Rainbow Boa – Epicrates Cenchria

Fast Facts

Name: Rainbow Boa
Scientific name: Epicrates Cenchria
Size: 5 – 7 feet (1.5-2m)
Life Span: 20+ years
Appearance: Deep red to bright orange with rainbow hue
Food: Mice, rats
Temperature: 75-83F (23-28°C)
Terrarium Size: 4 – 6 ft. ² (0.4-0.5m ²)
Sleep-wake rhythm: Active at night
Mating season: Winter/Spring (November – May)
Ease of Care: Easy

Rainbow Boa

Rainbow boas (Epicrates Cenchria) are one of the most popular snakes to house. To be more specific, the Brazilian rainbow boa (E.C. Cenchria) and Columbian rainbow boa (E.C. Mauro’s) are the most commonly imported of the five subspecies.

The other three include:

  • Paraguayan (E.C. Crassus)
  • Coating (E.C. Assisi)
  • Argentine (E.C. Alexei).

These snakes are most commonly found in South America and lower Central America. If you want to see a wild Boa, drainage areas and rivers (especially the Amazon River) are their typical hiding spots. Look in areas with high humid conditions.

The coloring and rainbow reflection their scales give off make these snakes highly sought after. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, they were constantly imported. Because of their popularity, along with the continuous destruction of the rainforest, the rainbow boa population is dwindling.

Rainbow Boa
rainbow boa (Epicrates Cenchria) close up detail

Size & life expectancy

Rainbow Boa Baby
Newborn Boa

The average adult rainbow boa grows to be roughly five to seven feet long and weigh around nine pounds. Male boas will average five and a half to six feet long while a female can grow up to six to seven feet long. Adult rainbow boas are considered medium size snakes. when first born, baby boas are roughly 8-12” long (20-30cm).

The average life expectancy for these reptiles can be around 20 years or more. With proper care, these snakes can be a long-time pet. There have been reports of female boas reproducing at the age of 24 years.

 

Behavior & Characteristics

The most standout characteristic of the rainbow boa is what makes their name. When light shines on these snakes, they give off a beautiful rainbow hue. This is because their scales are filled with tiny ridges that reflect the light. A fluorescent light with low wattage will display the rainbow effect of the snake.

rainbow boa reflection
sun reflection off of causing a “rainbow” glow hue

The most common colors of rainbow boas are between a dark red and bright orange range. Some may also have a brown or yellow hue. Also, on the head of the boa, you will see three black parallel lines. Continuing down their soft skin are black spots and crescent shapes. This look adds to the beautiful coloring and effect of the snake.

Lastly, rainbow boas are nocturnal reptiles that are relatively relaxed with excellent temperaments. Also, with proper care and regular handling, they will become good pets. Be mindful when handling a baby boa though. These little ones can be a bit nippy. However, the strike will startle you more than hurt. Try not to react by dropping the boa as they will think a bite means down. With regular interaction, baby rainbow boas will quickly learn to calm down.

Sex Identification

Trying to tell the sex of a boa can be a bit tricky. The most harmless way to tell is by palpation. Therefore, to do this, hold the tail of the snake as you gently press down between the Cloaca and the tip of the tail. If you feel a couple little bumps as you move your finger up and down the body, your boa is male. While a female boa won’t have the little bumps.

 

Rainbow Boa Nutrition

Feeding your boa is pretty simple. Adult boas need to be fed only once every week or two. Anything more could lead to obesity. Mice and rats are your best feeding options.

Because they are growing, baby boas need to be fed more often, Once a week is fine. Pinky rats and hopper mice are common items to feed baby boas.

Wild boas tend to go after small mammals and birds. Some have been known to hunt small lizards. But an all rodent diet is perfectly suitable for a caged boa.

Because these snakes are nocturnal, it is best to feed them at night. Try to feed either freshly killed or frozen rodents (thaw the rodent first to avoid shocking the digestive system of the snake). Also, move the food around to stimulate the snake’s interest if they are not eating. Be cautious with feeding live rodents as their teeth can injure your snake.

Key points to remember when feeding:

  • Have food that is no bigger than 1-1.5x the largest part of the snake’s body;
  • Never leave live feed in the cage at night and unattended;
  • Do not handle your snake for at least 24-48 hours after feeding;
  • Always have a large container of clean water for drinking and soaking in.

 

Health

With proper care, your boa will live a long and healthy life. But there’s always a chance something could go wrong.

Symptoms of health issues:

  • Your boa sheds in pieces or doesn’t fully shed (baby boas shed every 3 – 6 weeks, adult boas shed less);
  • Scales are dry and wrinkly looking;
  • Denting in the eyes;

These symptoms are common for dehydration. If you notice these, check your humidity level to make sure it hasn’t dropped. The most common causes of death in caged boas are dehydration and overheating.

 

Rainbow Boa Care

How you house your rainbow boa is the key to success. Provide a large enough container to include a water bowl and somewhere for them to hide. A container minimum 4 – 6 ft. ² (0.4-0.5m ²) is sufficient.

boa terrarium
boa terrarium

Also for your boa to thrive, provide a layer of peat moss or mulch. Even paper towels and newspapers will work, although they’ll need changing over time. Make sure there is a hiding area provided by something like a log.

The humidity and temperature of the cage are the most important part of their care. The ideal temperature should be between 75-83F (23-28°C) with the surrounding humidity level around 70%. Whatever you layer your cage with should also be damp to help sustain the moisture level.

Invest in a proportional thermostat to help regulate the temperature. Avoid ventilation within the cage which can take away the humidity. Provide a heat lamp or thermal heat for the cage.

When it’s time to clean the cage, warm soapy water will do. Also, you should try to avoid chemicals which can be harmful to the snake. A simple weekly clean, followed with a full clean every other week will do.

A key point to remember:

avoid having multiple snakes in one cage. The only time you want more than one boa in a cage at a time is during breeding. Always keep your boas separate when feeding.

 

Breeding

The breeding process for boas is slow, so be patient. These snakes reach sexual maturity between the ages of two and four. Therefore, the best way to determine is by length. Males should be around four feet long and females around four and a half feet long.

The best time to start the breeding process is around November when the days are shorter. Gradually drop the evening temperature over the course of a month or so. By mid-December, the night temperature should hover around 60F (16°C). Leave the temperature here for about three weeks before slowly raising the temperature back to normal through the same pattern.

Watch for these common signs your snakes are ready for breeding:

  • Male boa: they will start to go off feed and will leave their shed in their water dish.
  • Female boa: noticeable swelling will occur as their ovaries fill with follicles. They’ll will also seek out cool areas of their cage.

At this point, introduce the pair into the same cage to begin the “chase.” The female boa leads the male boa on a chase before they finally intertwine with their tails. This is the copulation stage.

Rainbow Boa Mating
Rainbow boa “tailwrap” intertwining their tails for mating by Utah BRB’s licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lastly, Watch for signs of ignoring food and seeking out warmer areas of her cage. This is her way of saying she is pregnant. The gestation period lasts for about five months. She will then have a post-ovulation shed. expect to have baby rainbow boas roughly 110 to 115 days later. Little sizes average between 12 and 24 babies.