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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

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.

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