Rainbow boas are arguably one of the most beautiful snake species in the world. They get their common name from the stunning iridescence on their scales, which have tiny ridges that behave like prisms to give the stunning array of blue, green, and purple when light hits their scales. These animals are native to Central and South America, and although there are currently nine recognized subspecies, this article will focus on the Brazilian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria), as this is the animal most widely found in captivity.
Housing, Temperatures, and Humidity
Brazilian rainbow boas are considered an intermediate snake, mostly due to their high humidity requirements and their tendency to be fairly nippy as neonates. They are a medium-sized boa, maxing out at an adult size of 5 to 6 feet, with females being at the larger end of the scale and males being slightly smaller. As such, the minimum enclosure size for an adult snake should be no smaller than 4’x2’x2′. A glass tank with a mesh top is highly undesirable as it is incredibly hard to retain the optimal humidity required for these snakes, which is between 90-100%. Adults may be able to tolerate lower humidity, but it must never fall below 85%. Bear in mind that just because an animal may be able to tolerate certain conditions does not mean that this will not eventually lead to negative consequences. With this species, care should be taken to keep humidity as high as possible at all times. Babies and juveniles should be kept at 95% or above at all times. High humidity is essential for this species as these snakes do dehydrate easily. PVC enclosures, such as the ones manufactured by Animal Plastics and Boaphile, are ideal as they keep humidity in perfectly. Wooden enclosures may work too; however, they are not ideal and should absolutely be sealed against moisture or they may begin to rot. Plastic storage tubs can also be used for younger snakes. A good way to keep humidity up is to use substrate such as Eco Earth, orchid bark, or cypress mulch as these substrates retain moisture, unlike other popular substrates such as aspen, which will mold quickly in the humid environment. Humid hides are also recommended, and these can be created by simply packing moss into appropriately sized containers. An appropriately sized hide will be just large enough for the snake to barely squeeze into, as tight, closed spaces help them feel secure. New Zealand sphagnum moss is preferred as it doesn’t mold and holds moisture longer.
Temperatures also require particular attention. A good ambient temperature falls in the mid to low 70s, while the snake should have a warm side of between 83-86 degrees. Prolonged exposure to temperatures above 90 degrees can cause neurological issues and even prove fatal for Brazilian rainbow boas. An ideal heating source would be an under tank heater (UTH) regulated by a thermostat. Please keep in mind that a thermostat is always necessary when used with a UTH, as an unregulated pad runs extraordinarily hot (sometimes 110 degrees or higher), and may severely burn your snake. Heat lamps are also not recommended with Brazilian rainbow boas because they sap the needed humidity from the enclosure. If a secondary heat source is needed, a good option would be radiant heat panels.
It is also crucial that the environment is kept clean. The warm, high-humidity environment needed by rainbow boas also plays host to all kinds of bacteria. Feces and urates should be removed immediately, and substrate needs to be changed regularly (at least every other week). These snakes are impressively resistant to a potentially fatal condition called scale rot (necrotic dermatitis), and typically, the only way a rainbow boa will develop this will be due to an unhygienic environment.
Temperament and Feeding
Captive-bred adult Brazilian rainbow boas tend to be calm, slow-moving, tolerant, and placid animals. As stated earlier, baby boas tend to be rather nippy, but the vast majority will calm down and become great pet snakes with a few weeks’ worth of regular handling; however, a snake should not be handled for a day or two after eating as this may stress the animal out and lead to regurgitation. Never feed in a separate enclosure; cage aggression is a myth, and if the snake is being handled enough and you don’t smell of rodents, you don’t have to worry about the snake mistaking your hand for food.
Baby boas may start out taking rat pinkies. The best way to figure out when your snake needs to move up a food size is to weigh it on a digital kitchen scale and feed a prey item around 15% of your snake’s body weight. This is a good chart of prey sizes. An adult rainbow boa will probably end up taking medium rats every 10-14 days. Appropriately sized mice are also an option for younger boas; these snakes tend to feed readily if temperatures and humidity are correct.
Your boa should always have water available, and the dish should be large enough for the snake to soak in if it wants to. Brazilian rainbow boas will soak more frequently as they grow older.
It is important to remember that excessive handling does stress snakes out, and stressed snakes typically will not eat. While many feeding problems can be pinned down to poor and improper husbandry, or an animal being in shed, keep in mind that snakes are solitary creatures and do prefer to be alone, and unrestrained amounts of handling can contribute to a snake going off feed.
Brazilian rainbow boas are wonderful snakes and make great pets. Their placid nature and curiosity are just a couple of their endearing qualities, and when cared for correctly, you can expect to have this amazing animal for around 20-25 years. Remembers, snakes (and many reptiles in general) are a long-term commitment. Always do your research and make sure you have all essential supplies. It is imperative to keep money set aside in case of an emergency and a veterinarian is needed.