Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria cenchria)
Brazilian rainbow boas (Epicrates cenchria cenchria) are slender but strong constrictor-type snakes that typically grow 5-6.5′ / 1.5-2m long. They have vertical pupils, a long tapered head, blunt snout, and heat pits on the lips. Base color is orange to red with a pattern of black rings along the back, black spots along the sides with pale crescents inside, and dark stripes on the head. The eyes are very dark and the belly is pale. However, they are best known for their intense oil slick-like iridescence.
Brazilian rainbow boas inhabit the Amazon Basin and Guiana Shield areas of South America. They prefer tropical forest habitats, where they can be found either on the ground or in the trees. As a truly nocturnal species, they do most of their hunting in the middle of the night.
Brazilian rainbow boas make fairly docile pets, but because they’re nocturnal, you may not see them out and about very often. When you pay careful attention to providing appropriate Brazilian rainbow boa care, they may live for up to 30 years.
Supplies You Need for a Pet Brazilian Rainbow Boa
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional Brazilian rainbow boa enclosure. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
Items marked with an * are recommended to be purchased in-person rather than online.
- 6’L x 3’W x 6’H reptile enclosure (front-opening)
- Zoo Med Combo Deep Dome Dual Lamp Fixture, x2
- 50w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp, x4
- Lutron Credenza Plug-In Lamp Dimmer, x4
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge, x2
- Arcadia Forest 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0, 34″
- Arcadia ProT5 fixture or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO Single Bulb Light Strip, 36″
- Mistking Starter automatic misting system
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- 180 quarts tropical substrate
- 4′ long (or larger) climbing branch*
- Reptile hides/caves, x2 (small enough to provide a tight squeeze)*
- Environmental enrichment items
- Plastic tub for water*
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- 12″ feeding tongs
Recommended Enclosure Size for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
A good formula for estimating the minimum enclosure dimensions for a semi-arboreal snake is: Full snake length x half snake length x full snake length = length x width x height
Given that most Brazilian rainbow boas grow to 6′ / 1.8m long or smaller, ReptiFiles recommends providing an enclosure no smaller than 6’L x 3’W x 6’H, or 1.8m x 0.9m x 1.8m.
Using an enclosure larger than the minimum is strongly recommended. Bigger is always better! Although you may not see your pet climbing around all the time because it’s nocturnal, they’re still quite active when they’re awake. It’s important to provide an appropriately-sized enclosure that offers both terrestrial and arboreal space to facilitate natural behaviors such as thermoregulation, hydroregulation, photoregulation, hunting, climbing, and hiding. This leads to a fitter and overall healthier snake.
Because you will need such a large enclosure, it’s most cost-effective to build your own enclosure rather than commission one custom-made if you’re up to the task. The DIY Reptile & Amphibian Enclosures group on Facebook is a good place to get tips on how to do this.
Can multiple Brazilian rainbow boas be housed together?
Brazilian rainbow boas are not social animals, which means that you don’t have to worry about them getting lonely. In fact, keeping multiple snakes together is stressful and causes competition for resources, preventing them from thriving. For this reason it’s best to house only one Brazilian rainbow boa per enclosure.
Lighting & UVB Requirements for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Brazilian rainbow boas are nocturnal, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally sleep in places where they are exposed to UVB wavelengths. Aside from regulating their day/night cycle and associated hormonal rhythms, UVB lighting in particular gives the snake all of the vitamin D3 it needs, supports immune health, and encourages increased activity levels. Although rainbow boas can technically survive without UVB light, ReptiFiles strongly recommends providing it in order to promote optimum welfare!
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB, you will need a Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6% bulb, long enough to span half of the enclosure and placed on the warm side of the enclosure. This bulb should be housed in an Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics reflective fixture (yes, this does make a difference).
The basking branch should be placed as follows. Given distance is from the snake’s back to the UVB lamp.
- UVB mounted over mesh — 9-11”
- UVB mounted under mesh — 12-15”
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 2.0-3.0 in the basking area.)
To remain effective, UVB bulbs must be replaced every 12 months.
Heating Requirements for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Rainbow boas, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures in order to regulate their body temperature. In captivity, using a halogen flood heat bulb is the best way to replicate the type of warmth provided by sunlight.
