Brazilian Rainbow Boas (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) – also called BRBs – are known for being one of the most beautiful snakes available in captivity – reds, oranges and yellows with stunning markings and scales that reflect the light into a myriad of colours, giving them their name. This South American species is relatively easy to care for in captivity so as long as you are willing to put the effort into getting the correct setup, they are suitable for beginners to snake keeping – but if you’re not confident with a larger bodied snake you might want to consider some of our popular colubrids instead, such as corn snakes or king snakes.

Close up shot of a bright and vivid Brazilian Rainbow Boa with red and orange scales, ringed by black circles.
Photo taken by Reptile Cymru

Here at Reptile Cymru we breed one litter of Brazilian Rainbow Boas a year from our adult pair, so if you see Brazilian Rainbow Boas for sale from us, they were likely to have been bred here!

Meet the Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Curled up Brazilian Rainbow Boa on a log.
Curled up Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Brazilian rainbow boas are moderately sized, with males usually being a fair amount smaller than females. The size range on average is four to six feet, with some females occasionally exceeding this and some males being slightly smaller. They enjoy some degree of climbing and as such are a fairly slender bodied snake and easily handleable even as adults. The lifespan of a correctly cared for rainbow boa can exceed 25 years, so it’s important to be prepared for the commitment of such a long lived snake.

BRBs originate in South America with a very large habitat range, including Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana. They are not listed as endangered, but are becoming increasingly at risk to habitat loss. These have been bred in captivity for decades and you should be able to find a captive bred Brazilian Rainbow Boa fairly easily.

Housing for Brazilian Rainbow Boas

For a single adult Brazilian Rainbow Boa we would recommend a tank of 4 foot by 2 foot by 2 foot, but if you are interested in creating a stunning display vivarium and add more height, with plenty of climbing branches then it will be well used! In addition to branches and foliage you should provide a large water bowl and several secure hides, on both the hot and cold end of the tank. For a very large female or a pair, you might even want to consider going up to 6 foot in length, or 3 foot in depth. In short, 4 x 2 x 2 is the minimum, and you can go as large as you have space for.

Babies can be kept in a starter setup until well established feeding and are big enough not to be escape risks. This is a species that can be a little shy, but with a well decorated vivarium can usually move into their permanent enclosure at a young age.

Brazilian Rainbow Boa Heating and Temperature

You need to create a hot and a cold end of your tank for your Brazilian Rainbow Boa. This is so they can thermoregulate – choose between hot areas and cold areas depending on their body temperature. All your heating should be on one side of the tank, and this should provide an ambient of 90F which is 32c. On the unheated cool side of the tank your ambient temperature should be around 75 – 80F. At night you can allow this cooler temperature to be steady throughout the tank.

You have two main options of heating but due to the size of the enclosure, a heat mat is only suitable for a small starter setup. As soon as you move into a vivarium where your bulb can be attached to the ceiling, please use a Ceramic Heater. Heat mats don’t do well in high humidity tanks, nor do they do well with large bodied snakes.

1. Heat Mat

A heat mat is a device that goes underneath the substrate or against the back wall of a wooden tank. If your tank is made of glass, you can put the heat mat underneath. The heat mat should be well covered by substrate – you do not want your snake to sit directly on it, and should also be kept dry.

Your heat mat should always be controlled by a thermostat.

2. Ceramic Bulb

A ceramic bulb is an excellent option for providing heat. It has a much higher heat output than most heat mats, making it more suitable for larger tanks and for obtaining more reliable temperatures. Heating from above is more natural as well. Ceramic bulbs are particularly good for larger snakes or larger enclosures.

Your Ceramic Bulb should be controlled by a thermostat and must be guarded so the snake cannot burn itself as well.

Keep a thermometer in the vivarium at all times – digital ones are best – to ensure the temperature is correct.

Humidity

Humidity should be around 75-80%. This will most likely require a large water bowl – you’ll want one big enough for your snake to soak in anyway – along with daily misting of the enclosure to increase the air humidity. You can increase the ambient humidity by keeping your water bowl on the hot side of the tank, but ensure it’s changed daily.

Lighting for Brazilian Rainbow Boas

Having a small daylight bulb in the tank helps provide a natural photoperiod allowing the snake to distinguish clearly between night and day. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it has plenty of benefits and is very inexpensive. You can use a low wattage LED which won’t raise the heat much at all, or you can use a low wattage basking bulb if you do want to raise the heat a little in this area.

If you use any heat-emitting bulb you will need to put a guard around it to ensure the snake does not curl around the bulb and inflict burns upon itself. Snakes do not recognise pain very quickly and a snake can have horrific burns before it registers to move away.

UVB for Brazilian

In the past people didn’t use UVB for nocturnal species of snakes. However, more recent research has shown that most snakes are active at dawn and dusk and will sometimes even bask in full sunlight. UVB has been shown to offer benefits to health, such as increased appetite, more activity and brighter colouration – something you definitely want to consider in the case of Brazilian Rainbow Boas to showcase their natural beauty.

