Welcome to the Rainbow Boa Care Sheet. Click each section to read about how to care for Rainbow Boas.
About Rainbow Boas
Rainbow boas are a long, slender boa constrictor from the jungles of Brazil, Columbia, Guyana, Argentina and Peru. They are terrestrial, or ground-dwelling, snakes and are quite popular in the pet trade. Caring for a Rainbow Boa is a little more complicated due to their strict humidity requirements, and their temperament can vary from very docile to nippy and nervous. For those with some experience in snake-keeping, a Rainbow Boa is a beautiful and exciting challenge to a reptile collection. Along with the Green Tree Python and Emerald Tree Boa, the Rainbow Boa is considered one of the most gorgeous snakes in the world.
Out of the different species, the Brazilian Rainbow Boa is the brightest colored and most popular species of Rainbow Boas on in the pet trade.
The Brazilian Rainbow Boa has a maroon or even reddish purple skin with orange and black spots down their backs along with black stripes down their face. Their skin has a shimmering iridescence which is where they get name from. In the light, you can see purple orange, blue, red, and green shimmering patterns.
For those of you who prefer earth tones, you'll probably like the Columbian, or Guyana Rainbow Boa better.They do not have the same bright coloring, they tend to be more of a dark brown color although they do still have the shimmering iridescent patterns. However, the Leucistic Columbian Rainbow Boa morph is quite stunning.
Rainbow Boa Care
Rainbow Boas require some experience and are not recommended for the casual, or beginner reptile keeper. These snakes have extremely rigid humidity requirements and can die very quickly if left in the wrong conditions for even a short period of time. If this is your first or even second snake, you might want to try a snake that is a little more hardy than the Rainbow Boa.
If you have the experience and are willing to take on a more time consuming snake, the Rainbow Boa is a beautiful addition to your collection. In addition, since they stay rather slender, they make a great alternative to the Columbian Boa or the Red-Tailed Boa for someone who wants experience with a longer snake that doesn't require as much space.
Rainbow Boa Size?
Rainbow Boas generally stay between 4' – 7' but specimens up to 8' have been reported. Males are shorter and not as heavy bodied as females and stay between 4' - 6' while the females get up to 6' - 8' range. They're a slender snake and don't usually get more than 1.5" to 2" in diameter which makes them very manageable despite their length.
How Long Do Rainbow Boas Live?
Rainbow Boas live for a long time in captivity. Most Rainbow Boas will live to be over 20 years old if taken care of properly. You need to keep this in mind when deciding on buying a Rainbow Boa – They are a long term commitment and live much longer than fish, birds, cats or dogs and require more specialized care than other animals. Make sure you are prepared to take care of a pet Rainbow Boa for at least 20 years or more before actually buying one.
Choosing a Rainbow Boa
Don’t just point at the first Rainbow Boa you like and say, "I’ll take it." There are important questions to ask when picking out your Rainbow Boa.
Number one piece of advice: Avoid buying your Rainbow Boa from big name pet stores. Not only are they typically more expensive, the snakes are usually not taken care of very well and you won’t get the answers to the questions you need. There are tons of Rainbow Boa breeders who can get you the Rainbow Boa you want and help you out before and after the sale.
First off, ask your dealer or breeder if the Rainbow Boa iscaptive born and bred orwild caught. If the dealer says it is wild caught you might want to pick a different Rainbow Boa. Wild caught Rainbow Boas can carry parasites, act more defensively and are generally more stressed out. Not to mention, the less we remove Rainbow Boas from their natural habitat, the better. Rainbow Boas have been steadily growing as an interesting and unique addition to reptile collections so finding a breeder with many different morphs should be quite easy.
There is a difference between captive born, and captive born and bred. A captive born Rainbow Boa means that the parents were wild caught and this is the offspring of wild caught snakes; or, it means they were bred on a farm and then shipped to the dealer. A captive born and bred Rainbow Boa means that the snake was bred from 2 captive born snakes and usually make the best pets. Make sure you know who the parents are!
Boy or girl? A reputable dealer will determine the sex of your Rainbow Boa for you with a probe. Female Rainbow Boas get longer and heavier and will require a larger cage than a male.
Next, look for skin folds. Skin folds are a sign of dehydration, and malnourishment. These species need a ton of humidity and dehydrate very quickly (another reason to avoid wild caught). You can tell if a Rainbow Boa is dehydrated from flaky and retained skin sheddings; very common at pet stores. If the Rainbow Boa shows ANY signs of dehydration, absolutely avoid buying it. You probably won't be able to save it, plus the stress from being put into a new environment will make the snake's condition worse. The snake will probably die and you'll be out both a pet, and money. AVOID Rainbow Boas that show ANY signs of dehydration. This also includes checking out the habitat your deealer is keeping them in. If the waterbowl is empty, if the humidity gauge is below 55%, do NOT buy from that dealer.
