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Cuban boa

Scientific name: Epicrates angulifer

Country: Cuba

Continent: North America

Diet: Small mammals

Food & feeding: Carnivore

Habitats: Tropical dry forest, scrub forest

Conservation status: Near Threatened

Relatives: Colombian rainbow boa

Description: The Cuban boa is an endangered island-dwelling animal. It is found in holes and rock piles and on cultivated land. They are primarily arboreal. They can reach a length of 4 m, being one of the larger species of boa of this genus. They may live up to 20 to 30 years. Snakes have relatively poor eyesight and instead, rely on their tongues to smell the air. The flicking tongue picks up minute scent particles in the air, which are taken to the Jacobson's organ, in the roof of the mouth where the smells are decoded.

Lifestyle: Cuban boas generally feed on rodents. They do not inflict fatal wounds to their prey with their teeth. Instead they use them for seizing the prey, before wrapping their body round, two or three times, and squeezing. Each time the prey exhales, the boa will squeeze harder preventing the ribs, diaphragm, lungs and heart from functioning. The prey eventually suffocates.

Family & friends: Like most snakes, Cuban boas are solitary.

Growing up: Unlike most snakes, the majority of boas give birth to a small number of live young. The females breed once a year and, after a gestation period of about four months, produce six or seven young, approximately 40 cm in length. The eggs develop within the mother's body, covered by a membrane rather than a shell. The young then break through the membrane before they are actually born. They are independent from birth and able to slither away into crevices at the slightest danger.

Conservation news: Living on an island, the Cuban boa is at risk from disturbances (e.g. fire, hunting, cyclones), which can quickly push the species towards extinction. There is a European breeding programme (EEP) for the species, which is coordinated by Prague Zoo.

Bristol Zoo Gardens has successfully bred Cuban boas for the past 20 years.

On the island of Cuba, boas up to two metres in length frequently enter urban areas. Local people attack and kill boas as they believe they eat chickens and other poultry.