Vernacular names: Dominican boa, Dominican mountain boa, Dominican red mountain boa, Hispaniolan boa
Binomial nomenclature: Chilabothrus striatus striatus
Basic introduction: Formally a member of the genus Epicrates (the Rainbow boas), these beautiful Caribbean snakes have become more sought after in the reptile keeping hobby in recent years, yet remain a more obscure Boid in a Boa constrictor and morph dominated trade. They are particularly rare in the EU/UK where the number of animals to work with is rather low compared with the USA. While variable in colouration the vibrant red phase specimens have become somewhat sought after and well known - hence the subspecies most commonly being referred to in the hobby as Dominican red mountain boas. They appeal to keepers due to this brilliant colouration, the interesting patterning the subspecies exhibits and while they somewhat resemble Rainbow boas or Carpet pythons, they're seen as something 'new and exciting'.
The coveted red colouration, a young male of mine, other reds can be more extreme than this though many online pictures may be enhanced:
Taxonomy and range: They are a member of the genus Chilabothrus, which exclusively occur in the West Indies, though these are not the only 'boas' in the Caribbean, some examples being Boa constrictor nebulosa and the genus Tropidophis which also occur in the region. It's worth mentioning the members of this genus were formerly classed as Epicrates, with many online sources and hobbyists still using this out of date taxonomy, just something to bare in mind.
Chilabothrus striatus, is found on the island of Hispaniola; which is divided into Haiti on the east of the island and the Dominican Republic on the west. C. striatus exagistus is predominantly found on the east of the island and is commonly known as the Haitian boa. C. striatus striatus is limited to the western regions of the island, though it does intergrade with exagistus. There is a third subspecies, C. striatus warreni, that is found on Île de la Tortue, a small island just north of the Haitian coast. This post is specifically aimed at the Dominican ssp, C. striatus striatus - though as these are hardy and variable boas much of it can be applied to the Haitian boa also.
Ecology: The Dominican mountain boa can reach adult lengths of up to a lean but solid 8ft, though it matures at around 4ft and averages a slender 5-6ft in length. As the largest species of snake on the island, it is a versatile and opportunistic hunter as an adult. They're secretive and most active at night, but can be seen at dusk. The species primarily feeds on both terrestrial and arboreal mammals, but have been well documented in taking birds also, readily scaling trees and the roofs of caves in order to catch harder to access prey.
The neonates of this species are relatively small at around 8-12 long, but shoelace thin. While as adults they are opportunistic and take on many prey types, this is an ontogenetic dietary change, with neonates preying predominantly on the various small gecko and Anolis species also native to the island.
As mentioned before the species are generalists, occupying many habitats across the island. C. s striatus specifically are most notably found in the wet lowland and mountain forests in the east of the Dominican Republic.
A few week old neonate:
Description: I'd describe their body build as a middle ground between the extremely skinny Amazon tree boas and the lean but more solidly built Brazilian rainbow boas. While not as obvious of a 'tree boa' in build as an ATB, younger specimens in particular will be surprisingly long and thin in build compared to most Boids. While young and growing their sleek heads are rather unique, perhaps most closely being comparable to Epicrates. As they mature their heads broaden into a more triangular shape while still remaining sleek, though some larger adults can almost resemble Morelia in structure.
A close up photograph of their head structure. A smaller but mature 4-5 year old female of mine:
Most who've heard of these boas only seem to acknowledge the extremely red phase specimens (animals that are sometimes enhanced in photographs...), yet they're rather naturally variable. Many different shades of black, brown, grey, maroon, rust, silver, orange, yellow, pink and red can be exhibited. These boas also frequently and quite dramatically lighten up and darken down, revealing colour changes when viewing the same animal at different times. The same boa can be a dull mahogany one day and bright orange the next. It's very similar to the colour changes Candoia will demonstrate, a more familiar example would be comparing it to Crested and Gargoyle geckos 'firing' up and down.
Both pictures are of the same individual, an adult male of mine. Just to give an example of the dramatic colour change they go through and to provide an example of a brown/grey phase specimen:
Patterning is intricate, with clear shapes found along the body but with each scale differing, giving almost a mosaic look to them in heavily patterned specimens. Pictured is my 7 year old female in a attractive colour phase for her that shows off the patterning:
Diet: While I'm not intending for this to be another basic copy paste care sheet that lists a fixed set of temperatures and humidity levels, I'll make some more specific notes on this aspect of husbandry as it's one that needs some highlighting for those interested in these boas. As mentioned previously this species primarily feeds on lizards as neonates, this can create some difficulty when raising the species in captivity as neonates, as while they will readily take live or perhaps frozen-thawed anoles, they can be reluctant to take pinkies at first. In the USA feeder lizards are slightly more readily available, so while it's challenging for many keepers, this is more of a problem in the UK for example.
We had a litter of 7 healthy neonates from our largest female in 2015 and begun offering frozen-thawed rodents at first, with 1-2 takers in the litter. Then we tried frozen-thawed chick thighs with a few more takers. Finally the hold outs were provided with live anoles till they had reliably taken several meals and began becoming more bold. From then on it was a process of either scenting pinky mice, or the neonates as they become more bold simply just switched straight to unscented pinky mice themselves. It is worth noting that security is KEY with the neonates of this species, that means giving them plenty of hides and foliage for cover. They are active hunters at this age, searching branches at night for sleeping anoles, so they need to feel secure enough to hunt in order to more reliably take prey on their own - at no point in raising a litter did we ever force or assist feed any neonates, they are more delicate than your average Boa constrictor and this would add stress to neonates we were trying help be more secure.