Ask to see the mouth of your Rainbow Boa. The mouth should be clean and free from any gunk, goop and sores. Any of those listed are signs of mouth rot, respiratory infection or parasites. A reputable dealer will have no problem doing this for you.
Ask about the feeding schedule and when the last time the snake was fed. Ideally, you want your Rainbow Boa eating either fresh killed, or frozen/thawed (F/T) mice instead of live mice. Ask to see the feeding records of the breeder has them. Good breeders will have feeding, cleaning, and shedding records as well as the lineage the snake came from.
And of course, ask to hold the Rainbow Boa. Is it alert and active? Is it curious and exploring? Or is it just lying there not moving, or acting defensively like it wants to bite you? Your Rainbow Boa should be crawling between your fingers and up your arm. Rainbow Boas are curious animals – One that acts defensively or doesn’t move at all has probably not been taken care of very well and could be malnourished or diseased.
Rainbow Boa Cages
The cage for a Rainbow Boa, or any other snake, is probably the most important part of keeping a snake. Often times, the snake will be cheaper than the cage and accessories you need so make sure you have the money for everything before you buy your Rainbow Boa. Keep in mind that snakes are escape artists. They are experts and if provided the opportunity will escape their cages. A cage that locks is an absolute must. Don’t underestimate their strength – Even though they're slender snakes, they're still very strong.
You need to buy the right size housing for your Rainbow Boa based off its size. Too small and too big of a cage will be stressful and result in an insecure Rainbow Boa who might not eat and could possibly die from stress.
Rainbow Boas are terrestrial, or ground dwelling, snakes so floor space is more important than height but have been known to climb if provided wth branches. Regular glass terrariums will work for Rainbow Boas but plastic cages such as the ones from Vision Cages, Neodesha and Animal Plastics will hold the humidity much better.
A good rule of thumb for determining cage sizes for your Rainbow Boa is 1 square foot of floor space per 1 foot of snake. For example, a 6' Rainbow Boa needs a cage about 36" L x 24" W x 18" H (3 feet x 2 feet=6 square feet of floor space.)
Do not buy a large cage for a small snake. This will stress your snake and cause it to not eat and generally be detrimental to their health.
Rainbow Boa’s are shy snakes and need to feel secure at all times. They want to know their surroundings and have plenty of places to feel snug and secure. Keep in mind that functional is more important than looks when providing hides and décor for your cage. You’ll need to clean whatever you put in the cage so keep this in mind when providing accessories for your Rainbow Boa. Nice looking and natural looking cage décor isn’t always easy to clean.
Provide your Rainbow Boa with half logs, branches, fake or real plants, moss, etc. so that they have good hiding places. Try not to clutter the cage too much, but keep it cozy. Your snake still needs room to move about the cage.
Always clean anything you put inside your Rainbow Boa habitat with diluted alcohol or peroxide or F10 disinfectant products.
Rainbow Boas do not need hide boxes since they spend their time underground.
It is critical to have 2 hide boxes for your Rainbow Boa
1 on the warm side of the cage and 1 on the cool side. You can use a simple plastic hide box or use something more elaborate like rock caves or half logs.
Black plastic hide boxes are great for the warm side because black color soaks up heat if you use a heat lamp. Your Rainbow Boa can even go on top of the cage to get belly and basking heat with these hides. Plus, they’re lightweight and easy to clean.
As stated earlier, Rainbow Boas are ground dwelling snakes. You don’t need perches or branches for them to climb on but they do look nice. They will climb if given a branch to climb on but they are not necessary. Keep in mind, a branch leading towards the top of the cage makes it that much easier for your Rainbow Boa to escape. If you want to put some branches in, use Mopani wood, grapewood, half logs or cork.
Your Rainbow Boa's Water Bowl
Provide a large, sturdy water bowl for your Rainbow Boa. It should be large enough for your Rainbow Boa to fit inside if it wants to soak a bit; however, soaking can be a sign that the humidity is too low. Make sure your water bowl isn’t too large where your snake could drown in.
