The Colombian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria maurus) has an easy-going temperament, manageable size, and good feeding response.
These attributes make it a great pet for the intermediate reptile keeper.
This care guide provides a broad overview of this species and its husbandry.
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About the Colombian Rainbow Boa
Of the five subspecies of rainbow boa, the Colombian rainbow boa and the Brazilian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) are the most commonly available to reptile collectors.
Colombian rainbow boas are more difficult to obtain than Brazilians.
There are some differences in the characteristics and husbandry requirements of the two subspecies.
We’ll explain the differences between these two subspecies throughout this care guide.
Distribution and Habitat
The range of the Colombian rainbow boas extends further north than any other subspecies.
This boa’s range extends as far north as Panama and Costa Rica.
Their southernmost range extends down to the northern part of South America, including Colombia and Venezuela.
They prefer humid forests where they hide in the foliage, though they sometimes live in dryer regions.
The Colombian Rainbow Boa is a semi-arboreal species. Adults usually occur in low-lying branches or on the ground.
Babies and juveniles spend their time higher up in the trees, where they avoid predators.
Appearance and Size
Rainbow boas get their name from the iridescent sheen of their scales when they’re exposed to light.
Their striking appearance is caused by the configuration of their scales, which creates a prism-like effect.
Colombian boas are reddish-brown or beige with dark vertebral markings. This contrasts with the Brazilian rainbow boa, which has a brighter red or orange color.
The dark markings are most distinctive in young snakes but fade as they become adults.
Colombian rainbow boas sometimes demonstrate metachrosis.
Metachrosis refers to how some animals can change the color of their skin by adjusting the size of their pigment cells.
Colombian rainbow boas are nocturnal. At night, their skin can have a silver-like coloration while a darker color takes its place during the daytime.
The average size of Colombian rainbows is three to five feet in length, and females are larger than the males.
Brazilian rainbows have an average length of four to six feet. Also, Colombian rainbows will have a thicker appearance compared to Brazilian rainbows.
The life span for Colombian rainbow boas in the wild is unknown. Captive specimens can live up to 25 years if they’re properly cared for.
Colombian Rainbow Boa Enclosure
Because Colombian rainbows have a high humidity requirement, we recommend making their enclosure from glass or plastic.
Wood enclosures may not hold up to the humidity.
- For newborns, a 10-gallon aquarium is sufficient.
- The minimum enclosure size for juvenile snakes is 30 by 12 inches.
- For adult snakes, the minimum enclosure size is 36 by 18 inches, which is equivalent to a 30-gallon aquarium.
You shouldn’t keep newborn and young snakes in larger enclosures as they won’t feel safe in large spaces.
If young snakes feel unsafe, they may not eat.
Additionally, it’s easier to control the humidity in small spaces.
You can use commercially available plastic reptile cages and snake racks as alternatives to aquariums or home-built enclosures.
As Colombian rainbows are semi-arboreal, the enclosure should offer height so that you can install branches.
While floor space is important, even adult Colombian rainbows will climb if given the opportunity.
Furnishing the Enclosure
You should furnish your boa’s enclosure with the following items. These are the minimal items that you need to keep your boa healthy.
You should provide several hides for the Colombian rainbow as they’ll provide the snake with a sense of security.
Place the hides so that there’s one in the cool end of the enclosure and one in the heated end.
Choose hides that are just large enough for them to curl up in.
Hides larger than this won’t provide your Colombian rainbow the sense of security that it needs.
You’ll also want to include a humid hide. Snakes need moisture to shed their skin successfully, and humid hides give the boa a high-humidity area to shed.
Line the interior of the humid hide with damp sphagnum moss or paper towels. You can obtain specialized hides online or at pet stores that deal with reptiles.
You can also create hides by using an appropriately-sized plastic box and cutting a hole in it for the opening.
Provide your Colombian boa with a water bowl that’s large enough for it to immerse itself in completely.
Besides the fact that Colombian boas enjoy soaking, a large water bowl helps to increase the humidity and assist your snake when it sheds.
Colombian boas often defecate in the water, so it’s important to change the water daily.
Also, give the water bowl a good scrubbing once a week to prevent the growth of bacteria.
