STATUSNot Yet Evaluated
COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Epicrates cenchria
DIETRodents, birds, small aquatic lizards
RANGECentral & South America, Amazon River Basin
HABITATHumid woodlands, savannas
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Program and General Information
A terrestrial boa species known as either the Rainbow Boa or the Slender Boa. It is known for its attractive iridescent/holographic sheen caused by structural coloration. There are currently nine recognized subspecies. Their busy patterns and bold coloration help to break up the outline of their bodies as they camouflage themselves among debris on the forest floor. They are considered primitive snakes, because they still display vestigial hind limbs as small spurs on both sides of the cloaca.
Common Physical Features
Males reach lengths of 5.5 to 6 feet while females can grow 6 to 7 feet. Their color ranges from deep-red to orange with orange to red saddles running down their backs. Each saddle is bordered by black. Usually, three distinct black stripes run along their heads, and black circles containing yellow orange to fiery-red crescent-shaped markings run along each side of the animal’s body from head to tail.
Habitat and Global Range
These beautiful snakes are found in woodlands and savannas of the Amazon basin of Brazil, Southern Venezuela, French Guiana, coastal Guyana and Suriname.
In the wild, the Brazilian rainbow boa feeds on small mammals, rodents, birds and their eggs, lizards, and frogs. In captivity, they eat mice and rats.
Behavior and Life Cycle
They are a nocturnal species and often become active an hour or two after sundown. They do not actively hunt down their prey, instead, they assume a sit-and-wait position with their heads extended from their shelters. They find high-rodent-traffic areas and wait for an ambush opportunity. Ovoviviparous species, meaning the hatchlings develop in egg sacks inside the female’s body, they also hatch inside but are born alive. The breeding season occurs from November to January, with the average clutch ranging from 12 to 25 hatchlings. The gestation period lasts about 5 months. The young snakes get no parental care and will begin hunting for small rodents in a week.
The young snakes are born around 15 to 20 inches (38 – 50 cm) long, and within a year they reach 36 to 40 inches (91 – 101 cm) in length.
The Brazilian rainbow boa sexual maturity like many other snake species is determined not by age but rather by individual length. Females reach this stage at around 4.5 feet (1.4 m), males need only a little less at about 4 feet (1.2 m).
The Rainbow Boa doesn’t have rainbow colored scales, they have something special called structural coloration. They are covered with smooth scales that are iridescent and reflect hues of green, blue, and purple due to the presence of chemicals called purines in the cells of their epidermis.
They have special pits that help them detect heat. They can sense infrared thermal radiation.
Rainbow Boas have prehensile tails and will readily climb bushes and trees while looking for food.
The Brazilian Rainbow Boa has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List. They are still considered a common species in most parts of their range. It’s also listed in CITES Appendix II.
But like many other snakes, their future is threatened by human encroachment and habitat destruction. On the other hand, rather than killing these beautiful snakes, indigenous people encourage them to live around their villages to help control rodent populations, which may spread diseases or attack crops.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the species was heavily exploited for the pet trade. At this time probably hundreds if not thousands of Brazilian rainbow boas were collected from the wild and exported for sale particularly from Suriname.