snake-care

Rainbow Boa Care Sheet

February 17, 2021

rainbow boa

The Brazilian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) is a 5-7’ long, semi-arboreal, nocturnal snake native to the Amazon River Basin. They generally prefer a tropical rainforest habitat, and can be found on the forest floor, in low branches, or even sometimes in water.

Brazilian rainbow boas have oval heads, slender bodies, and pronounced labial scales. However, they are best recognized for their distinctive coloring. Brazilian rainbow boas have a red-orange base color, with black rings on their back, yellow crescents on their sides, and three black stripes on their head. Best of all, they display stunning iridescence that causes rainbows to gleam across their scales.

Because of their coloring, Brazilian rainbow boas are fairly popular as pets. However, due to high humidity requirements and a somewhat nippy temperament as babies, these snakes are best considered as intermediate-level reptiles. With good care, they can have a 20-25 year lifespan.

Minimum terrarium size for rainbow boas

The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single rainbow boa is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better! More space means more room for your snake to exercise, explore, and thermoregulate.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple rainbow boas in one enclosure) is not recommended.

Do rainbow boas need UVB?

Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for rainbow boas. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.

The best UVB bulbs for rainbow boas housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” terrarium are:

  • Arcadia T8 6%, 24”
  • Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 5.0, 24”

For best results, house the UVB bulb in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 8-13” above the basking branch if over mesh, and 10-15” above the basking branch if not. 

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.

Best temperature for rainbow boas

Like other reptiles, rainbow boas are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.

Specifically speaking, rainbow boas are happiest when kept relatively cool. They should have a basking air temperature between 84-86°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 73-75°F. Make sure you’re maintaining an appropriate temperature gradient with digital probe thermometers.

Provide heat for your snake with at least two heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: branch) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. If the bubs are a little too hot, use a plug-in lamp dimmer to reduce output. If the bulbs are not hot enough, you will need a higher wattage.

Heat should be turned off at night.

Best humidity levels for rainbow boas

Rainbow boas are a tropical species that requires an average humidity of 70-80%.  Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.

Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Running a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat can also help. We also recommend installing a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss. This helps make sure your snake will always have an area of 90-100% humidity available when needed. 

Rainbow boas like to soak regularly, so make sure to provide a large tub of water big enough to accommodate the snake’s entire body. Keep the water clean and free of debris, and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly or whenever it becomes soiled.

Best substrate for rainbow boas

Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for rainbow boas:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.

Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Although rainbow boas don’t really burrow, the deep substrate is helpful for maintaining humidity. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

How to decorate a rainbow boa terrarium

An empty terrarium makes for a bored snake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Make sure that your snake has covered areas to retreat to when it wants privacy.

What to feed to a rainbow boa

Rainbow boas are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake age:

  • Hatchlings and juveniles should be fed once every 5-10 days.
  • Adults should be fed once every 14 days.

Prey items should be around the same width as the snake at its widest point. Aside from the usual mice and rats, you can also rotate in gerbils, hamsters, young guinea pigs, chicks, and quail for variety. This helps your snake get more balanced nutrition!

Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.

Supplements

Snakes can survive without dietary supplements, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your pet from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.

How to handle your rainbow boa

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Rainbow boas have a bad reputation for being pretty nippy, but this is usually only true when they are handled infrequently or when they are young. 

When picking up your boa, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine! If you are nervous about being bitten, keep it away from your face and wear thick gloves.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!


Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay 

 


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