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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning snakes.

Breeding Brazilian, Columbian and other Rainbow Boas in Captivity

Peruvian Rainbow BoaI usually recommend that aspiring snake breeders start off with live-bearing species, so as to avoid the necessity of incubating eggs.  In the Family Boidae we find a wide range of possibilities, one of the most popular of which is the beautiful Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria). Although not as widely kept as its much larger cousin, the Boa constrictor, the Rainbow Boa is far easier to manage in captivity, yet grows large enough (to nearly 7 feet in some cases) to satisfy those who prefer sizable snakes.

Range and Diversity

Eight subspecies of Rainbow Boa range throughout much of Central and South America (Panama to Northern Argentina).

Black rings on a rich red-orange background mark the most highly desirable of these, the Brazilian Rainbow Boa (E. c. cenchria).  The somewhat duller but still attractive Columbian Rainbow Boa (E. c. maurus) is more commonly available.  Both of these snakes, and the remaining subspecies, may be bred in a similar manner.

Selection of Breeding Stock

Although occupying a wide range of habitats, Rainbow Boas from all locales usually respond well to similar breeding techniques.  Captive-bred animals are easier to work with than wild-caught individuals, as the “internal clocks” of wild snakes may conflict with local conditions – wild-caught animals will usually reproduce only during their normal breeding season, and after being exposed to a very close simulation of natural conditions (rainfall, temperature, etc.).

Potential breeders should be robust, at least 3 years of age and approximately 5 feet long, so that sexual maturity is assured.  Small and/or young females often give birth to a high percentage of stillborns.

Stimulating Reproduction

Despite their tropical origins, Rainbow Boas selected for breeding should be subjected to a 6 week cooling-off period, at temperatures of 68-70 F.  Over much of their natural habitat, such temperature dips are associated with rainy periods.  Increased misting may, therefore, help spur reluctant breeders, but care must be taken that the snakes dry off completely, lest fungal skin infections take hold.

Snakes slated for cooling should be fasted for 2-3 weeks beforehand (undigested food in the gut of a cool snake will spoil and likely kill the animal).  A water bowl should be available during their artificial “winter”.

At the end of the cool period, temperatures should gradually (over a 10 day period) be raised to 78-85 F, with a basking site of 92 F.  Females give birth 6-8 months after copulation, and produce an average of 10 young per litter (the range is 1 to 25).   Newborn Rainbow Boas are large enough – 14 to 24 inches – to take fuzzies or small mice as a first meal.

A Note Concerning Diet

Rainbow BoaI’ve found that Rainbow Boas often refuse favored foods after a time.  Usually, a switch from mice to rats, or vice-versa, gets them started again.

Rainbow Boas usually relish chicks, and may take gerbils, hamsters and other rodents, but these should not be used unless a steady supply is available.  Snakes that “fixate” on a difficult-to-obtain food can be trouble.  I once worked with an anaconda that refused all food but muskrats, another which took only wild-caught Norway rats, and several that “demanded” ducks.

Further Reading

Information on the natural history of the Brazilian Rainbow Boa and other creatures that live in its habitat may be found in the newsletter of The Amazon Conservation Association.

A video of a nicely colored young Brazilian Rainbow Boa is posted here.



Peruvian Rainbow Boa image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Damien Farrell

Breeding the Common Kingsnake and it’s Relatives

Lampropeltis getula getulaThe Common Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula, is one of the first snakes to have been bred in captivity on a large scale, and remains extremely popular.  Eight distinctly-marked subspecies range throughout the USA and into Central America.  All breed well in captivity – the California Kingsnake (L.g. californiae), a pet trade staple, is available in a wide range of “designer patterns”.  The other subspecies may be seen in their “pure” forms or as crosses with related snakes, and include the Black Kingsnake, Florida Kingsnake, Eastern or Chain Kingsnake, Mexican Black Kingsnake (the only race which is jet back above and below), Desert Kingsnake, Speckled Kingsnake and Yuma Kingsnake (sometimes grouped with the California Kingsnake, as the “desert phase”).


