Rainbow Boa: A Colorful and Slender Pet Snake

full body rainbow boa in an enclosure

Rainbow boas are one of the most beautiful and fascinating snakes in the world. They have iridescent skin that reflects the colors of the rainbow (hence the name), large black rings that contrast with their bright background, and a blue eye that gives them a mysterious look. They are also slender, graceful, and nonvenomous constrictors that can make great pets for experienced snake owners.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about rainbow boas, including their conservation status, common names, different types, native habitat, size, lifespan, diet, behavior, breeding, health issues, and a care sheet for beginners. You will also find out why rainbow boas are one of our favorite snakes and why they might be the perfect pet snake for you.

What is a Rainbow Boa?

A rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) is a boa species belonging to the genus Epicrates. There are nine recognized subspecies of rainbow boas, each with its own distinctive coloration and pattern. Some of the most popular subspecies are:

  • Brazilian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria): This is the most common and widely available subspecies of rainbow boa. It has a reddish-brown to orange background color with large black rings and spots. It also has the most pronounced iridescence among all rainbow boas.
  • Colombian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria maurus): This subspecies has a darker brown to black background color with smaller and more irregular black rings and spots. It has less iridescence than the Brazilian rainbow boa but still shines in the light.
  • Peruvian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria gaigei): This subspecies has a lighter brown to tan background color with thin black rings and spots. It has a more slender body than the other subspecies and a longer tail.
  • Argentine rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria alvarezi): This subspecies has a yellowish-brown to olive background color with thick black rings and spots. It has a more robust body than the other subspecies and a shorter tail.

Rainbow boas are native to Central and South America and live in humid tropical forests. They are mostly nocturnal and arboreal, meaning they are active at night and spend most of their time in trees. They hunt for small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, and eggs using the heat-sensing pits on their snout and powerful jaws and muscles to constrict their prey.

Rainbow boas are not endangered in the wild but are threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, and illegal pet trade. They are protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which regulates their export and import. Rainbow boas are also listed as Least Concern by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which means they have a stable population and a low risk of extinction.

How Big Do Rainbow Boas Get?

Rainbow boas are medium-sized snakes that can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. However, most rainbow boas stay between 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) long. The size of a rainbow boa depends on its subspecies, gender, diet, and genetics.

Generally speaking, Brazilian rainbow boas are the largest subspecies of rainbow boas, while Peruvian rainbow boas are the smallest. Also, female rainbow boas tend to be larger than male rainbow boas because they need more space to store eggs during the breeding season.

Rainbow boas can weigh up to 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms), but most weigh between 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kilograms). The weight of a rainbow boa depends on its length, girth, age, health condition, and feeding frequency.

Rainbow boas grow slowly compared to other snakes. They can take up to 4 years to reach their adult size. They also have a long lifespan of up to 20 years in captivity if they are well cared for.

Rainbow boa in it's enclosure, close up side and face shot
Pixabay

What Do Rainbow Boas Eat?

Rainbow boas are carnivorous snakes that eat mostly rodents in captivity. Depending on their size and preference, they can also eat other prey items such as chicks, quails, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, etc…

Rainbow boas should be fed once every 7 to 10 days as adults and once every 5 to 7 days as juveniles. The prey item should be appropriately sized for the snake’s mouth and body. A good rule of thumb is to feed your snake a prey item that is no bigger than the widest part of its body.

Rainbow boas should be fed frozen-thawed prey rather than live prey for several reasons:

  • Frozen-thawed prey is safer for your snake because it eliminates the risk of injury or infection from bites or scratches from live prey.
  • Frozen-thawed prey is more humane for the prey animal because it reduces its stress and suffering.
  • Frozen-thawed prey is more convenient for you because it is easier to store and handle.

To feed your snake frozen-thawed prey, you need to thaw it first by placing it in a plastic bag and submerging it in warm water until it reaches room temperature. Then you can offer it to your snake using tongs or tweezers. You can also wiggle it slightly to simulate movement and entice your snake to strike.

Rainbow boas do not need to drink water often because they get most of their hydration from their prey. However, they still need access to fresh water at all times in case they get thirsty or want to soak themselves. Provide your snake with a large shallow water dish that is big enough for them to fit inside but not too deep that it can drown.

You should change the water daily or whenever it gets dirty or contaminated by feces or urine. You should also clean the water dish regularly with soap and water or disinfectant.

How Do Rainbow Boas Behave?

Rainbow boas are shy and secretive snakes that prefer to hide during the day and come out at night. They are not aggressive or venomous snakes but they can bite if they feel threatened or stressed.

Rainbow boas have different personalities depending on their individual temperament, genetics, and upbringing. Some rainbow boas may be more docile, curious, and friendly, while others may be more defensive, nervous, and shy. You can influence your snake’s personality by handling it regularly, gently, and confidently from a young age. This will help your snake get used to your presence, smell, and touch and reduce its fear and stress.

However, you should not handle your snake too often or too long because it can stress them out or make them sick. You should also avoid handling your snake when it is shedding, digesting, or gravid because it can cause discomfort or complications. You should also wash your hands before and after handling your snake to prevent transmitting any germs or diseases.

