Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) - Information including care, feeding, housing
This page is devoted to housing Brazilian rainbow boa's, it's another article that belongs to the "exotic pets" category (articles that aren't dedicated to aquarium fish). In case you own one or more of these snakes, you're welcome to share your experiences at the bottom of this page!
Often these snakes are depicted hanging from tree branches looking for prey but the truth is that they spend much more time on the surface of hot and humid tropical forests, keeping themselves well camouflaged within the foliage and hidden from prey and predators alike.
They are mostly found in the central regions of South America, they are found in a widespread area, humidity and heat are definitely to their liking and reducing these two factors can lead to health problems if you do decide to keep this snake as a pet at home.
They are a long lived snake, 20 years is quite common and in the wild they do reach a length of up to 7 feet in captivity this length can be reduce by a couple of feet. Their markings lead to their common name of Rainbow Boa as they have an iridescent sheen to their body colouration which can appear a slightly different sheen as they turn in the light, the main colouration of their bodies is red and black.
They are very popular as a pet snake as they do become very tame in time and son recognise their owner, or rather the hand that feeds them so they are also ideal for younger snake keepers, having a very friendly disposition. Younger specimens can be more excitable but with age they do settle down and the risk of being nipped is greatly reduced, they are more active during the night hours and also enjoy more time out if the vivarium compared to other species of snakes, this free time is used as exercise periods for the Rainbow Boa, this is a very important aspect in their life.
Some keepers describe them as a good beginner snake but they do require higher humidity levels making them slightly more demanding than King snakes or Milksnakes so it may be best to consider a Rainbow Boa when you have gained a little experience with the easier species of snakes.
Housing your Brazilian Rainbow Boa
Use a vivarium that allows space for your snake plus the décor and equipment that you need to house inside, they are not over active inside the vivarium but always use a weight tight fitting lid to prevent any unwanted escapes in the night, they are very good at this and can easily escape if allowed to. If you are keeping a smaller specimen then use a vivarium that is not too large, this can stress the snake as they do like to feel cosy, the general rule is one square foot of footprint in the vivarium per foot of snake.
As mentioned above these snakes prefer higher humidity levels which can cause problems in the vivarium itself as mould spores thrive under such conditions, using a wooden vivarium can accelerate the mould growth so the use of a glass tank is much preferred and this will need cleaning out on a regular basis so that any mould or damp cannot take hold.
All vivariums require a suitable substrate, there are several choices now available one of these being plain old newspapers, this is a cheap option and can be replaced on a regular basis without too much hassle. Other choices include different bark mixes, these can give a more natural look to the vivarium and also help to retain some moisture which in turn also keeps the humidity levels higher than with newspaper.
All snakes are cold blooded so rely on us to provide a heat source so that they can retain their body heat by retaining this, there are also a couple of choices here available for you to use. The most common method is to use heat mats that are controlled by a thermostat, to provide ideal conditions you need to provide a warm area in the vivarium as well as a cooler area, placing the heat mat halfway underneath the vivarium solves this problem straight away. The other option is to place alight bulb inside the vivarium which can also be controlled by a thermostat, unfortunately snakes are very inquisitive so any heating equipment inside the vivarium must be protected by a suitable mesh guard, snakes cannot always realise when they are actually burning their skin. To monitor the temperature levels always use reliable thermometers, one placed in each area of the vivarium.
Suitable temperatures are 30 deg C (86 deg F) in the warmer area and the cooler area should be around 21 deg C (70 deg F), using a suitable air flow will help with the temperature monitoring.
All species of snake require a bolt hole where they can escape to if they feel the need to hide or just even rest, the hiding place is commonly known as the hide and can be constructed by yourself from a simple box with a doorway or even a large plant pot that has an access point. There are commercial hides available but home made ones, if constructed correctly are quite adequate, the important aspect to the hide is that the snake can enter it easily and it should only be slightly larger than the coiled size of the snake, if it is too large the snake can feel insecure. Like the vivarium, the hiding place should also be cleaned out on a regular basis.
Snakes also need to exercise on a regular basis, a lot of this can be encouraged when handling your snake but the addition of branches or dowelling to replicate these will also provide an exercise opportunity for your snake, make sure that the branches or dowelling can support the weight of your snake and that they are securely fixed in place.
As we all know, humidity is created from the evaporation of water, all snakes also need fresh water to drink so the addition of a suitable water bowl actually serves two purposes. The bowl should be quite heavy to prevent any accidental toppling over and rather than use a bowl that is tall and slim, it is far better to use a low bowl that is relatively wide, this creates a larger surface area on the water meaning that the evaporation rate is increased.
Always keep a close eye on the water as it will need replacing, any fouled water from the snake faeces dropped in there must be replaced, they may also decide to bathe when shedding their skins, this can also foul the water so always be vigilant. Invest in a spray bottle and use this purely for misting the vivarium, the misting may need to be performed a few times each day, spraying inside the hide will also help with the humidity. To monitor the humidity levels there are several pieces of equipment available, whichever you choose to use is personal preference as in my view they all do a good job. Aim for levels of at least 75% humidity, allowing this to drop lower can dehydrate the snake if this occurs for long periods, younger snakes may need slightly higher levels to be safe.