Plastic 'rock' water bowls at pet stores are good because they won’t get knocked over but they can be a little expensive. Plus, when you have a large bowl and add water to it, they can get pretty heavy. If you’re feeling creative, try modifying your cage with some plastic and hot glue to create a "pen" to keep a water bowl in. Then, just use some Tupperware or whatever else you have as a water bowl. Just make sure that your Rainbow Boa can find the water bowl.
Be sure to clean the water bowl regularly and change the water once a day, or once every other day. Completely change the water, do not just top it off. If your Rainbow Boa defecates in the dish, change it immediately!
Use either bottled water, or "treated" water for your Rainbow Boa, or for drinking water. Tap water contains chlorine which is deadly to reptiles. Bottled water is obviously expensive so if that is not within your price range, buy Zoo-Med ReptiSafe Water Conditioner. You only need 2 drops per 8oz. of water and it will remove the chlorine from the water. This way you can use your tap water safely.
Do not use distilled water. Distilled water will deprive your Rainbow Boa of the nutrients and minerals it needs. Just don't use it.
Rainbow Boa Substrates
You can use a variety of substrates for Rainbow Boas from as simple as newspaper to something like Eco–Earth. Newspaper is easy to clean but does not retain humidity as well. Eco-Earth, Orchid Bark, Cypress Mulch and Sphagnum Moss are recommended. Here are the pros and cons of common available substrates:
NEVER USE PINE, OR CEDAR SHAVINGS FOR YOUR SUBSTRATE. THESE ARE TOXIC TO RAINBOW BOAS AND WILL KILL YOUR SNAKE.
Heating and Lighting
Rainbow Boas do not need very high temperatures. Provide a nice gradient so your Rainbow Boa can thermoregulate between the warm and cool side of the cage.
You can provide heat for your Rainbow Boa in several different ways. Under Tank Heaters (UTH) work great since Rainbow Boas are ground dwelling; however, Overhead Heat Lamps will work fine as well. Radiant Heat Panels are the preferred heat sources but they can be quite expensive. Here are the different heat sources available.
Under Tank Heaters are a great choice for terrestrial dwelling animals because they heat the ambient air temperature from the bottom up and provide belly heat.
Overhead Heat Lamps are the most conventionally used heating sources. You can find them at any pet store and online and are simple to use and setup.
Heat tape is a great choice for a well-rounded heating solution. You can stick it to the cage and works great for snake breeding rack systems.
Radiant heat panels are a relatively new product that started out in the bird keeping industry.
You can regulate these temperatures by using a thermostat such as the ones made by Helix, Vivarium Electronics and Spyder Robotics.
Make sure you have 2 thermometers in your Rainbow Boa cage - 1 on the warm side, 1 on the cool side. You can use digital or analog thermometers: Digital thermometers are more precise and easier to read but cost a little more. Analog thermometers save you a couple bucks.
A wise investment for your Rainbow Boa, or any other snake, is an infrared temperature gun. They are cheap and easy to use. Simply point and pull the trigger for an instant temperature reading. Some even have laser sites so you know exactly where you're aiming.
Rainbow Boas do not have specific lighting requirements. A normal 12 hour on, 12 hour off cycle is fine. Some say that UVB lighting is psychologically beneficial for Rainbow Boas, and they definitely make the colors stand out on your snake, although they are not required.
Rainbow Boa Humidity
Humidity Level: 60% - 85%
Rainbow Boas need a consistently high humidity level. For this reason, they are not recommended as first snakes. Letting the humidity fall too low, or letting the water in the water bowl run out for even a day could be fatal. Adult Rainbow Boas can tolerate lower humidity better than young Rainbow Boas but even still, it's better to keep the humidity high. Keep in mind that humidity is not how wet the cage is: Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air. The cage needs to go through a cycle of humidity: Mist the cage so the humidity rises to around 80% and then let it fall to around 60% before misting again.
Humidity is measured by hygrometers. Make sure you have one, don't guess what the humidity is.
Keep in mind that with a high humidity level and warm temperatures, this will promote bacteria growth. Your cage needs to be both well ventilated, and able to hold humidity well. As stated above, let the humidity drop to 60% before misting again. This will give the cage some time to air out and will help prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Using a mold resistant substrate like Eco-Earth will also help prevent bacterial growth. If at any time in between normal cage cleaning you notice strange smells, or notice any kind of mold, immediately change your cage completely.
A large and sturdy water bowl can provide enough humidity for a Rainbow Boa but you will still need to mist your cage every couple of days.
When your Rainbow Boa is about to shed, increase the humidity to between 75% and 85% to help with the shedding process.