Juvenile Rainbow Boa holding onto a mans arm
Pixabay

Rainbow boas are solitary snakes that do not need or want any companionship from other snakes or animals. They may tolerate each other during breeding season but they may fight or eat each other at other times.

Do not house two or more rainbow boas together unless you are an experienced breeder who knows how to introduce them properly, monitor them closely, and separate them when necessary.

How Do Rainbow Boas Breed?

Rainbow boas breed once a year during winter or spring, depending on their location and climate. They need a period of cooling or brumation before breeding to stimulate their reproductive hormones. Brumation is similar to hibernation but not as extreme. It involves lowering your snake’s temperature, lighting, and feeding for several weeks or months until they become less active, eat less, and lose weight.

To brumate your snake, you need to gradually reduce the temperature in their enclosure by 5°F (3°C) every week until it reaches 70°F (21°C) during the day and 65°F (18°C) during the night. You’ll also need to reduce the lighting cycle from 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark to 8 hours of light and 16 hours of dark. Your snake will slow its metabolism and likely eat less but you can still offer food, just not as regularly.

You should monitor your snake’s weight, health, and behavior during brumation and make sure they do not lose more than 10% of their body weight. You should always provide them with fresh water in case they want to drink or soak themselves. You should also check them for any signs of illness or injury, such as mites, respiratory infections, scale rot, etc., and treat them accordingly.

You should brumate your snake for at least two months before introducing them to a potential mate of the opposite sex and same species. It is often easiest to put the male in with the female instead of the other way around. Handling the female during this time should be limited as much as possible. Observe them carefully for any signs of aggression or compatibility, such as biting, hissing, coiling, rubbing, or courting.

If they show aggression towards each other, you should separate them immediately and try again later with another mate or after another cooling period. If they are compatible, you should let them stay together for a few days or weeks until they mate. You should provide them with enough food and water during this time and keep the temperature and lighting at normal levels.

Rainbow boas are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. The gestation period of rainbow boas is about 5 to 6 months, during which the female will carry the developing embryos inside her body. The female will become visibly swollen and restless as she approaches her due date.

Rainbow boas can give birth to anywhere from 5 to 35 babies at a time, depending on their size, age, and health. The babies are born fully formed and independent, measuring about 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 centimeters) long and weighing about 1 ounce (28 grams) each. They have a thin membrane around their body that they will shed within a few hours after birth.

You should separate the mother from the babies as soon as possible after birth to prevent her from eating them or stressing them out. You should also check the babies for any deformities or injuries and remove any dead or weak ones. Provide the babies with their own enclosures with adequate heat, humidity, hiding places, water dishes, and substrates.

Do not feed the babies until they have their first shed, which usually happens within a week or two after birth. After birth, they will finish absorbing the yolk sac, which gives them all the food and nutrition they need in their early weeks. After their first shed, you can feed them pinky mice once every 5 to 7 days until they grow bigger. A few days after their first meal, you can start handling the babies gently and regularly to help tame them and make them more sociable.

What Are Some Common Health Issues of Rainbow Boas?

Rainbow boas are generally healthy snakes that do not suffer from many diseases or disorders. However, they can still get sick or injured if they are not cared for properly or if they encounter some environmental or genetic factors. Some of the most common health issues of rainbow boas are:

Mites

Snake Mites are tiny parasites that feed on your snake’s blood and cause irritation, infection, anemia, and stress. They can also transmit diseases and viruses to your snake. You can prevent mites by keeping your snake’s enclosure clean and quarantining any new snakes before introducing them to your collection. You can treat mites by using anti-parasitic products such as sprays, dips, or injections.

Respiratory infections

Various bacterial and viral infections can affect your snake’s lungs and breathing. They can cause symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Low temperatures, high humidity, poor ventilation, stress, or exposure to other sick snakes can cause them.

You can prevent respiratory infections by maintaining optimal temperature and humidity levels in your snake’s enclosure and avoiding overcrowding or overhandling your snake. You can treat respiratory infections by increasing the temperature and humidity in your snake’s enclosure and administering antibiotics or antivirals prescribed by a vet.

Scale rot

Fungal or bacterial infections that affect your snake’s skin and scales. It can cause symptoms such as blisters, ulcers, scabs, inflammation, and necrosis. Dirty or wet substrate, low humidity, injuries, or stress can cause it. You can prevent scale rot by keeping your snake’s enclosure clean and dry and providing adequate humidity levels. You can treat scale rot by cleaning and disinfecting your snake’s enclosure and applying topical antifungal or antibacterial creams or ointments prescribed by a vet.

Inclusion body disease (IBD)

This fatal Reptarenavirus affects your snake’s nervous system and organs. It can cause symptoms such as stargazing, head wobbling, regurgitation, paralysis, seizures, weight loss, and death. It can be transmitted by contact with infected snakes or contaminated objects. There is no cure or vaccine for IBD and it usually results in euthanasia of the affected snake. You can prevent IBD by buying snakes from reputable breeders or sources and quarantining any new snakes before introducing them to your collection.