You can get custom water bowls for reptiles at various online sites.
Branches and Vegetation
Providing branches will offer your snake a chance to climb as well as offering enrichment.
Branches are also useful for your snake when it’s time for it to shed. Snakes need something rough to rub against to get the old skin to split.
If you use branches from the outdoors, you need to treat them to avoid transferring parasites or undesirable insects to the enclosure environment.
To treat the branches, soak them in a mixture of chlorine and water. You need to rinse off soaked branches and then allow them to soak in clean water.
Let the branches dry by setting them in the sun.
You can also purchase branches online or at select pet stores that deal with reptiles.
Consider adding plastic plants to the enclosure to create a more natural look. They’re also useful for providing enrichment for your boa.
You can also use live plants, though they have their own set of requirements, and you’ll need to choose species that aren’t toxic or delicate.
Both live and artificial plants have advantages and drawbacks, and some hobbyists prefer the one over the other.
For your Columbian Rainbow Boa, you may find artificial plants easier to use.
When considering what substrate to use in the enclosure, consider the following:
- Is it easy to keep clean?
- Is it safe for your snake?
- Will it add to the natural look of the enclosure if this is desired?
- How will the substrate hold up to the high humidity requirements of this species?
We recommend the following substrates:
- Orchid Bark: Orchid Bark is great as a substrate because it will retain humidity.
This is important as it will help maintain the humidity in the enclosure.
- Peat & Bark Mix: This substrate will add a natural look to the enclosure. Peat & bark mix also retains humidity.
- Cypress Mulch: Cypress mulch is great for retaining humidity. It’s also resistant to decay and mold.
- Coconut Fiber: Coconut fibers are great as a substrate because it helps maintain humidity levels, but isn’t abrasive to your snake.
- Sphagnum and Green Moss: Sphagnum and green moss are a favorite among reptile collectors.
These plants retain moisture, repel odors, and create a natural look.
- Newspaper: While it doesn’t retain humidity, newspaper is an easy substrate to use and replace.
Maintaining the Colombian Rainbow Boa Enclosure
Due to the high humidity requirements of Colombian rainbow boas, their enclosure is highly susceptible to mold and bacteria growth.
You should spot clean the enclosure daily, and clean the enclosure completely every week.
During weekly cleanings, wash the enclosure thoroughly and replace the substrate.
Scrubbing the enclosure with a vinegar and water solution is a safe and effective way to kill mold and bacteria.
Temperature and Lighting Requirements
Reptiles rely on their environment to maintain their body temperature as they’re unable to regulate it internally.
Providing a thermal gradient will allow your snake to find its optimal temperature.
A thermal gradient forms when one end of the enclosure is warmer than the other end.
Keep the warmest part of the enclosure at 85-90 °F, and the cooler end at 75-80 °F.
In the evening, keep the temperature at 70-72 °F.
You can use basking lights and under-tank heating pads to heat the enclosure.
Place an under-tank heating pad on one end of the tank and include a hide in this location. The under-tank heating pad shouldn’t occupy more than half of the floor area.
Attach a basking light to the top of the cage, and provide a protective covering to ensure that your snake cannot make direct contact with it.
Both under-tank heating pads and basking lights are available at online reptile stores and brick and mortar stores.
You can use heating pads inside the enclosure, but you should only use them with young snakes.
Never use heating pads inside the enclosure with larger snakes.
Thermal blocking occurs when the weight of larger snakes creates hotspots on the heating pad. Snakes can get burned as a result.
You can also find light domes, to protect your snake from coming into contact with the light, at these places.
Obtain two quality thermometers so that you can monitor the temperature at both ends of the enclosure.
Unlike Brazilian boas, Colombian boas have a higher tolerance to both high and low temperatures.
Despite Colombian boas’ greater temperature tolerance, we highly recommend buying a thermostat and timer. It will allow you to maintain greater control of the temperature.
Most reptile stores stock thermostats and timers.
We don’t recommend hot rocks as they heat unevenly, and they can burn the snakes.
Colombian boas are nocturnal, and it’s important to provide them with a dark cycle.