You have a lot of options when it comes to keeping the optimum humidity levels for Rainbow Boas. The type of substrates you use will hold humidity differently – Cypress mulch, Eco–Earth etc. hold humidity better than newspaper, and so does the size of the water bowl and even the cage itself.
Glass enclosures do not keep humidity as well as plastic enclosures. Plastic enclosures may cost a little more, but maintenance is much easier and they are much better at providing the right environment for your snake.
Snake Humidity Boxes
Some snakes enjoy and may require a humidity box. They're defintiely a good idea for Rainbow Boas since it will be easier to control and clean a small humidity box than it is with an entire cage. These are easy to make if you like, or you can buy one. When it gets time for your snake to shed, you can simply put some sphagnum moss inside the hide box on the cool side of the cage and mist it. Some people prefer to use a dedicated humidity box in conjunction with regular hide boxes. Just do whichever works for your Rainbow Boa.
Be sure to check the humidity box regularly for mold and droppings. The increased humidity will promote bacteria growth so it is important to clean it often.
Feeding Rainbow Boas
Rainbow Boas are carnivores and feed on small mammals in the wild. In captivity they feed on mice and rats. It’s best to switch over to rats as soon as possible. They are cleaner than mice and more nutritious than mice. It is recommended that you feed your Rainbow Boa either frozen and thawed (F/T) or fresh killed prey. It is safer since a dead mouse/rat cannot fight back and hurt your snake, plus, it is more sanitary and more cost effective. You can buy frozen mice and rats in bulk and store them in your freezer.
When Should You Feed a Rainbow Boa
Rainbow Boas are nocturnal and in the wild they hunt at night. This is the best time to try and feed them if you are having problems getting your Rainbow Boa to eat.
How Often Should You Feed A Rainbow Boa?
What Should You Feed A Rainbow Boa?
Despite their small size, Rainbow Boas can open their mouths quite wide to eat their food. Obviously, don't try to give them food that is way too big, but feeding them the suggested sizes below shouldn't be a problem at all.
Baby Rainbow Boas grow much faster than adults do so they require food more often. Be careful not to over feed your Rainbow Boa! This will cause health issues! If you can see skin in between the scales, your Rainbow Boa is overweight. Just hold off on feeding it once or twice until the weight drops down to the right level.
Since adults do not grow as fast, they only need to be fed once a week or every 7-10 days.
If your Rainbow Boa does not eat right away, don't panic. Snakes can go weeks or even months without eating sometimes. Keep an eye on its weight and make sure it doesn't drop too much. As long as your Rainbow Boa isn't emaciated looking, it's probably fine.
Do not force feed your Rainbow Boa. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can seriously injure, or even kill your snake. If your Rainbow Boa hasn’t eaten, AND is underweight, take it to a veterinarian or your local snake expert to help you with force feeding. Force feeding should always be a last resort.
How to Feed Rainbow Boas
When feeding your Rainbow Boa frozen/thawed or fresh killed prey, simply use a set of feeding tongs or hemostats to hold the prey by its tail and dangle it near your snake. Your Rainbow Boa should strike at it and coil over it. Release the prey right after your Rainbow Boa gets a good grip on it in its mouth but before it begins coiling. It'll be a pain to get your tools back after your Rainbow Boa coils over them.
A good rule of thumb: Don't feed your Rainbow Boa anything larger than 1.5x the diameter of the thickest part of your snake.
Feeding Rainbow Boas Live Prey
Live feeding your Rainbow Boa CAN be done but it’s not recommended. If your Rainbow Boa is not eating frozen/thawed prey or fresh killed prey, you may need to try feeding your Rainbow Boa live prey.
If feeding live prey, it's good to lay down a sheet of newspaper inside the cage. This way, if your Rainbow Boa strikes at the prey and misses, it won't get any substrate in its mouth. It's really a pain to clean a snake's mouth out, not to mention it's dangerous because they can swallow the substrate which will cause health issues.
Before putting the rat or mouse in the cage, get your snake's attention. You can do this by dangling the prey near where your snake is hanging out. Your snake will pick up the scent and know it's time to eat. You don't want to let the prey loose in the cage without your snake knowing another animal is going to be running around. If the mouse or rat suprises your Rainbow Boa in its hidebox, it can make your snake insecure and also hurt your snake. Your Boa won't have the space to strike and constrict the prey and can be injured in the process of attempting to defend itself.
