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What do golden tree boas eat?

What do golden tree boas eat?

Golden tree boas are a non-venomous boa species native to the rainforests of South America. Like all boas, they are constrictors that subdue their prey by coiling around it and squeezing. Golden tree boas have a varied diet consisting primarily of small mammals, birds, and lizards. Their eating habits depend on their age, habitat, and availability of prey.

Primary Prey

The main components of the golden tree boa’s diet are:

Small Mammals

Small mammals make up the bulk of the adult golden tree boa’s diet. This includes rodents such as rats, mice, squirrels, and opossums. They also eat bats or other small arboreal mammals that live in trees. Golden tree boas use their heat-sensitive labial pits to locate warm-blooded prey at night. They ambush mammals on tree branches or stalk them on the forest floor. Their slender bodies allow them to climb into burrows and crevices in pursuit of prey.


Tree-dwelling birds are another common prey for golden tree boas. This includes species like parakeets, macaws, toucans, and woodpeckers. The golden tree boa’s cryptic coloration allows it to blend in with tree branches and foliage, camouflaging it from potential avian prey. When a bird alights nearby, the snake coils its body and strikes quickly to seize the bird with its jaws.


Small lizards are also eaten, especially by juvenile golden tree boas. This includes anole lizards, geckos, and iguanas that inhabit the lower regions and forest floor. The golden tree boa’s slender body and prehensile tail adapt it for climbing and moving through branches in pursuit of arboreal lizards. Its excellent sense of smell also allows it to detect hidden lizards effectively.

Variation Based on Age

Younger golden tree boas have different dietary needs and preferences compared to adults:


Golden tree boa hatchlings start off feeding on smaller prey like frogs, lizards, and invertebrates. Their smaller jaws and bodies aren’t developed enough to consume larger prey yet. Hatchlings may feed on newly metamorphosed frogs, small geckos, anole lizards, and large insects. This allows them to gain strength and size to eventually transition to small mammals and birds.


As juvenile golden tree boas grow, they shift to slightly larger prey, including full-grown lizards, bigger frogs and toads, small snakes, and nestling birds. Their bodies and jaws become better equipped to constrict and consume heartier prey. However, they still lack the size and strength to take down adult mammals and birds. Juvenile boas refine their hunting techniques during this stage.


Subadult golden tree boas begin adding more mammals to their diets in preparation for adulthood. They eat small rodents like mice and rats. Birds remain an important supplemental food source as well. The added nutrition supports their continued growth and development. By the subadult stage, golden tree boas possess excellent tree-climbing and hunting abilities.

Geographic Variation

The specific components of the golden tree boa’s diet can also vary across their geographic range, which includes:

The Amazon Basin

In the Amazon rainforest, golden tree boas prey heavily on arboreal mammals like monkeys, sloths, and squirrels. They also eat a diverse range of rainforest birds including parrots, toucans, and tanagers. On the forest floor, they consume rodents, opossums, frogs, lizards, and larger invertebrates.

The Guianan Shield

The rainforests on the Guianan Shield host fewer primates but abundant reptiles, birds, and amphibians. Golden tree boas frequently eat iguanas, tegus, anoles, and venomous snakes. Birds like motmots, manakins, and tinamous are also common prey. Small mammals include agoutis, pacas, spiny rats, and opossums.

The Cerrado

The more open Brazilian savanna woodlands of the Cerrado offer a different prey base. Golden tree boas consume mainly ground-dwelling rodents like the agouti along with lizards and ground-nesting birds. Prey concentrates around forest patches and riparian zones. Competition from other predators may also be higher in the Cerrado.

Captive Diet

Golden tree boas kept in captivity are fed a controlled diet according to their size and age. Hatchlings start off feeding weekly on newborn pinky mice. Juveniles graduate to adult mice or small rats offered every 1-2 weeks. Adult boas consume medium to large rats every 2-3 weeks. Frozen-thawed rodents are safer and more nutritious than live prey. Vitamin and calcium supplements help provide balanced nutrition.

Feeding Habits

Several interesting facts relate to how golden tree boas catch and consume prey:

– Golden tree boas employ sit-and-wait ambush hunting techniques. They remain camouflaged and motionless for hours until prey comes near.

– They strike very quickly, seizing prey with their jaws in less than a tenth of a second.

– Prey is constricted using powerful muscles and coils of the body to suffocate it.

– Small prey is consumed whole while larger prey is eaten head first.

– Golden tree boas can survive months between large meals due to their slow metabolism.

– They have expandable jaws allowing them to consume prey wider than their head. The esophagus also distends.

– Heat-sensitive pits help detect and target endothermic prey like mammals and birds.

– Excellent climbing skills and prehensile tails allow them to pursue prey in trees.


Several key aspects of golden tree boa digestion include:

– Jaws dislocate to swallow large prey whole.

– Powerful acids and enzymes digest prey over 2-3 days. Bones, fur, and feathers are dissolved.

– The stomach lining rapidly proliferates after feeding then sheds during fasting periods.

– An extremely slow metabolic rate minimizes energy needs between infrequent large meals.

– The snake’s heart actually grows in size by up to 40% after consuming a large meal to aid digestion.

– Digestion is highly efficient with almost 100% absorption of prey nutrients. Very little waste is produced.

Dietary Needs & Nutrition

The dietary needs and nutritional content of prey helps sustain golden tree boas:

– High levels of protein from muscle meat promote growth and rebuilding of tissues.

– Fat stores provide long-term energy reserves.

– Bones provide calcium for skeletal health.

– Organ meats supply key vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

– Trace minerals like zinc and magnesium support enzyme systems and metabolism.

– Water content of prey helps hydrate snakes between infrequent drinks.

– Complete nutrition allows golden tree boas to thrive on relatively infrequent large meals.

Potential Dangers

Certain dangers may be associated with the golden tree boa’s feeding habits:

– Preying on venomous snakes risks potential envenomation.

– Large prey can potentially harm snakes if consumed improperly.

– Falls from trees while hunting arboreal prey.

– Contracting parasites from consuming wild prey.

– Competition for prey from predators like jaguars, eagles, and crocodilians.

– Habitat loss and declining prey populations due to deforestation.


In summary, golden tree boas are formidable apex predators of the rainforest canopy. They employ powerful constriction and excellent climbing skills to subdue a varied diet of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Hatchlings start off feeding on small lizards and amphibians before graduating to larger warm-blooded prey as adults. Geography influences prey availability, but small mammals and birds comprise the bulk of their nutrition. Golden tree boas are exquisitely adapted to ambush and consume their arboreal prey effectively. Their unique feeding strategies and habits allow them to flourish in rainforest ecosystems across South America.