It’s best to provide 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of darkness. Get a timer for your lighting so that they go off at night.
Keepers once believed that nocturnal animals, like the Colombian rainbow boa, don’t need UVA or UVB lighting. There’s a school of thought that challenges this assumption.
Some people suggest that providing UVB lighting can have a positive impact on these snakes.
They claim that UVB lighting can stimulate eating and greater activity. UVB lighting also enhances the colors of your snake.
Since Colombian rainbows have a low requirement for UVB lighting, we recommend using a UV index of between two and three in the enclosure.
You can achieve this UV index by positioning a 6% T8 UVB light 10 to 15 inches above the enclosure floor.
You can also achieve the UV index by positioning a T5 6% UVB light at the height of 15 to 18 inches.
A T8 12% UVB light positioned at the same distance will achieve this index as well.
As Colombian rainbow boas come from the tropics, they require high humidity.
Dehydration is one of the main causes of death for captive Colombian boas (the other major cause of death is overheating).
Signs of dehydration include:
- problems shedding
- wrinkly and dry scales
It’s primarily for this reason that we don’t recommend this species for beginner reptile keepers.
As with temperature, Colombian rainbows are more tolerant to humidity requirements than Brazilian rainbows.
Though Colombian rainbow boas sometimes do well at humidity levels as low as 50%, the optimal humidity level is 70-90%.
Expert Tip: Keep juvenile and baby Colombian rainbows at the higher end of the humidity range.
You can maintain this humidity level by manually misting the exhibit or getting an automated mister.
Giving the snake a large water dish and using the right substrate will also help to maintain humidity levels.
In their natural habitat, Colombian rainbow boas prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Scientists have recorded them eating bats!
In captivity, these boas can live healthfully on a diet of mice or rats.
Don’t feed live prey to your snake, as live prey can cause injury to your snake. Instead, feed dead feeders.
You can obtain frozen feeders at many pet stores or online. You should thaw frozen feeders before feeding.
Using frozen feeders also eliminates the risk of transferring parasites to your snake.
A rule of thumb when feeding snakes is to give feeders that are no bigger than the widest part of your snake.
The frequency of feedings will depend on the age of your Colombian rainbow.
From birth to two years, you should feed boas one feeder weekly. When boas reach adult size, feed them one feeder every two weeks.
As Colombian rainbow boas are voracious feeders, it’s important to follow these recommendations to avoid obesity.
Expert Tip: It’s a good idea to introduce young Colombian rainbow boas to eating rats as early as possible.
If young Colombian boas are fed mice for too long, they may have difficulty transitioning to rats later.
Boas have sensory pits, which they use to detect warm-blooded prey.
We recommend warming up thawed feeders before presenting them to your snake.
To warm up thawed feeders, place them in a plastic bag and let them sit in hot water for a few minutes.
You can use feeding tongs to present the feeder to your boa.
Also, don’t handle your snake for 48 hours after eating, or you risk having it regurgitate its meal.
Handling and Temperament
Of all the subspecies of rainbow boas, the Colombian rainbow boa has the best temperament. Normally a calm snake, Colombian rainbows are easily tamed.
Because of its easy disposition and manageable size, the Colombian rainbow boa is a great snake for those not experienced with large constrictors (Colombian red-tail boa, for example).
One word of warning, baby and juvenile Colombian rainbow boas are notorious for being nippy. However, they’ll calm down with regular handling.
When holding a boa, it’s important to support its body. Also, avoid touching its head until it has gained your trust.
When you first get your Colombian rainbow, don’t attempt to handle it for a few days so that it can get accustomed to its new home.
When you start handling your boa, start by handling it for just a few minutes and slowly increase the amount of time with each handling.
Expert Tip: Learn your snake’s body language. If it appears nervous, don’t handle it.
The Colombian rainbow boa is an excellent choice for the intermediate reptile keeper who wants to gain experience keeping a large constrictor.
We hope you’ve had fun reading this article about the Columbian Rainbow Boa.
There are many other boas out there, and you might want to check out our articles about the Kenyan Sand Boa or Rosy Boa.
Are you planning on getting a Colombian Rainbow Boa? Let us know in the comments.