelago and also south to New Guinea as well as several other islands including some in Indonesia. Highly variable in pattern and color, these animals can be gray, gold, tan, yellow, orange, red, lavender, silver or white. It is the white animals which originate from Santa Isabel Island in the Solomons. All Paulsoni have a characteristic "zigzag" stripe down the entire length of the body. Paulsoni occupy a variety of habitats from dryer savannas to wetlands. These animals can change colors in addition to becoming darker and lighter. Atmospheric conditions, such as temperature, time of day and humidity, are the main causes for this phenomenon. Average length of an adult male is 2 - 3 feet and 4 - 5 feet for females.

HALMAHERA GROUND BOA - (CANDOIA SSP)

This short, slender snake is found only on the island of Halmahera, which is located Northwest of Irian Jaya. It was first found in 1996, and may be one of many Candoia yet to be discovered. Remember, there are thousands of uninhabited islands in Indonesia which may contain new snake species. Halmahera boas resemble a cross between a viper boa and a Solomon ground boa. They are very distinctive in appearance. Males tend to be gray and brownish black, while females are reddish or light gold. They have typical blotching and banding. I have several ground boas that seem to have different shaped heads than most. Some also have different markings and patterns. I am certain that insular populations of ground boas vary greatly in appearance and taxonomy. Very little is known about these animals in the wild. As with Paulsoni, they probably occur in several habitats. Adults average 24" - 32" in length.

SOLOMON ISLANDS TREE BOA - (CANDOIA BIBRONI AUSTRALIS)

These long, slender snakes are found throughout the Solomon archipelago. A separate subspecies (C. BIBRONI BIBRONI) is found on Fiji and Samoa and is mostly terrestrial. Extremely variable in appearance, Australis can be solid orange, yellow, black or chocolate brown. Some specimens are blotched with greens, grays, pinks and reds. Australis can also change colors similar to Paulsoni. Some of these changes are dramatic. These animals have strong prehensile tails and are semi-arboreal. They are found primarily in forests along rivers. Adults average 2' - 3' for males and 4' - 5' for females.

NEW GUINEA GROUND BOA or VIPER BOA (CANDOIA ASPERA)

This short, stocky snake is found throughout Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya and some offshore Indonesian islands. Their colors range from jet black to brown, gold, gray, yellow and orange. Some specimens are almost uni-colored where most have the typical Candoia blotching and banding. Viper boas resemble and mimic death adders throughout New Guinea. They occur in wet forested areas, usually in leaf litter where they ambush their prey. Some specimens are calm, whereas others are vicious and deliver nasty bites. Adults average 20" - 28".

CARE OF CANDOIA

TEMPERATURE

As with all snakes, temperature plays an important role in your Candoia's environment. My animals are kept between 78 and 82 degrees year round, with a natural wintertime drop to the upper 60's. They do not seem to like high temperatures. I have witnessed some specimens actually avoid warm or hot areas of their cages. Even gravid females tend to stay away from their heat source. It is important to cool your animals about 10 degrees to insure breeding success. Always raise the temperature back up to 80 degrees after a night time low of 68 - 70 degrees. This should be done for 4 - 6 weeks to simulate a change of seasons and encourage breeding activity. Humidity should be kept between 50% to 80%. Cage misting 1 or 2 times a week is a good idea, but not necessary.

CAGING

Caging for your Candoia should be kept simple for easy access and cleaning. Large water bowls and appropriate sized hide boxes are essential for all subspecies. I keep most of my Candoia in aquariums with screen tops. I also use other enclosures such as custom wood and glass cages and plastic sweater boxes. Remember, most Candoia are between 2 - 3 feet, so large enclosures are not needed. Newspaper makes cage cleaning easy. I also use pine chips for some animals. Branches are used for Solomon tree boas. They are semi-arboreal and climb frequently. They also breed while in the branches. Pacific tree boas need smaller branches or twigs. Live plants can also be used to create a miniature jungle habitat. Perhaps the most important part of a Candoia cage is the water bowl. All species of Candoia drink frequently and love to soak. Viper boas in particular sometimes spend 90% of their time in the water. I have seen Aspera and Paulsoni copulate in their water bowls. Candoia will often defecate in their bowls as well.

FEEDING

Feeding Candoia is very easy on your budget. They have a relatively slow metabolism and do not need to feed as often as a very active animal. My babies are fed once every 10 - 14 days and my adults get one rodent every 3 - 4 weeks. They maintain good body weight, are very healthy and breed regularly. During the breeding season, males and females will often stop eating. Most males will not eat for as long as 3 or 4 months with no ill effects. Some females go off feed while others continue to eat even when gravid. All of my adult Candoia eat mice and small rats. It is very important to have a steady supply of small tree frogs or lizards to feed neonate Candoia. Scenting techniques can be used to switch snakes onto pinkie mice.

