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CARE SHEETS

 

Brazilian Rainbow Boa Care Sheet

 

Description

 

 Brazilian rainbow boas are a subspecies of Epicrates cenchria, commonly known as Rainbow Boas. The range of brazilian rainbow boas is quite large. It includes northern Peru and Brazil, southern Venezuela and Guyana and much of Surinam and French Guiana. Although not endangered, due to habitat destruction they are not common in their range. They are a semi-arboreal, slender-bodied snake with an adult size of 5-7 feet, females being slightly larger than males. Rainbow boas have beautiful coloration ranging from a deep red to orange, sometimes brown, with dark rings down their back, and several rows of dark spots along their sides, the first row that is highlighted by bright, light-colored crescents.

 

 Rainbow boas get their name from their incredible iridescence caused by microscopic ridges on their scales that act like prisms to turn light into rainbows.

 

  

Housing

 

 Neonates and sub-adult Brazilian rainbow boas do very well housed in Rubbermaid containers or similar. Adults need a minimum of somewhere around 4 to 6 square feet of caging. Substrates that Brazilian rainbow boas do well on include sphagnum/peat moss, Care fresh, newspaper, and cypress mulch. I keep mine on a layer of dimpled craft paper with a couple of layers of newspaper underneath for added absorbency. Neonates require a much higher humidity level than adults and can be housed successfully on paper towels. With such high humidity comes mold, therefore attention must be kept to maintaining very clean cages. Rainbow boas should have free access to a large bowl of fresh water at all times (large enough to soak in). As adults they will usually drink large amounts of water and will not require nearly as high relative humidity in their cages. Unless they are on several inches of loose substrate that they can burrow in, they should also be provided with adequate hiding spots. Though not an absolute necessity, perches and shelves can be added to the enclosure.

 

Common mistake - using a fish tank with a screen top, This will lose most of the humidity and dehydrate your Brazilian rainbow boa.  If not corrected will lead to Upper respiratory problems and death. 

 

 

Temperature and Humidity

 

Brazilian rainbow boas are more tolerant of lower ambient temperatures than many other boids, though they cannot tolerate excessive heat well. They should have a temperature gradient of 75 - 83 degrees. Temperatures exceeding 85 degrees can be fatal.

 

Common  mistake - measuring temps at mid cage.  Brazilian rainbow boas will spend most of their time on the cage floor, this is where the temps should be measured.

 

Adult Brazilian rainbow boas require a minimum humidity level of 75%+. Should humidity drop into the 60’s or 50’s for an extended period of time the results can be respiratory infections, regurgitation, and death by dehydration.  For my adult rainbow boas I make a “damp hide” from a sweaterbox size tub with two access holes in one side.  I put 1 inch of peat moss and one inch of green moss.  Both nice and damp.  They love to hang out in there and come out to explore at night.

 

Neonate rainbow boas should be kept at or near 95%+ humidity.  I accomplish this with a fairly tight fitting shoebox rack.  There’s always condensation at the front.  Temps for babies should be right around 77 degrees.

 

Humidity is affected by two factors, evaporation and dissipation.  The larger surface area water dishes will evaporate more into the air.  By minimizing ventilation, you will keep that humidity in the enclosure. 

 

Common mistake - thinking daily spritzing will make up for lack of natural humidity.  If your enclosure is set up properly with adequate water sources and minimal ventilation, spritzing is not required.

 

 

Handling

 

Brazilian rainbow boas can be somewhat nervous snakes. Babies are born striking at anything, but with regular, gentle handling they can tame down quite nicely to become acceptable pets.  As baby rainbow boas, let them strike at you, bite you and even chew on you.  This will show them you will not be chased away by those actions and they will soon learn the big bad hand is nothing to be afraid of.  Pick up the baby with a steady non-tentative action.  The baby will typically be coiled or piled in one spot.  Aim for the side away from the mouth and just do it! If you are bit, there will be minimal pain and quite likely several pinholes in your skin.  Resist the urge to pull back, that will only make it worse.  Brazilian rainbow boa’s have teeth that curve backwards to hold onto their prey.  If you pull away, you will tear your skin and could easily damage some of their teeth.

