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The Natural History and Captive Care of the Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Iridescent coloration is exhibited many snakes, but in none is it as spectacular as that featured by the rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria).  The “glow”, of its brilliant coloration, caused by microscopic scale ridges that refract sunlight, have long made this species a pet trade favorite.

A rather plain colored (and less expensive!) subspecies often disappoints novices who expect it to bloom into a sparkling beauty.  This snake has now been reclassified as a distinct species, the brown or Columbian rainbow boa, Epicrates maurus.


There are 8 rainbow boa subspecies, and 11 species within the genus Epicrates.  One subspecies, E. c. barbouri, is limited in distribution to Brazil’s Marajo Island.

Interestingly, molecular research carried out in 2006 indicates that the rainbow boa is more closely related to the anaconda than to other members of its genus.


Physical Description

Rainbows average 5 feet in length, with exceptional individuals nearing 7 feet.  They vary in color from red to orange/mahogany-brown, and are patterned with dark lateral rings and spots.  In sunlight, the colors are brilliantly iridescent.


The most commonly available subspecies, E. c. cenchria, is found from southern Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam south through Brazil’s Amazon Basin.

The various subspecies occupy much of Central and South America, from Costa Rica to Argentina.


Rainbow boas may be found in wet and dry forest, scrubland, savannahs, farms and village outskirts.  They are largely nocturnal, but may be about by day during the cooler seasons.

Status in the Wild

If unmolested, rainbow boas will colonize farms and other developed areas that support large rodent populations.  In some regions, however, they are threatened by deforestation and other forms of habitat loss. Listed on CITES Appendix II.


Opossums, rats, mice, squirrels, bats, rabbits and other mammals are favored, but chickens, jacanas, iguanas, tegus and a wide variety of other animals are taken.

Like all boas, the rainbow has facial pits along the upper and lower jaws that detect heat, allowing it to locate warm-blooded prey at night.


Females give birth to live young after a gestation period of 8-12 weeks.  The number produced ranges from 2-35, and, at 15-20 inches long, they are relatively large for a snake of this size.


Light and Heat

Captive care for rainbow boas presents few difficulties, and captive longevity approaches 25 years.  Ambient temperature should be maintained at 80-85 F, with a basking site of 90 F.  Temperatures can be reduced to 75-80 F at night.

Boas do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of UVA.  The Zoo Med Halogen Bulb  provides UVA and heat…a Ceramic Heat Emitter is useful for night-time heating.  A Night Viewing Bulb  will emit heat at night without disturbing your pet’s natural cycle, and will enable you to view its nocturnal activities.


Wild-caught individuals that I worked with in zoos years back were notoriously picky eaters, often holding out for chicks, spiny mice, gerbils or other such fare.  Captive bred rainbows readily take rats and mice, although they sometimes switch preferences from one to the other.

Please write in with specific husbandry questions, and see my other snake articles, such as The Captive Care of the Ball Pythonfor general care guidelines.

Further Reading

You can read about rainbow boa subspecies and related snakes such as the Cuban boa at http://www.jcvi.org/reptiles/search.php?submit=Search&genus=Epicrates.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by KaroH.


  1. avatar

    Excellent and to the point information as always!

    • avatar

      Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words, much appreciated! I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    I am really interested in getting one of these for the zoo. Do you that one will do fine in a 4’L x 1’H x 2’D ??

    I heard that they do not need climbing branches, but will add a couple horizontally about 8″ off the ground.

    About a fourth (1′ wide) of the bottom will be a water bowl. Do you think it would be better to just filter the water with a simple submersible filter, or to change the water about once a week?


    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      Nice to have you posting here on the blog, thanks.

      Rainbow Boas reach 5-6+ feet in length; 4’L x 2′ wide might accommodate a moderately sized adult, but a larger floor plan would be preferable. But they do often climb – 3-4 feet would be the minimum needed. Even if your specimen was not a “climber”, as happens, it would likely be stressed by such a low ceiling.

