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.
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 Python, for general care guidelines.
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.