 

Rainbow boas are typically a more active snake when being held than your average boa, seemingly always on the move. This is not to say that they will not grip on to you tightly, these boas keep a good hold. Be careful when holding not to startle them, as rainbow boas can nip when scared.

 

 

Feeding

 

Brazilian rainbow boas are voracious feeders that feed primarily on rodents, birds, lizards, and possibly aquatic life forms as well. In captivity they eat mice and rats approximately the same size as the largest part of the snakes girth. Neonates are born large enough to take hopper mice and rat pinkies. If rainbow boas refuse food, their husbandry should be carefully examined. Stress, poor husbandry, or illness is the likely causes of a rainbow boa that refuses to eat.

 

Brazilian rainbow boa abies should be fed on a schedule of from once every four days to once a week. Most of them will continue to feed even when they are opaque prior to shedding. These snakes are born large enough to take hopper mice as their first meal. Many of mine have done well starting out on rat pinkies. A reluctant rainbow boa may be induced to feed by placing it in a small tub or even a paper bag along with the food item.  Place the smaller container back in the secure cage in case the baby escapes and leave it for an hour, if still not eating, can be left overnight.

 

Common mistake - feeding pinky mice to baby Brazilian rainbow boas. If you have an unlimited source of pinky mice then go ahead but be prepared to feed several to each baby at each feeding.

A mouse pinky will make a very small lump in a baby Brazilian rainbow boa and be digested down so that the lump is no longer externally visible within 24 hours.

 

Brazilian rainbow boas will grow rapidly on one appropriately sized mice/rats a week. Yearlings often grow to 48 inches in length though 36 to 40 inches is more typical. Many two-year-olds are four and a half to five feet long. Females and males are not significantly different in size.  Adult males can do well on 20 medium sized rats per year. A breeding female will require two to three times as much to eat.

 

Brazilian rainbow boas are often overfed to obesity in captivity as adults. At 2', the snake is large enough for pinkie rats and jumper mice. At 3', it is capable of consuming adult mice and young rats. Feed at least once every 10 days, when the snake begins feeding on large meals such as rats feeding can occur less frequently. Avoid handling after a sizable meal; it is stressful and may cause regurgitation. Rainbow boas can be conditioned to accept pre-killed or thawed warmed rodents at feed time. This technique is safer, than feeding live rodents since this prevents the snake from being bitten by a rodent. Live feeders should be avoided except for the few (very few) snakes that will not eat anything else.  Never leave a live rodent in the with a snake unattended.  A rodent can cause serious damage to your pet!

 

Never handle rodents and then handle a snake; you may be mistaken as food. Develop proper feeding habits. As the rainbow boa grows it may be wise to feed the snake only dead rodents and move it to a feeding container prior to food offering. If moved to a feeding container for all feedings it may become conditioned not to expect food while in its' cage. This may reduce the possibility of being mistaken as a food item by an over zealous feeder. Best method is to place dead rodent in container and let snake discover it, encourages gentle food acquisition. Maintain accurate feeding and health records.

 

 

Shedding

 

Shedding is dependent on the animal's growth rate and condition and may occur every 3 - 6 weeks. They may refuse feeding attempts while shedding. Increase the humidity as a rainbow boa approaches a shed, this helps to avoid dry shed.  With proper humidity, the shed should come off without shredding.  Can easily get torn but should not be tattered.  If the rainbow boa is having a bad shed where parts are stuck on, wet a pillowcase, put the rainbow boa in the pillowcase and tie knot in pillowcase to prevent snake from getting out.  Place pillowcase back in enclosure at a neutral temp location and leave for a couple of hours.  If still not fully shed, you can continue pillow case treatment overnight.

 

 

Breeding

 

Brazilian rainbow boa breeding practice is similar to that of the common boa. They can produce litters with up to 35 young. They can be bred as early as 2.5 years providing they are meet minimum size and weight requirements of 5+ feet and weighing more than 3.5 pounds for females. Another six inches of length and pound of weight is more appropriate and should produce a larger first litter with less strain on the snake. Males should be 5 feet and 2.75 pounds, though many are this size at 30 months, they usually won’t breed until 42 months. They should not be bred unless they are extremely healthy, as breeding takes a lot out of them.