Following recommendations from Arcadia Reptile for low UVB snake species, we would recommend having a UV Index of 2-3 in your tank. This can be obtained with a 6% T8 UVB at 10-15″ height or at a 15-18″ height you can use a T5 6% UVB or a T8 12% UVB. You should use a UVB guard to stop the snake damaging themselves or the bulb.

UVB remains optional when it comes to nocturnal snakes like the Brazilian Rainbow Boa, but we highly recommend it. You can read our entire UVB guide here.

Substrate

As a high humidity rainforest species, you want something that will cope well with moisture. We recommend either orchid bark or using a top soil / natural coco fibre or EarthMix substrate. This is natural and will not get moldy with high humidity. You can even add cleanup crew or go bioactive, although with a heavy bodied snake it can be quite hard to keep a live planted vivarium in good condition.

Decor

A hatchling Brazilian Rainbow Boa on a large log.

You will need multiple hides – at least one on the hot and one on the cold – side of the enclosure for your Brazilian Rainbow Boa to choose where to hide in. They may also sleep in well positioned branches. Try to create a natural rainforest environment with plenty of exercise and stimulation opportunities such as branches and plants.

Branches, plants, cork bark – all will give your snake an interesting and natural looking habitat.

A water bowl containing fresh water should be provided at all times.

Social Needs

Brazilian Rainbow Boa sitting on a branch.

Brazilian Rainbow Boas do not have any social needs and are fine to live by themselves for their entire lives. In the wild they only come together for breeding purposes. It is possible to house more than one together, but a male and a female may breed unduly, whilst two males may stress each other with territorial and competitive behaviour. If you are housing more than one we’d recommend two females, but you need to feed separately, and ensure there is ample space in the enclosure as well as multiple hides on both hot and cold sides. In general, snakes do better living alone.

Feeding Brazilian Rainbow Boas

A breeder may find that Brazilian Rainbow Boas can be quite tricky to get started feeding, but if you’re purchasing a pet from a shop or a breeder, your snake should already be well established on defrost rodents. Once established and eating regular, this species is a good feeder. Hatchlings will eat a pinky or fuzzy every 5-7 days, juveniles will tend to eat every 7-10 days whilst adults will eat every 7-14 days depending on their size and condition. 

Always feed defrost rodents and not live prey. For the best chance of feeding success, defrost your rodent at above room temperature, for example in hot (not boiling) water. Brazilian Rainbow Boas – and all boids – have sensory heat pits that allow them to sense prey based on temperature and will strike at a warm rodent.

Use a pair of tongs so the snake can clearly tell the difference between food and not – otherwise you risk them accidentally hitting your hand, which is also quite warm.

Handling Rainbow Boas

A baby Brazilian Rainbow Boa on a hand.

Rainbow boas have a reputation for being snappy as neonates but are almost always placid and docile as adults and are easily tamed with regular handling. Patience must be used whilst handling young as they are very defensive and can strike (although do little damage, it can sting and draw blood) and some people may prefer to use gloves with very young babies. With regular care and handling this snake will calm down considerably with most adults being docile and placid snakes – but still being keen feeders, so always take care around feeding time.

A man handling a Brazilian Rainbow Boa that is approximately 6.5 feet.
Ben handling an adult female Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Children should always be carefully supervised when handling as this is a very strong and muscular snake and whilst Brazilian Rainbow Boas aren’t dangerous, you don’t want either snake or child to have a negative experience that could cause fear in the future.

You should always wash your hands before handling a snake, to ensure there is no scent on your hands that could put them in feeding mode, and after, as good hygiene practice.

Sexing Brazilian Rainbow Boas

Next up in this caresheet is how to sex Brazilian Rainbow Boas. The most reliable way of sexing Brazilian Rainbow Boas is to have them probed by an experienced reptile keeper. This is where metal sexing probes are inserted into the cloaca and down into the space in the tail where the hemipenes are stored. This needs to be done by someone experienced as there is a chance the snake can be damaged in the process.

Very young Brazilian Rainbow Boas may be able to be sexed by palpating the hemipenile sac and feeling – or visibly seeing – the hemipenes. The older the snake gets and the stronger the muscles the more difficult it is to do this by feel.

Other ways of telling is that males tend to have larger spurs at the entrance to the vent, and males are quite a bit smaller than females, so if your fully mature Brazilian Rainbow Boa is around the 4 foot mark rather than 5-6 foot then it’s more likely to be male. Neither of these are a 100% accurate way.

If you’re not intending to breed, the actual care and temperament of male and female Brazilian Rainbow Boas is the same, so you may prefer a male if looking for a smaller snake or a female if looking for a larger one, but otherwise it shouldn’t matter if you go for a male or female.

Breeding Brazilian Rainbow Boas

Before you breed, please consider whether your adults are healthy and genetically free of any problems that might be passed down. The female in particular should be fully mature – at least three to four years old, 5 ft in length and approximately 1.5kg in weight. Beeding any snake too early can cause serious health problems. Even the most healthy snake can still have problems during breeding which will need a veterinarian to help with, so make sure you know who your local exotics veterinarian is, and have the funds to take care of any medical needs that might arise from breeding.

