Breeding Amazon Tree Boas
Just as there is a wide range of standards when it comes to keeping ATBs, the same can be said about breeding practices. In the decades since Amazons were first kept and bred in captivity, many methods have been found to stimulate breeding activity and increase the odds of maintaining a healthy, viable litter. The tips and suggestions found here are certainly not exclusive, but they are the majority of tried and true methods used by some of the most successful breeders to ensure and/or increase success rates of producing and raising healthy offspring.
Before you breed your Amazons it is vital to ensure that certain conditions have been met. These conditions include, but are not limited to
- A cage large enough to house 2 adult amazons that has been setup beforehand to guarantee no hiccups in DTH, NTL, basking temps and humidity. It is also *imperative* that this cage have adequate air flow!
- A pair of ATBs that are large enough and healthy enough to breed
- Enough space, food, and patience for neonate ATBs to be housed individually
Most breeders tackle the cage requirement by housing their females in slightly larger cages than their males year round so that come breeding time, they can allow their males to “seek out” the female (i.e. they move the male to the female, and not the other way around) with enough room to house them both *and* allow for either animal to have its own space once breeding activities cease. This also guarantees little to no interruption in the parameters needed to stimulate breeding in the first place (which will be discussed below).
When it comes to gauging the size of your breeding pair, females should be no younger than 3 years of age (most breeders wait until 4) and the girthiest part of their midsection should be about as wide as a garden hose. For males, many will start producing sperm plugs as early as 18mo of age, but some wait a solid two years. At this age, males will usually be slightly thinner than an average sized highlighter. I offer breeding females a meal every 7 days leading up to the breeding season to make sure they have enough weight to last them through the very long gestation period.
We will go into further detail on neonate care later in this article, but it is very important to note that on average, first time ATB moms will give birth to about 6 young that will need to be housed individually as early as possible. The sooner the babies are separated, the better. These tubs are usually plastic shoe box setups that allow for easy viewing and allowing them to feel secure. Babies need to be 100% setup the day they are born to ensure the best success with getting them to eat. Baby ATBs are also infamous in their ability to beguile and simultaneously frustrate their owners from birth. It is not uncommon for first time breeders to lose neonates simply to food refusal. Make certain you are completely prepared for every baby when your female gives birth! We keep 10-12 plastic shoe box tub setups ready per female that is expecting (sometimes more if we know the female to be a prolific breeder).
Corallus hortulanus has the largest range of any species in the genus. This works in the favor of breeders since this also means that their “requirements” for breeding vary, and they are very forgiving with these parameters. However, this also means that it is a double edged sword since no two breeders seem to breed their pairs the exact same way, which makes collecting solid breeding advice somewhat difficult; there is no real “standard”.
What we DO know, is that the breeding season for ATBs (regardless of country of origin) is signaled by a variety of changes that include temps, humidity, and barometric pressure. In some cases, a change in any one parameter may be enough to stimulate breeding activity. In other cases, a combination of all 3 may be needed to give particularly stubborn males the green light. Typically, the breeding season starts in November/December with natural adjustments to barometric pressure. This is the time of year when the jet stream naturally begins to shift. Some breeders use this time wisely and begin “cycling” their animals by adjusting humidity and/or temps. Others seem to have success by simply kicking back and letting nature take its course.
To adjust temps: Basking temps and ambient DTH should still be maintained, but a gradual decrease in NTL can be introduced. A gradual decrease of 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit should be used over the course of 6-8 weeks until NTL reaches around 75. Again, there are a large number of breeders who do not use this method since they house multiple species in the same room/building. If that is the case, you may have luck by simply adjusting humidity.
To adjust humidity: During this time, a significant increase in misting frequency should also be used. Most breeders will double the frequency until they get a POS. It is not uncommon for humidity to peak at 100% for prolonged periods, so make absolutely sure that the cage housing both adults has EXCELLENT air flow to allow the cage to dry out somewhat in between mistings and your adults are not sitting in damp, warm, stagnant air (which is grounds for bacterial growth, fungal growth, and URIs).
Once the criteria for breeding activity are achieved, males will may go off of feed and focus their attention to roaming and finding a mate. You will notice a significant increase in their overall activity levels. Once locks have been confirmed, it is recommended to separate for a period of 3 days each week to offer food and allow the breeders to digest before reintroducing the male to the female (it is also during this time that older, seasoned males can be introduced to a second female in the same season, especially if he is still reluctant to feed during these breaks). For best results, this should be repeated until a POS is confirmed.
A note on using one male for multiple females: It is not recommended to use one male for more than 2 females per season, and only larger seasoned males should be used when attempting to breed multiple females. Younger males aren’t large enough to accommodate multiple mates, and pairing with 3 or more females for even seasoned breeders wears them out. In both cases, it usually results in less viable litters (higher slug and stillborn rate) for any female beyond the main 1 or 2, respectively.