Caring for a Rainbow Boa

Rainbow boas are not often recommended as beginner snakes because they have specific requirements for their enclosure, temperature, humidity, lighting, and handling. They also need a lot of space, time, and attention to thrive in captivity. For an experienced snake keeper, rainbow boas can be rewarding pets that will amaze you with their beauty, intelligence, and personality.

Here is a basic rainbow boa care sheet that will help you get started:

Enclosure

You should provide your rainbow boa with a large, secure, and escape-proof enclosure that mimics its natural habitat. The minimum size of the enclosure should be at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) long, 2 feet (0.6 meters) wide, and 2 feet (0.6 meters) high for an adult rainbow boa. In this case, bigger is better; rainbow boas are active snakes that like to explore and climb.

Try to provide your snake with multiple hiding places, climbing branches, plants, and decorations to make it feel comfortable and stimulated. You should also line the bottom of the enclosure with a suitable substrate that retains moisture well, such as cypress mulch, coconut fiber, or sphagnum moss. You should avoid using dusty, sharp, or toxic substrates, such as sand, gravel, or cedar. You should also clean the enclosure regularly and remove any feces or urine as soon as possible.

Temperature

You should provide your rainbow boa with a temperature gradient in its enclosure that allows it to regulate its body temperature according to its needs. The warm side of the enclosure should have a basking spot of about 85°F (29°C) during the day and 80°F (27°C) during the night. The cool side of the enclosure should have an ambient temperature of about 75°F (24°C) during the day and 70°F (21°C) during the night.

Use a thermostat to control the temperature in your snake’s enclosure and avoid overheating or underheating it. You should also use thermometers to monitor the temperature in different areas of the enclosure and make sure they are accurate and reliable. You can use various heating devices such as heat lamps, heat mats, heat tape, or ceramic heat emitters to provide heat for your snake. However, you should always place them outside or above the enclosure and never inside it to prevent burns or fires. You should also make sure they are well-secured and protected from water or moisture.

Humidity

You should provide your rainbow boa with high humidity levels in its enclosure that mimic its tropical environment. The ideal humidity level for a rainbow boa is between 70% to 90% at all times. You can maintain high humidity levels by misting your snake’s enclosure daily or using a humidifier or fogger. You can also add a large water dish or a humid hide box filled with moist sphagnum moss or paper towels to increase humidity levels.

Use a hygrometer to measure your snake’s enclosure’s humidity level and ensure it is accurate and reliable. You should also avoid letting the humidity level drop below 60% or rise above 100%, as this can cause health problems for your snake, such as dehydration, respiratory infections, scale rot, etc.

Lighting

You should provide your rainbow boa with a natural light cycle that mimics its day and night cycle. The ideal lighting cycle for a rainbow boa is 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. You can use a timer to control the lighting cycle in your snake’s enclosure and avoid disrupting its circadian rhythm. You can use natural sunlight or artificial lighting, such as fluorescent or LED bulbs, to provide light for your snake.

However, you should avoid using incandescent or halogen bulbs as they can produce too much heat and dry out the air. You should also make sure the lighting is not too bright or too dim for your snake and that it does not shine directly into its eyes.

Handling

You should handle your rainbow boa regularly, gently, and confidently to tame it and make it more sociable. However, you should not handle your snake too often or too long, as this can stress it out or make it sick. You should also avoid handling your snake when it is shedding, digesting, or gravid, as this can cause discomfort or complications. You should also wash your hands before and after handling your snake to prevent transmitting any germs or diseases.

Conclusion

Rainbow boas are one of the most colorful and slender pet snakes that you can own. They have iridescent skin that reflects the colors of the rainbow, large black rings that contrast with their bright background, and a blue eye that gives them a mysterious look. They are also medium-sized, nonvenomous constrictors that can live up to 20 years in captivity if they are well cared for.

These are amazing snakes that will reward you with their beauty, intelligence, and personality if you treat them right. They are one of our favorite snakes and we hope they will become yours too.

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FAQ

How big do rainbow boas get?

Rainbow boas can grow up to 6 feet long, but most stay between 4 to 5 feet long. Their size depends on their subspecies, gender, diet, and genetics.

How much does a rainbow boa cost?

Rainbow boas can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on their subspecies, color, pattern, age, and health. Brazilian rainbow boas are usually the most expensive and sought-after subspecies of rainbow boas.

Are rainbow boas good pets?

Rainbow boas can be good pets for experienced snake owners who are willing to provide them with the proper care and attention. They are not beginner-friendly snakes because they have specific requirements for their enclosure, temperature, humidity, lighting, and handling. They also need a lot of space and time to thrive in captivity.

Are rainbow boas arboreal?

Rainbow boas are mostly arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in trees. They are nocturnal and hunt for prey using their heat-sensing pits, powerful jaws, and muscles. They need climbing branches, plants, and decorations in their enclosure to make them feel comfortable and stimulated.

Are rainbow boas venomous?

Rainbow boas are not venomous snakes but they can bite if they feel threatened or stressed. Nonvenomous constrictors kill their prey by wrapping their body around it and squeezing it until it suffocates. They rarely bite humans unless they mistake them for food or feel cornered or scared.

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