Puerto Rican Boa

Description and biology

The Puerto Rican boa is usually dark or mahogany brown in color. The dorsal section or back of this snake has a series of narrow angular blotches with dark brown or black edges. Many larger, older Puerto Rican boas have virtually no patterns.

The venter, or belly, is dark brown to gray in color with dark brown marks. The inside of the snake’s mouth is black. Most adult Puerto Rican boas measure 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 to 2 meters) long and weigh 4.4 to 6.6 pounds (2 to 3 kilograms). Large boas may reach a length of over 8 feet (2.4 meters).

The Puerto Rican boa is nocturnal (active at night). It may be found both on the ground and in trees. It hunts a variety of small prey, including bats, rodents, and small birds.

The boa captures its prey by biting it and wrapping its body around it at the same time. The prey eventually suffocates because it is unable to expand its rib cage. The boa then swallows the prey whole, as other snakes do.

Mating takes place between April and May. Although a male Puerto Rican boa will attempt to mate with a female every year, she will give birth only every other year, usually to 10 to 32 young between August and October.

Habitat and current distribution

This snake is widespread in Puerto Rico, except in the arid (dry) southwest portion of the island. It is most abundant in the Caribbean National Forest. Although the boa prefers to inhabit rain forests and plantations, it has also been found in subtropical dry forests and even urban areas.

History and conservation measures

The Puerto Rican boa was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970, making it one of the first species protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The boa’s population initially declined because large tracts of forest on Puerto Rico were cleared to create farmland.

Recently, however, many people living in rural areas have moved to the island’s cities, and their farms have grown into forests once again. Because of this, the boa made a dramatic recovery during the 1990s, but has remained in endangered status.

The boa receives further protection on the island under the Regulation to Govern the Management of Threatened and Endangered Species in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Despite this legal proclamation, the boa is still threatened by some rural Puerto Ricans, who believe the fat of the Puerto Rican boa can be used as a medicine. As a result, they kill the snake to extract its fat.