Some people prefer to feed live prey to their snakes in a spot outside of the cage in something like a Rubbermaid box, cardboard box or even the bathtub. This has both its pros and cons. It's good because their is no chance of your snake ingesting substrate and it will always know when it's feeding time. On the other hand, you will need to handle your snake to put it back in the cage. Since it just ate it may act aggressively because it still thinks it's feeding time. You also need to be extremely gentle when putting it back in the cage. You can cause the snake to regurgitate if you are too rough, press on its stomach, or frighten it.
After feeding your Rainbow Boa either frozen/thawed food or live food, do not handle your snake for at least 24 hours, or even 48 hours so that your snake can digest its meal
Never leave your Rainbow Boa unattended when feeding live prey. Mice and rats have teeth and can hurt or kill your snake. Your Rainbow Boa might not even defend itself if attacked by a mouse or rat. Never leave a live prey animal in your Rainbow Boa cage overnight. Leave the animal in the cage for about a half hour or so. If your Rainbow Boa does not eat, remove the prey from the cage and try again later.
Handling Rainbow Boas
Rainbow Boas have a reputation of being a little nippy but like with all animals, their temperament will vary depending on the animal. Baby Rainbow Boas are usually the more nippy and nervous ones and will usually mellow out as they get older.
Regularly handling your Rainbow Boa will build trust and keep your snake docile. Even calm Rainbow Boas can get nervous or defensive if you do not interact with them regularly. Keep in mind however that over–handling your Rainbow Boa is stressful to your snake. Keep handling to about 2–3 times a week.
When handling Rainbow Boas, it is important to be confident and deliberate in your movements. If you are nervous or scared, they will sense it and act scared and nervous in return.
Gently, but firmly grasp your snake from the middle of its body. Try to avoid moving towards its head; many snakes, including Rainbow Boas, are "head shy" and will perceive movements towards their face as an aggressive act.
Once you have a hold of your Rainbow Boa, bring it towards your body and support it with both hands. Keep in mind that their bodies are slender and a little more delicate than bigger snakes so it's important to support most of their body with both hands to avoid injury to your snake. You can let it go up your arm or rest against the back of your neck. Warning: do not underestimate a Rainbow Boa’s strength. Even small boa constrctors are extremely powerful. Do not let it coil around your neck completely.
Feel free to pet your snake down the back and you can even train them to be less head shy by petting the back of their head. Make sure to approach their head from behind and not directly.
Rainbow Boa Health
To keep your Rainbow Boa healthy and happy, you need to keep the cage clean, the water bowl clean, and make sure it sheds completely. If you neglect any of these, your snake can develop infections, get sick and die. Because of their humudity requirements, they are prone to respiratory infections if they humidity levels are too low. Also, because of the high humidity and warm climate, bacteria will thrive if you do not clean your cage regularly.
Rainbow Boa Shedding
Your Rainbow Boa will shed periodically. Young Rainbow Boas shed more often than adults since they grow faster. A young Rainbow Boa will shed about once a month, an adult might only shed 3 or 4 times a year.
When your Rainbow Boa is about to shed, you will notice the skin looking dull. This is your cue to pay very close attention to the humidity levels and utilize a humidity box, or increase the misting.
Soon after, your Rainbow Boa’s eyes will turn a milky blue. Once this occurs, do not handle your Rainbow Boa. Your snake cannot see as well and is under stress. This can cause even a perfectly tame Rainbow Boa to lash and strike at you.
About 2–4 days after your Rainbow Boa "goes blue" the eyes will clear up and the actual shedding process will occur. Keep the humidity up and leave your snake be. Check the cage for the shed skin but don’t throw it away immediately.
Check the shedding and make sure that it came off cleanly. A "good shed" means that your snake shed its skin in 1 or even 2 pieces. If the shed came off in several pieces and looks shredded, the humidity was too low.
If this happens, check your Rainbow Boa to see if all of the skin came off or not. If not, do not try to peel the skin off. This will hurt your snake. Instead, soak your Rainbow Boa in luke–warm water for about a half hour. GENTLY run your fingertips over the shed skin to see if it comes off. If not, do not try to force it to come off. Repeat the soaking daily until the stuck skin comes off. You can buy Zoo–Med Repti–Shedding Aid if the skin does not come off after a few days.
Too low of a humidity level will lead to a respiratory infection. With humans, these are usually just an inconvenience and go away after time. With snakes however, respiratory infections can be fatal.
If you notice a wheezing sound from your Rainbow there is a good chance it has an infection. Wheezing, accompanied by a discharge from their nose and mouth is a sure sign of infection. Take your snake to a vet immediately if you notice these symptoms. The vet will prescribe an antibiotic which should clear up the infection in a few days.
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