- Basking area: 86-90°F (30-32°C)
- Daytime ambient temperature: 78-84°F (29-30°C)
- Nighttime temps: 72-75°F (22-24°C)
Generally speaking, a cluster of 50w halogen flood bulbs such as the Arcadia Halogen Flood Heat Lamp or Zoo Med Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp should be plenty to achieve your target surface temperature on the basking branch.
If you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial them down with plug-in lamp dimmers or a proportional thermostat. If your basking surface is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
You will need multiple heat bulbs to create a large enough basking area to evenly heat your rainbow boa’s coiled body. Start with two bulbs and add more to the cluster as your snake grows.
You may need additional equipment to maintain appropriate daytime ambient temperatures. ReptiFiles recommends using a 120w Vivarium Electronics Radiant Heat Panel regulated by a proportional thermostat such as the Herpstat 1 for this purpose. The thermostat should be programmed to the highest acceptable temperature and the probe should be placed 6-12″ below the panel.
To monitor the ambient temperatures in your enclosure, place a digital thermometer probe in the middle of the enclosure (I like to wrap it around a branch). To monitor the basking temperature, place another digital probe thermometer on the basking surface, secured with a zip-tie if necessary. Most reptile-branded digital probe thermometers work well.
Humidity Requirements for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Brazilian rainbow boas dehydrate easily and are heavily dependent on having a high-humidity environment. Keep humidity levels around 70% during the day, and higher (at or near 100%) at night. Brazilian rainbow boas younger than 1 year old are more delicate and should have consistent humidity levels between 90-100%. Ambient humidity should be tracked via digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the setup.
To raise the humidity in your snake’s enclosure, you can use a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra Mister to mist the habitat every evening and morning, as well as possibly in the middle of the day. Alternatively you can install a Mistking automatic misting system with at least 6 nozzles (personally, I strongly recommend this approach). The enclosure should be well ventilated enough to dry out a bit between mistings.
It’s good practice to use a reptile humidifier at night to help maintain those nightly humidity levels of 90-100%. Make sure to use reverse-osmosis or distilled water, and thoroughly clean out and sanitize the humidifier with veterinary-grade disinfectant like Rescue or F10SC weekly to prevent illness.
In addition, your snake will need free access to a humid hide lined by moistened sphagnum moss or substrate, as well as a tub of water for soaking.
Substrate Options for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Brazilian rainbow boas are likely to be healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat and supports high humidity levels.
- DIY tropical mix: 60% plain topsoil + 40% coconut fiber
- Zoo Med Reptisoil
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Bio Dude Terra Fauna bioactive kit
Interestingly, Rainbow Boas: Natural History & Captive Husbandry by Bellosa and Bisplinghof states that a gravel substrate is also likely to be appropriate for this species, as their natural habitat often features rocky terrain.
Provide a substrate layer that is 4” deep to cushion your snake’s body and help maintain healthy humidity levels. This takes about 6 ft³ or 180 quarts of substrate to achieve in a 6′ x 3′ enclosure. A generous layer of clean leaf litter on top is strongly recommended.
Feces and urates should be removed immediately, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced every 3-4 months, depending on how diligent you are about routine spot-cleaning.
Décor Ideas for Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Decorations play an important role in your boa’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items are not optional — they are essential to promoting positive welfare for your pet! Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help stave off boredom.
- cork logs
- cork flats
- sturdy branches
- large, sturdy live plants (ex: ficus, dracaena, schefflera)
- sturdy artificial plants
- magnetic ledges
- additional hides
At minimum, you will need a sturdy climbing branch, foliage for cover, and two hiding places.
All branches should be firmly secured to the walls or floor of the enclosure to prevent them from falling and potentially injuring your snake. This is especially important as your pet matures and becomes heavier!
Feeding Your Brazilian Rainbow Boas
Brazilian rainbow boas are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Juveniles should be fed every 1-2 weeks, and adults should be fed every 2-4 weeks. Rainbow boas generally reach adulthood between 4-6 years old.
A good rule of thumb is to provide a prey item(s) which totals around 10% of your snake’s weight, assuming that the snake is not obese. Each item should be no wider than the snake at its widest point.
Although rats and mice are the most common feeders, rainbow boas should eat more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier snake!