      It’s not really possible to filter with a simple submersible. Snakes tend to defecate and shed in water bowls, and quickly clog up most filters. Bowls need to be dumped and cleaned as needed with bleach (1 cup per gallon water) or a commercial reptile cleaner. Please see this article for related info.

      I look forward to your next, Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Aight, im pretty set on a BRB so i think i’ll just plan for a larger enclosure.

    Also, not sure where to post this, but do you have any info on Solomon Island Ground Boas?
    They are for sale on this website http://www.backwaterreptiles.com/boas/solomon-island-ground-boa-for-sale.html
    but i cant find too much specific care information.


    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      I’ve had more experience with several others in the genus, but have spoken with colleagues who keep Solomon Island Ground Boas. They are modestly sized and usually placid in disposition, and do not require extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, most are still wild caught and thus heavily paracitized; they need treatment upon arrival in a collection, and the treatment itself can be hard on the snake. Some folks report that they are picky feeders, favoring lizards and, in one case, chicks, over rodents. I would correspond with seller in detail before considering. If you decide on one, ;let me know and I’ll forward further care details.

      best, Frank

  4. avatar

    Yea, im not sure on that one, it was just an idea. I have been looking on reptile websites to try to get an idea of prices and commonly available reptiles. I dont want to just look at pictures, find one i absolutely need, then discover it is extremely rare and expensive…..there goes my budget haha

    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      Great that you are researching ahead of time; especially with a large collection, that’s very impt. If you are looking for a ground dwelling boa, you might consider Rosy Boas. Natural coloration very variable, many color strains available; small, handleable, can be bred. Cage of the size you mentioned could house 2 adults, or several younger. Given size, you could also do a more naturalistic set-up than is possible for larger species, which tend to trash our efforts at “decorating”. A Ball Python may work as well..a bit more likely to try climbing than a Rosy, and larger, however.

      Best, Frank

  5. avatar

    I saw rosy boas a few times, but they didnt appeal to me that much. Also, shouldnt snakes be housed seperately? Or can rosys cohabitate?

    I already have a ball python in my room and will probably migrate it into one of the cages in the zoo.

    To me, the bigger the better haha. Well not really, i still want to provide for all their needs, but size doesnt intimidate me at all. That doesnt mean i’ll go straight to a burm, retic, or anaconda, but if i can provide for them, i might want to go there.

    I’ll look for another blog on burms and post on there about that, but as of now, do you have any more suggestions for one of the 4′ x 2′ tanks? I can make them 2′ tall if the snake needs it.


    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      Bull, Gopher and Pine Snakes are large, bu manageable. Some can approach 6 ft or more, however; a large adult would be cramped in the cage you describe.

      best, Frank

  6. avatar

    Hello, I have a rainbow boa that was handed down to me from a teacher who had it as a classroom pet. She (I am told it’s female) usually sheads her skin in one piece. Sometimes, she does nt as it the case currently. What should be done in this case?



    • avatar

      Hello Mark,

      Thanks for your interest. Partial sheds are usually related to low humidity and/or limited soaking opportunities. Be sure to provide a bowl large enough for the snake to submerge in. You can also increase misting when the snake becomes opaque (eyes cloud over prior to shedding); just be sure the substrate dries out between mistings. It’s important to check the shed skin from the head to be sure that the eye caps (lens-like covering, or brille) have been shed. If you do not see an eye cap in this part of the shed, they may have been retained, in which case a vet will need to remove them (possible to do at home, but only after a good deal of experience).

      Skin that does not come off once the snake has soaked for a time can be removed manually..please let me know if you need further info on this or have other questions;

      Best regards, Frank

  7. avatar

    Would a BRB or other tropical snake be fine with daily misting? If I am adding live plants to the cage, i need to add a misting system as well, usually done in the dart frog community.
    Oh yea, would basilisks be fine with the misting as well??

    Im planning on just doing a plastic water bowl that i can slide out to change. It should make it easier to clean.