SEXING

Sexing your animals is very easy; no probes or popping necessary! To sex any Candoia, simply pick up your snake and turn it over! Males have very large, easy to see spurs. Females have no spurs at all. I can sex my babies the minute they are born. This can be very convenient especially when there are over 100 neonates which are born only days apart. I sometimes use the popping technique to sex neonate viper boas. They have short, stubby tails, which makes finding spurs a bit tricky.

BREEDING

Breeding success with Candoia can be summed up in two words - Multiple Males! Many people have failed at breeding Candoia because they did not have more than one male. My rule is two males for every female. Sometimes 3 may be necessary. Although there is no real combat, males need to stimulate one another to pursue and breed with a female. A male will use muscular contractions to "flip" other males off his back. Occasionally a male might intertwine with another and try to "muscle" his way out of the embrace. All of my males are active breeders. They will selectively choose the females that they are compatible with. I use a communal breeding method. I put 10 or so animals in one large cage to initiate a response. This way many animals can smell and sense mates and make their choice. Once animals pair off, I will move them to their own cage so they can breed one on one without other animals disturbing them. Some males may lay next to a whole group of copulating animals and do nothing. If I see this happening, I'll take other females and place them in the cage. Within minutes, these males pick up the new scent and begin the search. Copulation usually follows. This proves some animals are not compatible and need different stimuli to induce breeding activity.

My Candoia breed from December through April with young being born from September - January. Also of importance is that female Candoia should not be bred two years in a row. I have had two female ground boas die "bound up" when they have bred in consecutive seasons. I believe that this is stress related. Females seem to ovulate only every two or three years. If you keep several females you can rotate which females breed and switch to other ones the following year. I am trying to selectively breed Solomon ground boas. I have several color morphs that I am experimenting with including the only known leucistic or hypo-melanistic specimen. I am very excited about breeding these animals and taking Candoia propagation into the next century.

CARE OF NEONATES

Candoia are usually known for producing large litters of small young. This is only true of Solomon ground boas which can have 30 or more babies at a time. I believe the largest known litter was 67! These young are polymorphic, meaning many colors and patterns occur in the same litter. Neonate Australis are also polymorphic. All other Candoia usually produce 5 - 15 young per litter. Feeding these babies is not a problem, unless you are not prepared to feed them small tree frogs, anoles, house geckos or ground skinks. I must stress this point: newborn Candoia rarely take pinkies as their first meal. It is instinctive for them to start on cold blooded prey. Neonates seem to be drawn to the quick, erratic movements of small frogs and lizards. Once they have consumed their favorite food item 4 or 5 times, it is time to try scenting techniques. The key to this is to make sure the snake is very hungry. This is accomplished by waiting three to four weeks. When it sees a pinkie that smells like its favorite food, it is usually eaten right away. After several scented meals, most babies will start taking pinkies on their own. I keep my neonates in small shoe boxes on paper towels with a small water bowl. I also keep a small terrarium which contains small frogs, anoles and geckos. I use these to feed neonates at my convenience. It is inexpensive and easy to maintain.

FUTURE OF CANDOIA

The future of Candoia looks bright. How long can a beautiful interesting species of snake stay hidden. Easily affordable by just about everyone, they are a "herpers dream". With their keeled scales, long narrow snouts and beautiful markings, Candoia should be a popular species to work with. They have a primitive, almost prehistoric appearance, with a vast array of colors and patterns to choose from. Captive breeding of Candoia should prosper for many more years to come. Unfortunately, many wild caught Candoia contain high amounts of parasites. Obtaining captive born babies or established adults is a wise choice. Much field work and taxonomic study needs to be done on Candoia. There is so much more to learn about these animals. I am still learning about my animals every day. Hopefully, researchers and biologists can begin this undertaking over the next decade.

SUMMARY

I really can't remember when I saw my first Candoia. It was probably at a pet shop in Brooklyn, New York more than 30 years ago. I have always loved their unique, distinctive appearance. Most of the specimens I keep, and have kept, have calm dispositions. There were always exceptions though, like imported viper boas leaping two feet off the ground to bite me. This is why snake hooks were made! I don't handle my animals at all and disturb them as little as possible. Maybe this is why I have decent success at captive breeding. I like to observe my animals; I watch them everyday. They are so different from any boa, python or colubrid I have ever owned. They are some of the most underrated, least looked at and passed over snakes at every show I attend, but they are still my favorite snakes. Maybe I will open some eyes with this article. I hope I have, and maybe one day you'll say, Candoia, my favorite snakes!

 

Power