Prey ideas for Brazilian rainbow boas:
- African soft-furred rats
- domestic rats
- guinea pigs
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to your pet snake. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to around 100°F/38°C before offering. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes.
Rainbow boas can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but they can be a good way to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Occasionally lightly dust the prey item with a 50/50 mix of calcium and multivitamin before thawing. Arcadia RevitaliseD3 and Repashy CalciumPlus LoD are both good options.
Your snake should have free access to a large tub of fresh water every day, large enough for the snake to be able to soak its entire body as desired. Larger is likely to be beneficial, as these snakes are quite comfortable with swimming.
The water should always be kept clean, with the bowl scrubbed out with veterinary disinfectant such as Rescue or F10SC weekly for good hygiene. For particularly large water tubs/swimming areas, you may want to consider installing a filter to decrease maintenance.
Handling Your Brazilian Rainbow Boa
Handling is an essential part of owning a pet snake. Whether you prefer to keep it as a display animal, companion, or educational animal, getting it used to handling makes chores such as taking it to the vet and cleaning its enclosure a lot easier. Regular handling, when done correctly, can also be a beneficial source of exercise and enrichment for your pet.
After your boa has settled into its new home, start nighttime handling sessions at no more than 5 minutes every few days. After a couple weeks of this, gradually work your way up to longer periods of time more frequently. Once your snake is up to it, handle for 10-15 minutes daily for best results. Note that it is normal for juvenile rainbow boas to be more nervous and nippy.
Before you get your snake out of its enclosure, wash your hands with soap and water. This gets weird scents off, and removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands. If you are particularly smelly/have been spending a lot of time around other animals, it is also advisable to change clothes. I like to rub hand sanitizer on my hands as well to make sure I’m labeled by a consistent scent that is very different from food.
Once your hands are clean and smell like chemicals, use a paper towel roll to gently tap the snake on the head. This lets your pet know that it’s time for handling — not food — and prevents potential accidents caused by a misunderstanding. Once the snake shows calm, slow tongue flicks, it is safe to pick it up.
Use both hands to pick up an adult rainbow boa. One hand should be behind the head, and another should support the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can cause severe damage to their spine.
Since snakes don’t have hands or feet to help them climb, they use their powerful muscles to wrap around objects for stability. During handling, your rainbow boa will treat you like a tree, wrapping around your body, arms, etc. so it doesn’t fall. Use your hands to guide its movement, and don’t let it wrap around your neck. Children should not be allowed to handle snakes alone.
Of course, always wash your hands and arms or apply hand sanitizer after handling your rainbow boa.
Beginner’s Guide To Brazilian Rainbow Boas. (n.d.). Moonlight Boas. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from http://www.moonlightboas.com/care-info/care-sheets/beginners-guide-to-brazilian-rainbow-boas.php
Bellosa, H., & Bisplinghof, H. (2012). Rainbow Boas : Natural History and Captive Husbandry. Edition Chimaira / Serpent’s Tale.
Brazilian Rainbow Boa Care Sheet. (n.d.-a). Moonlight Boas. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from http://www.moonlightboas.com/care-info/care-sheets/brazilian-rainbow-boa-care-sheet.php
Brazilian Rainbow Boa Care Sheet. (n.d.-b). The Rainbow Boa.Co.Uk. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from http://www.therainbowboa.co.uk/Brazilian_rainbow_boa_caresheet.htm
Climate & Weather Averages in Iquitos, Loreto, Peru. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/peru/iquitos/climate
Husbandry and Care: Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Epicrates Cenchria). (n.d.). StarDust Scales. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://stardustscales.com/care.html#brb
Lockwood, M. (2011, December 1). Brazilian Rainbow Boa. Reptiles Magazine. https://www.reptilesmagazine.com/brazilian-rainbow-boa/
O’Shea, M. (2018). The Book of Snakes: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World (p. 110). The University of Chicago Press.
The Epic Epicrates Care Sheet: How to Setup and Care for Your Rainbow Boa. (n.d.). Hardin Herpetologica. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from http://www.hardinherpetologica.com/husbandry
Western Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria). (n.d.). INaturalist. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/32237-Epicrates-cenchria
The ReptiFiles Brazilian Rainbow Boa Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.