Personal Experiences: It is well worth noting that breeding behavior is observed at different times of the year in different parts of the country. This aids more to the theory of barometric pressure changes playing a larger role in Amazon breeding than previously recognized. As someone who lived and successfully bred this species in Chicago, IL and then again in Baton Rouge, LA, I can say this with confidence. In Chicago, we were able to get pairings started for quite a few species much earlier due to the pressure swings (aka the wacky weather that Chicago is notorious for). Without any manual adjustments to temperature, our ATB pairings started as early as January/February. Once we relocated to Louisiana I noticed a significant change in behavior to my males, who didn’t seem at all interested in breeding until around March/April. Again, I made no manual adjustments to ambient temperatures, and they were kept in a temperature controlled building that allowed little to no fluctuation in those temperatures (since we house multiple species in this building). This change in behavior was also despite previous attempts to stimulate breeding activity earlier by an increase in misting frequency as described above. Then, after a major storm system came through in April, all 3 of my males were locked the next morning.
Gestation & Birth:
As with other species of boa, some owners have noticed pre-ovulation swelling as well as full ovulation swells. This can be less noticeable in first time moms, and given the nature of ATBs, many people fail to notice them at all. So how can we calculate which shed is a POS without knowing the date of an ovulation? A shed can typically be counted as a POS if two or more of the following changes can be observed:
- Lack of interest: The pair no longer have any interest in each other. Once a male knows that he has done his job, he usually loses interest in her OR the female will try to distance herself from him and reject any further advances.
- Change in coloration: Unlike normal shed cycles that result in a dark and somewhat dull appearance before the old skin is sloughed off, gravid females will still retain a much darker appearance even after the shed. This aids in heat absorption and is a telltale sign that you can count a shed as a POS. See below:
- Food refusal: While not entirely common right after a POS, some breeders have noted a change in eating behavior around the time of POS and thereafter. Once ravenous females may seem more reluctant to eat, eat less frequently, or refuse entirely. Females usually go off feed on their own in their last 6-8 weeks of gestation.
- Hogging the heat pad: This sign generally doesn’t start until around 4 weeks into gestation, but in case there is still any doubt as to whether or not your pairing took and you notice that she is glued to her heat pad, this is a very good sign.
- No shed zone: Gravid females generally don’t shed again until after they have given birth.
So if you get another shed within a relatively short amount of time, chances are that she isn’t gravid or that you may have to count the more recent shed as the POS.
- Swelling: Even if you miss her ovulation swell, you WILL DEFINITELY notice a sizeable baby bump in your females as time progresses. This is especially true as early as ¼ of the way through her gestation, and becomes plainly obvious ½ of the way through.
- Scale separation: Sometimes the swelling may not be obvious, but it’s hard to miss the scale separation at the abdomen since most of the time, the area between the scales is bright white on Amazons.
Once a POS has been achieved, pairs should be separated immediately. Keeping the animals together year round often results in stress for either (or both) animals.
Gestation for ATBs usually lasts anywhere from 110-165 days after POS, with 120-125 being the average. Healthy, viable litters have been recorded all along this timeline, and no studies have been conducted to suggest that babies born earlier or later on
this timeline result in complications for mother or babies. Due dates vary based on size, age, and experience of the female as well as ambient and basking temps during gestation. We give our females a 90 degree basking spot (usually in the form of belly heat) and do not allow her ambient temps to drop below 80. As with other boa species, you can gauge the due date of your female by following the baby bump as it makes its way further down her body and towards her cloaca. Other signs include restlessness, stretching, moving away from the heat source to which she was once glued as well as a “waxy poo”.
When she is getting ready to give birth, many breeders have noted she may give a “waxy poo” that is similar in concept to a mucus plug in humans. As the female usually hasn’t eaten in weeks and therefore hasn’t had a solid bowel movement in a while, the look and consistency of this stool will be obvious. Most breeders note that babies are born within 72hrs of the presence of this waxy stool, while others (myself included) have waited up to 8 days and have had multiple “waxy poos” during this time. So despite not being able to use this observation as a clear indicator of your due date, it is still worth noting that its presence means she is most definitely close.
The birthing process is quick and can be missed within a 30min window or less depending on the size of the litter. Females will often eat any slugs that are laid. Food is usually offered to the female within 24hrs after birth and is usually taken with gusto. Generally a week or two after birth the female will have a post-birth shed and will begin to regain her normal coloration, which is usually achieved by the second or third post-birth shed.
Caring for Neonates:
After receiving data from multiple breeders, I have compiled this list of strategies that have had the most success with getting babies to eat sooner. The longer it takes for baby ATBs to eat, the harder it becomes to get them to eat at all. Many neonates that don’t eat by their 4-6wk mark become too weak to eat at all and have to rely on being force fed, the stress of which can be a cause of death all on its own.
