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NATURAL HISTORY

VIRGIN ISLANDS TREE BOA } Epicrates monensis granti
FAMILY: Boidae

DESCRIPTION: The slender Virgin Islands tree boa can reach a maximum length of around four feet. It has a light-brown back covered with dark brown blotches, while its cream-colored underside is speckled with grayish-brown markings.

HABITAT: The species’ preferred habitat consists of dry forest, coastal scrub, and mangroves where there is a dense woodland structure. It hunts at night in the trees and sleeps during the day, finding refuge in rock or vegetation cavities, in termite nests, or under rocks and debris.

RANGE: The Virgin Islands tree boa’s range is composed of one site in southeastern Puerto Rico (believed to be an introduction) as well as Culebra, the east end of St. Thomas, Tortola, and one or more small uninhabited islands.

BREEDING: Drawing on studies of similar species in the genus Epicrates, it is believed that the Virgin Islands tree boa’s mating season is from February to May, with snakes giving birth to live young in the fall. The female may produce two to 10 young every other year.

LIFE CYCLE: The Virgin Islands tree boa reaches sexual maturity in about three to five years. It is expected that its life span is in excess of 10 years, and possibly 20-30 years under optimal conditions.

FEEDING: The species hunts at night, eating mainly Anole lizards asleep in trees. In addition, the tree boa is known to feed on an occasional mouse or small bird, and it does endemic species a service by eating the invasive Cuban treefrog.

THREATS: The primary threat to this species is large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation due to commercial and residential development. The practice of clearing all vegetation on a parcel destroys the boa’s required shelter. The species does not have critical habitat designated, and there are no local provisions in place to restrict habitat destruction. This snake is also threatened by the introduction of exotic mammalian predators such as the Indian mongoose, feral and domestic cats, and rats. In addition, rising seas levels caused by climate change are a major threat to the existence of the Virgin Islands tree boa.

POPULATION TREND: As the species is nocturnal and secretive and occurs mainly on private lands, it has been difficult to estimate population abundance through surveys. Severe habitat loss and fragmentation indicates that the Virgin Islands tree boa’s population is in rapid decline.

Virgin Islands tree boa photo © Dr. Renata Platenberg