Puerto Rican Boa
Scientific Name: Epicrates inornatus
Description: At 7 feet long, Puerto Rican boas are the largest snakes on the island of Puerto Rico. They’re relatively slender and are brown to gray in color. These snakes are constrictors, meaning that they wrap their bodies around a prey item to suffocate it.
Diet: Puerto Rican boas eat birds, lizards, rodents, and bats. To capture quick-flying bats, the boas have developed a clever hunting technique. They curl their tail around a tree branch and hang patiently in front of a cave opening. When bats fly out en masse at dusk, the boa has numerous chances to catch a bat right out of midair! Puerto Rican boas don’t have venom, nor do they need it. After they’ve captured their prey, they use their powerful muscles to squeeze the unlucky animal to death, and then they swallow it whole.
Predation: Despite the Puerto Rican boa’s intimidating status as a constricting carnivore, it’s not at the top of the food chain. Mongooses, cat-like mammals native to Africa and Asia, frequently make a meal of the boa. Mongooses were originally brought to Puerto Rico to keep down pest rodent populations, but they ended up attacking a number of beneficial wildlife as well.
Typical Lifespan: The lifespan of wild Puerto Rican boas is unknown, but they can live up to 20 years in captivity.
Habitat and Range: Although they can swim and slither over the ground, Puerto Rican boas are primarily arboreal. They’re found in greatest abundance in the northwestern karst region of Puerto Rico. Karst landscapes are dominated by rock that dissolves easily in water, which leads to the formation of caves and sinkholes. The boas are also found in rainforests and even plantations.
Life History and Reproduction: Puerto Rican boas mate in springtime at the beginning of the wet season. They are viviparous, meaning that the females give birth to live young rather than lay eggs. When the offspring are born, they are able to fend for themselves and don’t receive any extra care from their parents.
Fun Fact: The Puerto Rican boa has a place named for it! The Cave of the Boas, which houses several hundred thousand bats, is prime hunting territory for these snakes.
Conservation Status: Puerto Rican boas are federally listed as endangered. Mongoose predation and harvest by humans for folk remedies have probably led to their decline, but they may not be as rare as was once thought. It’s hard to spot them in the trees, which may have led to low counts, but they’re actually common in some regions.
Bat Conservation International
IUCN Red List
National Geographic Society
The Sacramento Zoological Society
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Utah’s Hogle Zoo