 

Cooling is necessary for successful production of egg and sperm cells. Breeding may be induced by night time temperature drops down to 68 - 72F and daytime temperatures in the low 80's. Reduction of light cycle from 12 - 14 hours to 8 hours and misting the animals with warm water prove beneficial. Brazilian rainbow boas will usually begin breeding within a few weeks of being warmed back up after the cooling period. Females will show a very marked mid body ovulatory lump for several hours. This lump is usually not seen because it lasts for such a short time. Most gravid females will refuse to feed. They will sometimes take a very small prey animal while they are gravid. Many females will become enormously large in the back half of their body and look very emaciated in the front half late in the gestation. Reproduction takes an extreme amount of energy and should only be attempted with very healthy adults. Gestation lasts approximately five months.

 

The female rainbow boa will often appear restless and cruise around the cage as if looking for something for a day or two before laying. Laying often occurs during weather changes. Female snakes should not be disturbed while they are laying as this may cause them to interrupt oviposition which can lead to a higher incidences of stillborn babies.

 

Female rainbow boas often eat recently laid infertile slugs. I have never witnessed a female eating babies but recognize that the possibility exists for a snake which is picking through a pile of live babies and slugs to possible devour a newborn baby accidentally. For this reason I try to remove the babies from the mother soon after they are born.

 

Baby Brazilian rainbow boas are born in litters of two to thirty five. A typical litter contains twelve to twenty five babies. Babies are born 15-20 inches, and show pale, washed out  coloration.  The babies will color up significantly over the first few sheds.  Ultimate coloring can take 18 months to show. 

 

Most babies start out striking at anything that moves, it’s either food or needs to be chased away.  They can be readily tamed with direct, calm handling gently and regularly over the first few weeks. They will often eat before they have shed. The first shed usually occurs after 10 to 14 days from birth.

  

They need to be kept at temperatures near 77 degrees and in high humidity. Temperatures above 85 degrees can cause fatalities in Brazilian rainbow boas. Baby Brazilian rainbow boas require humidity above 70 percent. They will do well kept individually in plastic shoeboxes until they are about 24 inches long and can then be moved into larger plastic storage containers or box type cages.

 

Brazilian rainbow boa are difficult to sex based on visible external differences until they are about three years old. Young ones can be sexed by probing. Females will probe a distance of two to four subcaudal scales and males will probe to a depth of eight to twelve subcaudal scales. They can also be sexed by palpitation or popping.  All three methods require someone experienced in sexing snakes. Adult males have substantially larger spurs along the side of the vent and also have noticeably thicker bases of their tails due to the invaginated hemipenes. After about eight years of age the heads of both sexes are noticeably larger than on nearly similar sized young adults. This phenomenon of the enlarged head on older animals seems to be more pronounced on red and orange animals than on brownish specimens. This phenomenon also occurs with older Peruvian rainbow boas.

 

 

Morphs

 

There are an increasing number of Brazilian rainbow boa morphs being discovered. Though many of them are still unproven, current Brazilian rainbow boa morphs include but not limited to:

 

Anerythristic - lack or red pigmentation, results in a brown or taupe with white crescents.

Hypomelanistic - reduction of melanin resulting in a snake with brown orange and yellow patterning and significantly lighter markings.

Bullseye - Side crescents where some degree of full circling occurs with dark center. 

Eclipse - Side blotches (oceli) where there is little to no crescents.

Blush - Side oceli where the crescent color is speckled through the pattern.

Striped (dorsal) - striping down the back.

Striped (lateral) - merging of individual oceli to make lateral stripes on the sides.

Clown - large oversized oceli

Calico - white scales typically outlining the dorsal patterns

Albino - Lack of melanin (or lack of expressing melanin) resulting in a white snake with orange markings.  Very secretive and not available at this time.

 

Dave Colling, Rainbows-r-us-reptiles.com                                        

 

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