Despite the wide range of habitats occupied by the various Common Kingsnake subspecies, all may be kept and bred in much the same manner (please write in for specific information on the subspecies in which you are interested).

Common Kingsnakes do well at temperatures of 76-86 F, and, being fairly secretive, require a secure hideaway.  They may be raised on a diet of mice, but all are partial to other snakes as food – pairs must be watched carefully, especially at feeding time


Kingsnakes should be subjected to a 2-3 month cooling off period at 59-68 F during the winter.  Copulation is most likely to occur from March-June, with eggs being laid 30-50 days thereafter.  A second clutch may be produced in late summer or early fall.  Clutch size varies from 3-21, with 9 eggs being the average.

Eggs and Hatchlings

Speckled KingsnakeEggs incubated in moist vermiculite (use a vermiculite: water ratio of 1:1 by weight – please see article below for details) at 82 F will hatch in 45-75 days.  The hatch rate is usually a pleasing 90% or higher.  The young, 9-13 inches long upon hatching, are large enough to take pink mice as their first meal.  Sexual maturity is reached at approximately 2 ½ years of age.

Further Reading

For further information on hatching snake eggs, please see my article Incubating Reptile Eggs.

Very interesting footage of wild California Kingsnakes is posted here.


Lampropeltis getula getula image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson

SB 373 Update – 9 Species, not all Pythons, may be Banned from Pet Trade

I’ve just received some reasonably good news concerning Senate Bill 373, which as originally proposed would have banned the ownership of all pythons (even ball pythons) and many other constrictors.  Due to the overwhelming response by snake enthusiasts and the pet industry, the bill has been modified to include only Green and Yellow Anacondas, Burmese, Reticulated and African Pythons and Boa constrictor.  I and the staff at ThatPetPlace would like to thank everyone who read our recent article on Senate Bill 373 and took action.  It’s gratifying to have had such interest from my readers, and to see that concerned, responsible people can make a difference.

More Help Needed

There is still some work left to do, so I again must ask for your assistance.  Perhaps there is room for improvement – setting up a licensing system for responsible herptoculturists, for example, so that they can continue to work with Boa constrictors. 

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PJAC) has set up a very simple and quick means for you to contact legislators and register your opinion here.  An informative video with detailed information is posted here.

You can also learn more and take action through The National Python and Boa Ban Information Center and The United States Association of Reptile Keepers.



Garter Snakes in Captivity – Diet and Species Accounts – Part 4

Please see Parts I, II and III of this article for more on garter snake care.


In the wild, most garter snakes are opportunistic feeders…even road-killed frogs are taken on occasion (please see Part I).

While most mammal-feeding snakes thrive on rodents alone, in my experience garter snakes do much better when fed a varied diet. This quirk in their husbandry may explain why captives often fail to live as long as might be expected.

Always provide a wide range of foods to your garter snakes.  Earthworms, goldfishes and minnows can form the basis of the diet of most, but individual preferences vary (see species accounts).

Several young common garter snakes under my care relished the grubs of wood-boring beetles, while others refused them.   Smaller species (i.e. Butler’s Garter Snake) often accept insects and slugs.

Garter snakes may be immune to the toxins of amphibians found in their habitats, but not to those of related species.  An aquatic garter snake that can safely feed upon California newts, for example, might be killed upon consuming a Red-spotted Newt.

Garter snakes have fast metabolisms (as snakes go!).  Youngsters and gravid females should be fed every 3-4 days; adults every 5-7 days.

Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis

Twelve subspecies of this most frequently kept of the garter snakes range from southern Canada into Mexico.  In the continental USA, it is absent only from New Mexico and Arizona….I know of small populations living in the heart of NYC.

The Eastern Garter Snake (T .s. sirtalis), exhibits the typical yellow-striped, black- spotted garter snake pattern.  Individuals vary widely, however…I’ve come across quite bland and nearly black individuals.  Exceptionally large specimens may approach 4 feet in length, but 24 inches is typical.