    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      Rainbow boa needs depend upon ambient humidity, as well as shed cycle; providing a bowl large enough to soak in is critical to their care. Misting more impt to those which rarely soak, such as emerald tree boas. Needs of others vary as to species. Live plants difficult to keep with lg snakes, but possible if correct species chosen, planting site protected. they help in controlling humidity, but, except perhaps for densely planted terrariums housing small frogs, rarely do away with need for spraying. I used hand misting successfully for decades in zoos…much depends on your schedule, ambient humidity in home, species, but misters are not a necessity.

      Best, Frank

  8. avatar

    Yea, I will have a large enough water bowl for the boa to completely soak in and the humidity should be high enough. I just dont have to time or an open enough schedule to trust myself to mist enough. I already need to have a misting system for the dart frog vivariums so i might as well add the misting to the entire zoo, to add to humidity and keep plants healthy.

    The plants I am adding will all be large enough so that they will not be trampled by the boa. Just wondering, will moss on branches be destroyed by the boa? Im assuming so, but it would be cool if it would work.


    • avatar

      Hi Jeremy,

      Thx for the feedback. Keep in mind that, re almost all snakes, the substrate should dry out between mistings, and there must be a warm, dry basking spot. Even watersnakes (Nerodia) will develop bloster disease and other problems if they cannot dry off.

      Very hard to keep any plants with snakes, in my expereince, but worth trying. Hanging/Spanish moss would seem especially hard to arrange.

      best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Okay, I’ll make sure that the main basking area is not hit by much mist so it stays dry and keep the tank bedding pretty dry. I’ve come to the descicion that all the plants going in there will be large, at least 2 feet high and wide so that the boa cant do much damage to them. I figured that any moss or smaller plants would just be destroyed. Small palms and other tropical plants will be the main plants. The misting nozzles will be directly positioned towards the plants so the soil will not get too moist.


    • avatar

      Thanks for the feedback. Even though they sometimes inhabit quite moist habitats, Rainbow boas should be kept on a dry substrate. The substrate can be moistened via a light spray, but it should dry out quickly. The water bowl will meet its needs…moist air is not a requirement (even for those species where high humidity is desirable, i.e green tree pythons, air flow and dry skin are the rule. best, Frank

  10. avatar

    Update. My Boa has a “bucket” that she likes to get under. Based on the advice of her needing a water container that she can get into, I turned it upsidedown and filled it half full of water. I just checket it today and she must have gotten into it as her remaining dead skin came off in the bucket. She has now completely shead her old skin. Thanks Frank for the advice! It worked and I will be getting another water container for her.


    • avatar

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the update and glad I could be of help. Just be sure that you fill the next container only to a point where it will not overflow if the snake coils within; continually wet substrate will lead to blister disease.

      Enjoy and please keep me posted, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi frank,

    I just bought a BRB he is about 5 months old and when I got him he had a normal shed but the last 2 sheds have been bad sheds. Also he has two very small patches of skin that no matter if he soaks or not he can’t remove it and I can’t manually remove it it just won’t come off. The bad shedding areas are one on his neck and like 3 scales on his mid that the skin didn’t want to come off. The skin where it is now stuck started coming off earlier than his shed n he shed bout 2 days later after the patches of skin started showing!/coming up but I did not remove those small patches cause he was in blue and did not want to injure him pulling off the skin so now it’s seriously stuck on there I don’t know what to do they have a vet appointment in a week should I take him earlier?


    • avatar


      Skin left in those areas does not usually cause a problem right away; generally comes off in next shed, but even if it doesn’t, no need to rush your appointment. Increasing humidity before a shed, providing a hide box filled with damp sphagnum can help; soaking overnight and shedding aids also useful; please see this article. Please keep me posted, best, Frank

  12. avatar

    I’m not sure if this thread is still open or not but I have a question..

    I bought a male BRB a few months ago and everything has been going smoothly this far. I’m a little concerned with winter fast approaching (it’s pretty much here already). My question is, do I need to add any heat to the snakes tank or should I just leave it be? He is about a year old and I keep the heat at about 90 degrees with the humidity at nearly 100%. My house generally stays chilly inside and I don’t want it to effect the snake. Any tips would be great.

    Thank you,

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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