To keep your snake active and inquisitive in the vivarium, move the décor around every now and again, the Rainbow Boa will love exploring the new arrangement plus it will also provide exercise for your snake.
Feeding the Rainbow Boa
In the wild Rainbow Boa are predators on small mammals etc. and their diet can be easily replicated in captivity. The easiest food to feed them are baby rats or mice, commonly known as “pinkies” due to the mice or rats not having developed enough to produce fur on their bodies. Rats are preferred by many Boa keepers as they are slightly larger and a meal of one of these provides more nourishment, only feed a meal that is in comparison to the size and age of your snake, younger snakes require younger rats or mice etc.. Juvenile specimens of the Rainbow Boa will require more regular meals, once a week if feeding juvenile rats, if feeding mice then every 4-5 days, adult specimens may only need to be feed once a week with an adult rat or a couple of adult mice. Keep an eye on your snake to make sure that it does not get thinner and bones are starting to show, if this is the case then feed the same as you would with juveniles, if your Rainbow Boa starts to look obese then reduce the feeding accordingly.
To keep feeding costs down, many keepers will breed their own rodents purely for feeding to their Rainbow Boa, offering live food can run the risk of your snake being injured by sharp teeth or claws from their prey, using frozen food is the better option but always defrost thoroughly before offering anything to your snake.
Breeding the Rainbow Boa
There is a bit of a debate as to whether or not not it is necessary to hibernate Rainbow Boas prior to breeding, the general consensus seems to be that it does not make a lot of difference so for this section we will take you straight to the breeding project.
Sexing Rainbow Boa is extremely difficult and should be left to experienced keepers who can help you out with this.
It is thought that the both sexes can be identified when the Rainbow Boa attains an age of at least three years old. Probing of the vent is the most reliable method but it is thought that males have larger spurs on the side of the vent and have as thicker base to their tails.
What is agreed is that the Rainbow Boa needs to be at a minimum age of 4 years old and at least five foot in length before they can even be considered for breeding. The breeding should take place between February and June, attempt to add the male and female together in February if possible to allow them to get to know each other. Keep a close eye on them and separate if they look like they are going to be aggressive towards each other, you can always add them together again at a later date.
If breeding does occur the female should start to swell as she becomes gravid and gestation should occur over a 5 month period. Depositing the eggs can be very stressful to the female so she should be left undisturbed while undergoing this process, if startled or stressed she can abort and you will finish up with a lot of still born young.
The young are born in a transparent sheath that is very elastic, there will be some that do not survive the rigours of birth but this should be at a minimum percentage, the healthy offspring waste no time releasing themselves in a matter of hours, they are very independent and should be removed from the mother snake immediately after her giving birth, the infertile casings do make a meal for the parent snake unfortunately she can get confused and actually eat healthy offspring by mistake.
The yolk should have been consumed at the time of birth but sometimes there may be some remaining. The young will consume this excess in time and after a couple of weeks they will go through their first shedding, only after this should you attempt to feed the juveniles. The sooner you handle the snakes the better to get them accustomed to it, some keepers will cut the umbilical cord and treat the wound, this encourages the young snakes to get used to their owners handling them and can lead to a more docile specimen as they start to grow.
Shedding their Skins
Snakes shed their skins, this is a fact of life and when first observed by the snake keeper, it can be a worrying time but usually this event comes and passes without too many problems. The initial signs that the snake is preparing to shed is a reduction in appetite, it may hide away more and become less responsive to handling, the eyes will also take on a grey colouration, the whole of the body colouration may fade slightly. Due to the clouding of the eyes, the vision of the snake will be reduced, this can make it a bit more skittish so only handle when necessary to prevent stressing your Rainbow Boa, eventually it will start to rub itself against décor etc. in the vivarium and the first signs of the shed will be when its head emerges from the old skin, in time it will slide itself out of the remaining skin. Check your snake after shedding to ensure that all of the old skin has been shed and give the vivarium an even larger clean to remove any old skin and faeces. If any of the old skin remains it may be required to loosen the skin by bathing the snake or removing the old skin with suitable tweezers, this will reduce any chance of infection or poor skin development below the old skin.
As with all pets, the keepers love to handle their new arrivals, try not to handle the snake until it has had a few days to settle into its new home, initially handling periods should be restricted until the snake becomes comfortable with you and learns to trust you. Gradually increase the handling periods until the snake is perfectly relaxed with you and settles on your arm with no signs of agitation!
The living conditions for your snake must be kept clean or diseases and infections can arise, if you do suspect any problems with your snake do not hesitate to consult a qualified veterinary practitioner who can offer you advice and if required the correct treatment.
Milksnakes can live for over 20 years, they are a big commitment so unless you are prepared to look after these reptiles properly, please leave them for someone who has the facilities to do so!
Always wash your hands after handling your snake, reptiles can carry diseases that are detrimental to humans!