The Boidae (Common names: boas, boids) are a family of nonvenomous snakes primarily found in the Americas, although also existing in Africa, Madagascar, Europe, Asia, and some Pacific Islands. Relatively primitive snakes, adults are medium to large in size, with females usually larger than the males. Five subfamilies, comprising 12 genera and 49 species, are currently recognized.
|Scientific classification |
Like the pythons, boas have elongated supratemporal bones. The quadrate bones are also elongated, but not as much, while both are capable of moving freely so when they swing sideways to their maximum extent, the distance between the hinges of the lower jaw is greatly increased.
Both families share a number of primitive characteristics. Nearly all have a relatively rigid lower jaw with a coronoid element, as well as a vestigial pelvic girdle with hind limbs that are partially visible as a pair of spurs, one on either side of the vent. In males, these anal spurs are larger and more conspicuous than in females. A long row of palatal teeth is present, and most species have a functional left lung that can be up to 75% as large as the right lung.
Boids are, however, distinguished from the pythons in that none has postfrontal bones or premaxillary teeth, and that they give birth to live young. When labial pits are present, these are located between the scales as opposed to on them. Also, their geographical distributions are almost entirely mutually exclusive. In the few areas where they do coexist, the tendency is for them to occupy different habitats.
Formerly, boas were said to be found in the New World and pythons in the Old World. While this is true of boine boas, other boid species are present in Africa, much of southern Eurasia, Madagascar, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, so this is not accurate. However, they seem more abundant in evolutionarily isolated areas. South America was isolated until a few million years ago, with a fauna that included marsupials and other distinctive mammals. With the formation of the Panamanian land bridge to North America about three million years ago, boines have migrated north as colubrids (and various Nearctic mammals) have migrated south, as part of the Great American Interchange.
Distribution and habitat
Most species are found in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean, while a few are found in southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, Northern, Central and East Africa, Madagascar, the Arabian Peninsula, Central and southwestern Asia, India and Sri Lanka, the Moluccas, and New Guinea through to Melanesia and Samoa.
Prey is killed by constriction; after an animal has been grasped to restrain it, a number of coils are hastily wrapped around it. Then, by applying and maintaining sufficient pressure, the snake prevents its prey from inhaling, so that it eventually succumbs to asphyxiation. Recently, the pressures produced during constriction have been suggested as the cause of cardiac arrest by interfering with blood flow, but this hypothesis has not yet been confirmed.
Larger specimens usually eat animals about the size of a house cat, but larger food items are not unknown: the diet of the common anaconda, Eunectes murinus, is known to include subadult tapirs. Prey is swallowed whole, and may take several days or even weeks to fully digest. Despite their intimidating size and muscular power, they are generally not dangerous to humans.
Contrary to popular belief, even the larger species do not crush their prey to death; in fact, prey is not even noticeably deformed before it is swallowed. The speed with which the coils are applied is impressive and the force they exert may be significant, but death is caused by suffocation, with the victim not being able to move its ribs to breathe while it is being constricted.
|Subfamily||Taxon author||Genera||Species||Common name||Geographic range|
|Boinae||Gray, 1825||6||32||True boas||Central and South America and the West Indies|
|Calabariinae||Gray, 1858||1||1||Calabar boa||West and Central Africa|
|Candoiinae||Pyron, Burbink & Wiens, 2013||1||4||Bevel-nosed boas||From Sulawesi through the Maluku Islands, New Guinea and Melanesia to Samoa and Tokelau|
|Erycinae||Bonaparte, 1831||3||13||Old World sand boas||South and southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, north, central, west and east Africa, Arabia, central and southwestern Asia, India, Sri Lanka, southwestern Canada, the western United States, and northwestern Mexico|
|Sanziniinae||Romer, 1956||2||4||Madagascan boas||Madagascar|
Pythons were historically classified as a subfamily of Boidae (called Pythoninae), but we now know that they are not closely related to boas despite their superficial similarities.
Almost all of the non-boine boids are frequently elevated to their own full family: Calabariidae/inae, Candoiidae/inae, Erycidae/inae, Charininae, Ungaliophiidae/inae, Sanziniidae/inae, and Calabariidae/inae. The taxonomy of booid snakes has long been debated, and ultimately the decision whether to assign a particular clade to a particular Linnaean rank (such as a superfamily, family, or subfamily) is arbitrary.
The subfamily Ungaliophiinae was formerly made up of 4 genera. Two of these (Tropidophis and Trachyboa) are actually more closely related to red pipesnakes than to boas, and are now placed in the Tropidophiidae within the Amerophidia. The other two genera, Ungaliophis and Exiliboa, are the sister group of the Charina-Lichanura clade, within Boidae.
- Traditionally placed in Boinae
- Gray, John Edward (1825). "A Synopsis of the Genera of Reptiles and Amphibia, with a Description of some new Species". Annals of Philosophy. 10 (3): 209–210.
- McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, vol. 1. Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
- "Boidae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 14 July 2008.
- Parker HW, Grandison AGC. 1977. Snakes – a natural history. Second Edition. British Museum (Natural History) and Cornell University Press. 108 pp. 16 plates. LCCCN 76-54625. ISBN 0-8014-1095-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-8014-9164-9 (paper).
- Boidae Archived 2008-05-18 at the Wayback Machine at VMNH. Accessed 15 July 2008.
- Mehrtens JM (1987). Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
- Stidworthy J (1974). Snakes of the World. Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0-448-11856-4.
- Carr, Archie Fairly (1963). The Reptiles. Life Nature Library. New York: Time. LCCN 63012781.
- Reynolds, RG; Niemiller, ML; Revell, LJ (2014). "Toward a Tree-of-Life for the boas and pythons: multilocus species-level phylogeny with unprecedented taxon sampling" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 71: 201–213. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.11.011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-12-02. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
- Pyron, R. A.; Reynolds, R. G.; Burbrink, F. T. (2014). "A Taxonomic Revision of Boas (Serpentes: Boidae)" (PDF). Zootaxa. 3846: 249–260.
|Wikisource has the text of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th ed.) article Boa.|