Brazilian Rainbow Boa Epicrates cenchria
Brazilian rainbow boas are, by some, considered the most beautiful snake in the world. Although opinions will vary, this species is in fact quite attractive. They typically have a red to maroon background color with black-bordered "crescents" which are often a bright orange. Additionally, rainbow boas get their common name as a result of the spectacular iridescence they display when viewed in good light.
These snakes are indigenous to the lush forests of Brazil and bordering countries. Although mostly terrestrial, they have been found in trees, and in captivity some will climb if given the opportunity. In addition to the Brazilian form, rainbow boas from Colombia, Argentina, and Guyana are sometimes offered for sale. While different in appearance , and in some cases species, the care of these other rainbow boas is the same as that outlined here.
Rainbow boas are a moderately sized boa. Adult size can range from just over 4 feet to monstrous specimens measuring nearly 7 feet. Average adult size is between 5 and 6 feet with larger and smaller individuals being the exception.
As with all boas, rainbows are long lived, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live in excess of 25 years. Brazilian rainbow boas have been reported to live nearly half a century in captivity, although this would certainly be an exception rather than the norm.
Baby boas up to 2 feet in length can be housed in standard 10 to 20 gallon terrariums. Larger animals will of course require more space. A single adult will thrive in an enclosure measuring 4 long by 2 feet deep. Pairs or exceptionally large individuals should be provided with more space.
While all glass terrariums with secure screen lids work, molded plastic enclosures such as those produced by Vision Herpetoculture will aid in maintaining the high humidity levels required for this species.
Rainbow boas inhabit the tropics and as such should be kept between 85 and 90 degrees during the day and between 75 and 80 at night. Babies should be kept warm 24 hours a day, but adults can tolerate cooler nighttime temperatures.
Heat pads should be used whenever possible, as they provide heat without the drying side effects of high wattage heat bulbs. Unfortunately, during most of the year in most climates, heat pads alone will not suffice. In these cases the supplemental use of red bulbs, standard basking bulbs, or ceramic heat emitters will be necessary to maintain proper temperatures. In solid enclosures such as vision cages or Penn Plax cages, use of radiant heat panels can be a safe alternative to bare bulbs within the cage.
Supplemental lighting is not required for this species, but as such a beautiful animal, many keepers want to view their snakes during the day. The use of a full spectrum fluorescent bulb will work well for display lighting, as the animals will not only benefit from a regular photoperiod, but the balanced light will display their colors as a dazzling rainbow.
The bedding of choice for keeping rainbow boas should be one that retains moisture and promotes humidity within the enclosure. Highly recommended are cypress mulch, orchid bark, and pulverized coconut husk products such as plantation soil. Additionally, clumps of sphagnum moss are recommended as they not only add to the naturalistic feel of the enclosure but serve as a great source of added humidity when misted regularly.
Baby rainbow boas will climb occasionally if given the opportunity, so small, branchy sticks are often a welcome cage addition. More important, though, are hiding areas on both the warm and cool regions of the enclosure. Pieces of cork bark, half-logs, and large pieces of grapewood are all acceptable.
Use of live plants in a cage with baby boas can help raise humidity within the cage, although adults will often crush live plants. Use of fake plants to help provide cover for the boa to feel safe and secure is a recommended alternative to live plants for adults.
Rainbow boas will dehydrate quickly if not provided with ample water and humidity. A large, sturdy water bowl should always be present, and ideally large enough for the snake to entirely submerge in. Water should be checked daily for cleanliness, and replaced immediately if soiled.
Humidity levels of 70% or more seem to be best for rainbow boas in captivity. Larger animals seem more tolerant of dryer conditions than their smaller counterparts. In addition to a large water bowl, daily or twice daily misting of the enclosure and all of its contents will be required. The substrate should remain slightly damp during most of the day, but should be nearly dry before being sprayed again. An automatic misting system can help maintain humidity with minimal work, and a fogger is one of the most visually appealing ways to boost humidity.
If your snake is shedding properly, and there is a barely noticeable layer of condensation between the substrate and enclosure glass then you are probably within healthy limits. The bedding should never be soggy, and if this happens, replace it immediately to reduce the chance for medical complications such as scale rot or sores.
In captivity, rainbow boas thrive on a diet of appropriately sized mice and rats. Newborns will accept a live pinky mouse every 5 to 7 days, and will gradually take larger prey items. When the food items you are offering fail to produce a noticeable lump in your snake’s belly, then it is time to upgrade to larger prey.
A feeding schedule of one food item per week should be maintained throughout the animals life. Once your snakes are large enough to eat weaned prey items (mouse hoppers and larger) consider offering freshly killed or frozen/thawed prey items. This is not only more convenient for the keeper, but also greatly reduces the chance of your snake being injured or intimidated by its prospective meal.
Baby animals and those not used to handling can be nervous and nippy. This behavior usually disappears with time and patience. However, the temperament of this species is highly variable, and this should be taken into consideration when choosing a snake.
For all of their natural beauty, rainbow boas are most commonly kept as display animals, being enjoyed from a distance. As with any animal, excessive handling can be stressful and lead to other issues down the line. If you must handle these snakes do so confidently and with slow, steady movements.
© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2006