Breeders have had the most success separating neonates as early as possible into individual tubs. Neonates that were left either together as a litter, or in the cage with mom, took longer to start feeding on average. Baby tubs are usually plastic shoe box containers with their accompanying lids complete with a shallow water dish (we use plastic flower pot bottoms or deli cups) and a perching mesh. This is the same mesh that we use for adults as hammocks in their quarantine enclosures. The substrate should be paper towels at least until you are confident that each neonate is eating and defecating regularly. Paper towel substrates allow for easy monitoring of these conditions. Temps should be the same as adults, but keep the humidity slightly higher since neonates tend to get dehydrated faster. This is especially important until they have had their first sheds.
The size and development of the neonate at birth can also determine how early they start feeding. Neonates that are born with yolk sacs still attached will take longer to start eating than those born without (who have been recorded eating as early as 2-3
days after birth). While all neonates should be given higher humidity than their parents, this is especially true for babies that still have yolk sacs attached. All babies should be offered food as early as 2-3 days old and should any baby refuse, offered again
in 3-4 day intervals. As is typical with snakes, and especially until they become established feeders, many will not eat when they enter a shed cycle. As a result, it is important to get as many meals in them as possible to account for the period of time they will be reluctant to eat. Our babies are offered food every 4-5 days until they are eating consistently, and then switched to a 6-7 day feeding cycle after 5 consistent, unassisted meals. Any baby that has not taken a meal on its own by 4 weeks of age should be assist fed. Any baby that hasn’t taken a meal on its own by 6-8 weeks of age should be force fed. In both cases, these meals should be small. Many breeders use f/t day old pinky mice, small rat tails, or fuzzy mouse heads.
Reluctant feeders are the norm, and not the exception to the rule when it comes to Amazon Tree Boas. Use any of the following tricks when getting neonate ATBs to take a meal:
- Think big: Amazon are documented as being able to eat prey items that are significantly larger in proportion to their body size compared to other members of their genus and even neonate boa constrictors. If using pinky mice doesn’t work, upgrade to fuzzy mice or day old rat pinkies. Most breeders don’t even bother with pinky mice and will start their babies off on f/t fuzzies or rat pinks from the get go.
- Live: While in an ideal world we would like for our animals to eat f/t off the bat (and many of our babies have done just that at 3 days of age), we cannot always expect that. More often than not, a live fuzzy or day old rat pink (I know this seems overly large, but it works like a charm for some of the MOST reluctant feeders and they can 100% handle this size!) can do the trick. Once your baby has taken their first unassisted meal, however, it is important to offer f/t and get them transitioned as quickly as possible. Many breeders are surprised at how readily neonate Amazons will take f/t prey once they have become established feeders.
- Super heating: This is term you will hear often when talking about reluctant feeders. Amazons are highly heat motivated, so your best odds of getting a stubborn feeder to take a meal is to turn up the heat. We usually turn the tap water faucet on as hot as it will go and use that temp to heat up the prey items before they are offered to the babies. Don’t worry, the prey items are too small to retain heat for any length of time once removed from the water, so in the time it takes to take out the mouse, open the tub, and offer it to the neonate it has already cooled down enough to be safe to the baby.
- Scenting: Breeders have used a variety of scents to stimulate a feed response from their neonates. These include, but are not limited to: egg yolk, feathers, anoles, and frogs. If using frogs, be very mindful of the species you use as there are quite a few commonly kept/native species that excrete toxins….
- Braining/cutting: Another technique is cutting open the abdomen/skull of the prey item.
- Persistence: Just because your baby struck at it once and didn’t take it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Many of us have spent an hour or more getting one animal to eat, and each baby should be offered that meal until they show the ultimate sign of disinterest: running away.
- Aggression: While not often used, sometimes a gentle bop on the head or on the side of the neck is enough to illicit a defensive strike. A lot of times, the combination of the strike, with the scent, and the heat from the prey is enough to get them to constrict and consume.
- The kitchen sink: More often than not, it will be a combination of multiple items on this list that will be the trick to getting your babies feeding. Be prepared to use every trick in the book to get them to eat, and keep in mind that each neonate can be different in what their specific combination is to unlock their feeding response.
Neonates are ready for new homes when they have taken 5 unassisted meals- NEVER BEFORE THEN. Thankfully there are very few unscrupulous breeders of ATBs have a tendency to sell neonates despite not being established feeders. The stress from being shipped will only add to the stress of having not eaten at all, or not consistently/regularly, and spells doom for the success of the new owner as well as the livelihood of the baby. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT purchase CBB babies that are not eating consistently! Not just “he’s had five meals”, we mean “he’s eaten the last 5 times he has been offered food, which his every 5-7 days”. Breeders that are not capable of selling established feeder Amazons need to be weeded out.
For any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at any time! We are always willing to answer your questions.