You also need to be sure that you can house all your hatchlings separate, get them feeding, and find new homes for them.

Brumation / Cooling

Not everyone cools their Brazilian Rainbow Boas, and successful breeding is possible without it, but for the best success we recommend a drop in temperature down to 75F. We do this in November. Compared to colubrids this is a relatively warm temperature, but it does not get that cold in South America. After approximately two months, you can slowly increase the temperature back to normal over the space of a few weeks and then introduce the male into the female enclosure. This is ideal after she has shed, with the shed skin still in the enclosure to maximise the pheremones and encourage breeding.

Courtship and Birth

You may decide to leave the male in the female tank for several months to ensure the most success with breeding, or you can introduce him every other week to encourage copulation. We keep ours together during this time, but know people who introduce and monitor.

Ovulation will show the female is gravid, but it’s quite easy to miss. Ovulation is a hard bulge in the center of the snake, whilst she may be raising her belly to the heat or wrapping it around items in sometimes unnatural looking positions. She is likely to stop feeding when gravid, although some females continue eating so you should still offer food.

A week after ovulation the female will shed, and approximately 120 days after the post-ovulation shed, babies should be born. If the tank is warmer, this may be quicker, if the tank is cooler, this can take a week or two more. If you’ve not managed to keep track of ovulation, approximately 2-4 weeks before giving birth females will become more and more restless, will lie on their backs more often and will look larger and swollen.

Provide a moss box for her to lay her babies in, and at this point you may want to unclutter the tank a little. If your water dish is deep, make sure you have some branches and plants in the water dish. It’s possible she will lay her babies in the water and the babies need to be able to get out easily to avoid any potential drowning.

The photo above shows our female who gave birth in 2010. As you can see she chose to give birth in her moss which is a large storage tub half filled with sphagnum moss, with a small layer of coir in the bottom to help keep the humidity up.

The neonates will be born inside an egg sac of amniotic fluid which immediately opens. There will be a lot of fluid and a lot of smell. It’s a very messy business! Some of the neonates will naturally not have made it, so it’s important to remove any slugs (unfertilized eggs, such as the white blob on the left of the above photo) and the stillborn babies.

The liveborn should be moved into individual tubs. You need to be careful to let them absorb all the goo and if it hasn’t absorbed, to move it with them.

Neonate Care

After absorbing any excess egg yolk and shedding, your baby Brazilian Rainbow Boas will be ready to start feeding. They will need to be separated out into small enclosures with hides, water bowls and we recommend a small moss box as well. Now is a good time to make a chart for each of them on the tub, including their date of birth, sex if you have managed to sex them, weight and any other important details. You can then write down each successful feeding date.

Your enclosures will all need to be kept at the correct temperature and humidity until your babies have established themselves as good feeders – we recommend 6 consecutive feeds, then you can consider finding them new homes. Most breeders put the tubs into a larger enclosure or rack and heat the entire area rather than heating individual tubs.

Brazilian Rainbow Boa Colour Morphs

Here at Reptile Cymru we breed what we consider to be ‘High Red Brazilian Rainbow Boas’. This is not a genetic trait, but one we have selectively bred by purchasing our animals from high red lines in Germany, bringing them to the UK and consistently breeding amazing colour animals.

There are some genetic morphs of Brazilian Rainbow Boas, but they are quite rare in the UK and not that popular for the simple fact that the natural wild colour is absolutely stunning and exactly what most people are looking for.

You might come across the following recessive genetic traits:

Hypomelanstic Brazilian Rainbow Boas

The black markings in a Brazilian Rainbow Boa are reduced in Hypomelanistic. This can result in a more orange snack, lacking the contrasting black.

Anerythistic Brazilian Rainbow Boas

Anerythistic Brazilian Boas lack the red pigment. This results in a much subdued, quite washed out looking Brazilian Rainbow Boa – almost as if someone had put a medium grey filter over the snake.

Ghost Brazilian Rainbow Boas

There are very few people breeding Ghost Brazilian Boas in the world. This is a double recessive trait that combines both hypomelanistic and anerythistic. It was first produced in 2010 by Mike Lockwood and Robert Seib. The second litter reported in the world was then in 2015 by Jeff Kuhl, and this produced the first male Ghost Brazilian Rainbow Boa. I’ve not personally heard of any in the UK at this time – but perhaps we’ll see someone working on this in the future!

The Ghost Brazilian Rainbow Boa is a very light, almost white, grey and black Brazilian Rainbow Boa. It is very different to the wild type and very striking.

Other Brazilian Rainbow Boa Morphs

There are also some other lines being bred in the USA, but not the UK. Including Albino T+ and T-, Pied, Calico, Xanthic and Chocolate.

I hope that this Brazilian Rainbow Boa Caresheet has provided all the information you need to know, but if there’s anything you have a question about just drop it in the comments, leave us an email or contact us on Facebook! We provide free advice on all species of reptiles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.