Some common garter snake subspecies are considered among the most attractive of all North American snakes.  The Red-sided (T. s. parietalis) Florida or Blue-striped (T. s. simlis) and, especially, the San Francisco (T. s. tetrataenia) Garter Snakes are particularly colorful.

Butler’s Garter Snake, T. buttleri

With an average adult size of 15-18 inches, Butler’s Garter Snake is ideally suited to planted, naturalistic terrariums.  It occupies a range of habitats in the north-central USA and southern Canada, and calms down quickly in captivity.

Aquatic Garter Snake, T. couchi

Aquatic Garter Snakes are always found near water (Oregon to Mexico), where they bask on protruding stumps in the manner of the closely-related water snakes (Nerodia spp).  The Giant Aquatic Garter Snake (T. c. gigas) approaches 5 feet in length.  Aquatic Garter Snakes add fish eggs and leeches to their diets on occasion.

Plains Garter Snake, T. radix

The emergence of thousands of plains garter snakes from hibernation is a tourist attraction in parts of southern Canada.  A toad specialist, captives adapt quickly to a diet of fishes and earthworms.

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, T. elegans

Coastal Garter SnakeThis species adds a few twists to typical garter snake husbandry – it readily consumes mice and other snakes (including its young), and unreceptive females have been reported to kill over-enthusiastic males.

Eastern and Western Ribbon Snakes, T. sauritus & T. proximus

These thinly built snakes occupy nearly all of the USA, with the Western species reaching Costa Rica.  I have never encountered them far from water, into which they retreat when startled.  Captives fare best on a diet of fish and crayfish.

Further Reading

You can read more about the natural history of the Eastern Garter Snake here.


Garter Snake Eating Frog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Cjottawa
Coastal Garter Snake image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Steve Jurvetson

Research News – After Feeding, Snakes Remodel their Gut and Produce New Cells

Like most reptile keepers, I have often marveled at the efficiency of snake digestive systems.  I attributed their abilities to break down bone to “powerful digestive enzymes”, but recent research has shown that, at least for Burmese Pythons (Python molurus), a far more complex and amazing process is at work.

Digesting Large Vertebrates

Python swallowing PreyI’ve observed some quite large snake feasts – a Red Foot Tortoise and a 60 pound deer taken by Green Anacondas (the tortoise was an unfortunate exhibit mate; the deer fell to an anaconda at my study site in Venezuela) and 40 pound pigs regularly fed to Reticulated and Burmese Pythons under my care at the Bronx Zoo, for example.

A few shell scutes, hoofs, some bone fragments and fur where all that passed in the feces of these snakes – the rest being digested.  How do they do it?

Bone-Digesting Cells

Research at the Louis Pasteur and Indiana Universities has revealed that, after feeding, the digestive systems of Burmese Pythons undergo a dramatic transformation.  New cells are produced and worn-out cells die and are eliminated in preparation for the work at hand.

Studies of the small intestine have uncovered a new type of cell, previously unknown to science.  These cells are responsible for degrading bone and releasing its components into the snake’s bloodstream.  This process promotes efficient calcium absorption, and may be the reason that most captive snakes do not require a UVB source if fed a diet comprised of whole rats, mice and other vertebrates.

Warm-Blooded Snakes?  Not Quite, but…

We’ve known for some time now that Burmese Pythons break the “cold-blooded” rule when digesting their meals.  While most snakes must seek out a hot basking spot in order to maximize digestion, Burmese Pythons can actually raise their internal temperatures without an external heat source! 

Further Reading

Please see Big Snake Meals for some examples of how large (and unusual) snake prey can be.

To read about recent research concerning another unusual snake feeding adaptation, please see How Snakes Grow despite Food Deprivation.

An account of the original research showing that pythons can raise their body temperatures may be found in this Journal of Herpetology article.


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