The Epic Epicrates Care Sheet: How to Setup and Care for Your Rainbow Boa
Introduction: When setup properly, all species of rainbow boa (Epicrates spp.) thrive in captivity. Their daily care is minimal and husbandry is simple. Establishing the terrarium a few days before receiving your snake allows time to observe and correct temperature and humidity fluctuations.
While building your terrarium, always keep in mind that the rainbow boas’ natural habitat is the tropical rain forest floor. They require higher humidity and cooler temperatures in comparison to most reptiles. Their husbandry is more akin to amphibians such as dart frogs.
Habitat: An inadequate setup can quickly cause major health issues or death. Glass aquariums with screen lids are not ideal for rainbow boas. A screen lid allows too much humidity to escape and the glass is not thick enough to retain the proper temperature. If you want to use a glass terrarium, you will have to make some simple modifications. Reduce the ventilation by covering the screen lid with a sheet of glass or plastic. Insulate the glass or keep it in a temperature-controlled room (not in front of a window or exposed to any temperature extremes).
One of the best rainbow boa habitats are plastic Rubbermaid/Sterlite containers. These are nearly translucent, thicker than glass, and you can regulate the ventilation by drilling a few holes in the lid or side (less is better). Pay special attention to the lid, you may need to modify them so they are completely escape proof.
Lights are a great addition to your habitat. We use LEDs or fluorescents because they do not generate enough heat to dry the air of the tank.
Some people use electronic waterfalls, misting systems, or foggers; these are not necessary. It is probably best not to use these devices unless you are confident you can regulate them.
Rainbow boas are semi-arboreal; offer them some driftwood pieces to climb. Make sure your snake has somewhere to hide and feel secure. A deli-cup filled with wet sphagnum moss and a small hole in the lid is a perfect “humidity hide box”. Offer hiding spots on both the cool side and the warm side of your habitat.
Live plants are aesthetically appealing, stabilize the humidity, and allow enrichment for your snake; they are a great addition to any environment.
Heating: Do not use a heat lamp. Incandescent lights sap the humidity out of the air and dry out the habitat. An under-tank heater is your best option. We recommend a thermostat or dimmer to adjust the temperature perfectly. Reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they cannot regulate their temperature like birds and mammals. They need a thermal gradient, warmer on one side and cooler on the other. Put the heat pad underneath the tank on one side, with a little room for airflow, this will allow the snake to choose when to warm up and when to cool down.
Temperature: During initial setup, check temperatures numerous times a day using a digital Max/Min thermometer and record your observations. Move the thermometer around the cage every few hours, including burying it in the substrate.
An ambient temperature between 74-78°F with a small basking spot in the 80-84 °F range is ideal, but some wiggle room is acceptable.
Be aware of seasonal changes that could affect the rainbow boa’s habitat. In the summer, your house may get too warm, requiring you to put the heat pad on a timer.
Humidity: The terrarium requires high air humidity and moist substrate. The best way to maintain humidity is by reducing ventilation and offering a water bowl large enough for the snake to soak. A slight amount of condensation on the sides and/or lid of the habitat indicates proper humidity. Misting your tank alone will not raise the humidity!
Be aware of seasonal changes that could affect the rainbow boa’s habitat. In the winter, your furnace might dry the air in your home, requiring special attention to the humidity.
Substrate: When deciding on a bedding for your terrarium look for something that retards mold growth, retains moisture, and does not break-down. Coconut chips, cypress mulch, or tropical bark are some of the best substrates available. You can purchase most of these at specialty pet stores, reptile shows, or home improvement shops. Ensure that the bedding has not been treated with chemicals or dyes. If you use soil or coconut powder, make sure it is not so fine that it is clogging the snake’s labial pits, or getting into their mouth.
Occasionally test your substrate to ensure that it is not holding too much water. If you squeeze a handful of substrate and water trickles out, it is too wet. If your hand is moist, the bedding is perfect.
Feeding: Variety is the spice of life. We offer adult rainbow boas a varied diet consisting of medium rats, large mice, chicks, small guinea pigs, and quail. This diet allows for an array of nutrients and enriches the snake’s lives.
We start babies on live fuzzy mice and try to switch them over to frozen/thawed as soon as possible. Rainbows are usually vigorous eaters. Stress from too much handling or a husbandry issue (too cold, too hot, too dry, etc) may cause your rainbow to miss meals. If you have determined that neither issue is your problem, here are a few tricks to try:
Sometimes snakes skip meals. Do not fret; offer another prey item in a few days.
Offer live prey.
Always offer food at night.
To elicit a feeding response, thaw the fuzzy mouse in hot water to mimic warm-bodied prey.
Use forceps or chopsticks to wiggle the prey around in the cage with the snake. Occasionally, tap the snake’s nose or body to get its attention.
Once the snake strikes and coils, gently shake the prey to replicate struggling.
Do not feed with your hands. Your body heat will confuse or frighten the snake.
Rainbow boas are prone to regurgitate if offered food too often or too large. Do not power feed your rainbow.
We feed our baby rainbow boas every 5-10 days.
The adults eat every 10-15 days.
After three consecutive missed meals, reach out to us.
Handling: Rainbow boas do not like to be coddled or petted. They are not domesticated animals and would rather be left alone. However, they do tolerate the occasional gentle handlings and getting them out for some exercise is enriching and good for them. Just be aware that they easily stress and can become defensive if out for too long.
All baby rainbow boas are nippy. At that size, everything in the wild is trying to eat them. Around a year in age, they become more confident and are much more relaxed during handling.
We do not recommend unnecessary handling until your rainbow has eaten several consecutive meals without any issues.
Conclusion: Rainbow boas are awesome! They are interesting to observe and are just as comfortable climbing as they are swimming. Their manageable size, generally calm demeanor, and brilliant colors make them ideal pets for someone with a little experience. With the new morphs that are beginning to trickle into the pet trade, the hobby of keeping this incredible little boa is only going to become more popular.
Check out this great video of rainbow boas in the wild from our good friend: Dāv Kaufman's Reptile Adventures