A neonate that was using shelter:
Well established youngsters will take FT mice, rats and chicks. The adults will strike feed prey with much enthusiasm - the only time I've had refusals is from fasting adult males in breeding season. So only the neonates are of note in terms of difficulty.
Temperament: As neonates they are both timid and inquisitive, it's to be expected while they get used to being handled that they may musk upon being picked up. I find the adults far less willing to musk than younger boas, though when stressed they're capable of stinking out entire rooms. In general I've found this species rather reluctant to bite in a defensive manner unless you're really doing something wrong (of course there will be some exceptionally defensive individuals though). They're a rather inquisitive species at night, eager to find out if your presence could mean food. During the day they will still feed, but can be more secretive. Feeding responses are something to watch out for, use hooks with adults, they have rather long teeth and are exceptionally strong even among constrictors given how slender they are. Worst snake bite I've taken was from a 4.5ft adult (feeding response) and the same individual almost broke my wife's thumb (coiling strength while climbing).
The individual in question on a snake hook:
Husbandry overview: Adults are fairly standard and robust in terms of husbandry requirements, neonates have the same requirements but are less forgiving of an exposed sparsely furnished enclosure. Mine are misted and soaked twice a week (in well ventilated vivaria) but don't require very high constant humidity while also being forgiving of dry spells as long as they're not in shed. Mine also tolerate night time drops and make use of a wide thermal gradient.
I've used heat mats, heat bulbs and ceramic heat emitters with this species successfully. The best combination in my opinion would be an overhead CHE as these boas frequently climb coupled with UV lighting for beneficial UVB and a healthy day/night cycle.
A substrate that supports humidity is necessary in my opinion given their habitat, solely newspaper or aspen is just not acceptable in my view as the species does benefit from misting (though react very negatively to being sprayed directly), at the very least a moist area should be provided. It goes without saying that hides and cover must be provided and aren't optional, these are secretive boas when they want to be, only mentioning this due to the number of Boa keepers I see not using any hides at all. I provide all of my Dominicans with water bowls large enough to soak in, I've seen them soaking and the larger water source helps with humidity anyway.
Aspen was used with the neonates initially, though they had a large water source and a moist area of moss to give them a humid area. We would later switch them to eco earth and cypress mulch.
This species is at least semi-arboreal in nature and while a tall enclosure is optional, branches are less so. At all ages I've noticed both active climbing while hunting at night and perching during the day and night - these are very frequent occurrences with some individuals spending 50%+ of their time elevated.
I use a mixture of eco earth and cypress mulch now for all of my Dominican mountain boas, pictured is an adult female of mine after having her substrate soaked (a little too zealously at the time perhaps), the enclosure here is 6ft tall. While not necessary, all of that height was used by these boas, to give an idea of their climbing habits.
Some personal notes on the species as captives: I find these versatile and active boas rewarding to keep for hobbyists who can appreciate a display animal that will also allow some handling. Their arboreal tendencies make them much more interesting captives than more strictly terrestrial Boids to me, they can frequently be observed climbing through branches at night or perching on display. Their feeding responses make them a breeze to feed, no drop feeding or digging the snakes out needed. Their colour changes can be a pain when you wish to photograph a particular phase on an animal, but make them more interesting when one animal can look so different on different days. Once past the nervous musking stage they tolerate infrequent handling, though I would not recommend them as pets in a young family setting.
It must be noted they have several drawbacks that do make them less suitable for many keepers in the hobby. I tend to recommend the stunning Brazilian rainbow boas to faintly interested keepers as they are more available, easier to come by in vibrant colours and in some regards easier alternatives for many keepers who would be deterred by some of these snakes' less desirable traits.
Neonates in particular can be timid and very readily expel large volumes of notably potent musk when handled, this coupled with the previously mentioned preference to lizards doesn't make the most ideal 'pet' baby boa for the casual keeper. These boas seem to produce frequent and runny urate that sets like concrete and is frankly laborious to clean compared to most other Boids, I've heard many keepers complain about this, some even selling them altogether to focus on less messy genera...
Another thing I must point out with this species is their incredible strength which will surprise handlers considering their leaner girth than most Boids.
Enough with their quirks though, they are interesting and beautiful captives that I at least have fallen for over the multiple other Boidae genera I've experienced. Time for some more pictures of the boas themselves to conclude this piece, thank you for reading. As a note all snakes in the pictures belong to and were photographed by myself and my wife.
Heavily gravid adult female:
Young male in a notably attractive phase for him:
Same young male, he is often in this 'silvered out' phase where the reds towards his lower half appear more as pinks.
Adult female in a pale phase, this is currently the largest of the Dominican mountain boas I keep at around 5.5-6ft:
Young adult female, for their length the coil up to take up a rather small amount of ground space:
Same young adult female in outdoor lighting, in the background you can make out how they tightly coil around branches to climb: