Rubbery but oh so cuddly!
Rubber boas (Charina bottae) are the snakes for you if you want a snake that is going to enjoy being handled. They are simple-looking snakes that are terrestrial and semi-fossorial. This means that they stay on the ground and often burrow or hide in underground spots.
Rubber boas are great for beginner to intermediate owners because they have simple care needs and do well with handling.
They do not strike out in defense and tend to be more forgiving when being cared for by a newbie herper.
|Common Name:||Rubber Boa, Northern Rubber Boa, Northern Boa|
|Scientific Name:||Charina bottae|
|Natural Habitat:||Northern America: Deciduous or coniferous forests, chaparral, grassland, and meadows|
|Adult Size:||1 – 2.5 feet long|
|Diet:||Deer mice, Voles, lizards|
|Experience Level:||Beginner to intermediate|
|Enclosure Size:||Length = length of snake X 1 – 2 feet wide depending on size and number of boas in the enclosure.|
Rubber boas are native to North America. They can be found on the Pacific West Coast of the United States of America and in British Colombia and Canada. They are unique in that they can withstand almost freezing temperatures!
Their small, soft, un-keeled scales give them a rubber-like feeling and a smooth glossy look. These scales are somewhat basic in coloration but the Rubber boas make up for it by loving a good cuddle with their handlers.
It is illegal in most states to trade in wild-caught specimens so make sure you are getting your rubber boa from some you trust will not take part in the illegal pet trade.
The Rubber boa is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, there is the threat that over-collection by the illegal pet trade will damage wild population numbers.
Be responsible and do not support the illegal pet trade.
Rubber boas are roughly 1 to 2.5 feet in length. Males are usually smaller than females. Females are also rounder and have more weight to them.
However, the sexual dimorphism ends there and it can be quite difficult to sex them if you do not have a size comparison.
These boas have very small and smooth scales which gives them a slightly wrinkly appearance when they are born and contributes to their rubbery feel.
They are usually grey to brown to tan in color. There are no distinct pattern morphs, these boas are one color with a slight lightening in color on their underbelly.
Their heads do not widen significantly from their neck so they can have a worm-like appearance especially when they are just born.
The coolest thing about their appearance has to be their tails! Their tails are nearly indistinct in shape from their heads! This is an evolutionary development that helps them hunt and escape the hunter!
Cool as a cucumber should be cool as a Rubber boa! These boas love to be handled if they are in an environment that keeps them comfortable. They will happily wrap around your wrist or neck and settle against you to absorb the warmth from your skin.
Once they’re done with their cuddle, they will burrow into a pocket, sleeve, or collar for a nice nap. This makes them perfect for new snake owners, someone who is slightly afraid of snakes, and children.
These snakes do not strike out when they feel threatened. When threatened, they will either ball up and display their blunted tail instead of their head. If the tip of their tail is bitten off by a predator they might survive. If their head is bitten off, they definitely won’t!
They will also musk. This means that they will produce a very foul-smelling liquid from their vent that warns off predators.
Rubber boas are nocturnal and semi-crepuscular snakes. This means that they will avoid being out and about during the daylight hours to avoid being targeted by a predator.
These boas will hunt at night or dusk. They will seek out a nest with baby mice or voles that are unable to move around. They will slowly and gently consume each baby in the nest while dueling with the mother mouse or vole.
While eating the babies, the boa will make false strikes at the adult with its tail! Remember that its tail looks like its head to a predator and prey item! The mouse of vole will attack the tail which is why wild-caught specimens will have scars on their tales.
These snakes will also prey on other snakes, lizards and their eggs, and other small mammals.
Rubber boas are also semi-fossorial. This means that they love burrowing and will happily spend their days in a hideaway, under their substrate, or under a bit of bark or fabric that fits nice and snug around them.
The minimum lifespan appears to be 20 years. There are many specimens that have been repeatedly caught and release for population control purposes that exceed 20 years.
The oldest known Rubber boa was 50 years old!
Make sure you are ready for a commitment that could easily last most of your lifetime!
Baby Rubber boas can be kept in a 10-gallon enclosure. We recommend an enclosure that is as long as the snake and at least half its length wide.
The really great thing about Rubber boas is that you can house them together! As long as their enclosure is large enough (4 feet X 2 feet for +/- 5 individuals) and maintain properly then there should be no problems.
These snakes can be social in so far as to ball up together during hibernation months.
High up on your priority list for the enclosure needs to be securing it correctly. If a Rubber boa can squeeze its nose into a gap in the enclosure it will escape.
They are strong and persistent snakes so make sure your enclosure locks securely!
Make sure they have suitable ventilation in their enclosure. You can do this by having a screen; however, this might lead to inquisitive boas damaging their delicate scales and noses on the rough surface of a screen.
A good way to maintain ventilation is by using a small fan (like a computer fan) installed at the top or side of the enclosure to help circulate the air so it does not become stagnant.
Also, high up on your priority list will be adequate hideaways. Your Rubber boa is going to need plenty of hiding boxes, pieces of material (like denim), or pieces of bark that it can curl up in or under to feel secure.
The fit needs to be snug as a hide box that is too roomy can lead the boas to feel insecure and exposed.
There should be hideaways throughout the enclosure with enough cover for the snake to move between them without feeling exposed. Cover can include fake plants, pieces of bark, smooth rocks, or other hides.
There should be at least one hideaway that is lined with moist sphagnum moss to help keep your boa’s skin well hydrated.
You will need to do a full sanitization of the enclosure one every 3 – 4 months.
Loose large/rough substrate is a bad move for your Rubber boa because its skin is so delicate. The same goes for small fine sand or wood chips as they can damage your snake’s scales as well as be ingested with prey items.
Rubber boas burrow into the substrate so any substrate that has very fine particles runs the risk of blocking the snake’s sinuses or getting into the mouth and causing an impaction in the digestive tract.
Using paper is a good move so long as it is smooth and will not irritate the snake’s skin and is deep enough for it to burrow in.
We suggest using shredded Aspen or something like it because it will help your snake feel secure when it burrows.
Cedar or pine shavings should never be used as a substrate because they are toxic to snakes and can cause respiratory problems.
Spot clean the substrate daily of any fecal matter. The substrate should be completely replaced every month.
Rubber boas are cold-temperature tolerant. This means that due to their natural habitat they are able to survive in much colder temperatures than other snakes in their family like a Boa Constrictor or the Emerald Tree Boa.
They need two very specific temperature ranges to live a happy life: active time temperatures and hibernating temperatures.
Active temperatures need to be in place during the months of Spring to Late Summer. Hibernating or Brumating temperatures need to be in place from the beginning of Winter to late Autumn.
If your home is in a colder or warmer climate you will need to carefully maintain this temperature range.
Active temperatures: 70°F – 83°F
- Colder climate: You can do this by using an under-tank heat pad under half of the tank, a heating bulb, or a ceramic heat emitter. Heating bulbs and ceramic heat emitters MUST be housed in a protective dome to prevent burns.
- Warmer climate: Keep the enclosure in an air-conditioned room or in a room that does not receive sunlight.
- Always monitor your enclosure’s temperature with a quality thermometer. If the temperature gets higher than 85°F it can be fatal for your Rubber boa.
Hibernating or Brumating temperatures: 55°F – 65°F
- Colder climate: Your household temperature in an unheated room could be within this range. Measure the ambient temperature in the winter months before purchasing your snake to see what adjustments you might need to make.
- Warmer climate: You might need to move your snake’s enclosure into a room that is airconditioned.
- Always monitor your enclosure’s temperature! The temperature should not drop below 45°F – 50°F as it can be fatal for your Rubber boa.
Your Rubber boa does not need special UVB lighting. The photocycle (light cycle) of the enclosure should follow a normal 12/12 cycle of light and dark to mimic their natural habitat.
If your boa’s enclosure is in a room that has sufficient sunlight then no light should be necessary at all. Make sure the enclosure NEVER receives direct sunlight as this will kill your snake.
If you do add a light for viewing purposes make sure that it does not interfere with the temperature range.
Any lighting that you have in the enclosure must be housed in a protective dome as Rubber boas are inquisitive and will burn themselves on exposed bulbs.
Humidity is not a big concern with the Rubber boa. Misting the enclosure lightly in the morning to keep the snake hydrated is sufficient. You do not need to install misters or saturate the substrate.
The aim is to mimic the natural habitat which can be quite arid.
However, the enclosure should not be bone dry as this will dehydrate your boa and cause respiratory and skin problems.
A Rubber boa’s skin is more permeable than most snakes and will lose water quite easily if the enclosure is too dry.
Soaking your snake should be done once a month. This hydrates the skin nicely and aids the snake during shedding time.
- Fill a tub with some clean water at the same temperature that the snake’s enclosure is at.
- The tub should not be deeper than the snake’s girth to prevent a drowning accident.
- Put your snake in the tub for half an hour to an hour.
- If your snake defecates in the water is should be changed immediately!
- Soak your snake once a month, even during hibernation months.
- During shedding, you can soak your snake twice a month.
If you notice that your boa’s skin is looking dull and dry you can give them an extra soak.
The water used to soak needs to be tested with a thermometer before putting your snake in it! 90°F water will feel warm for you but will feel boiling to a Rubber boa who has been brumating at 65°F.
You must have a heavy-bottomed water bowl in your snake’s enclosure that is large enough for your snake to get into.
It must be deep enough that your snake won’t slosh water over the side and alter the humidity levels when getting in or out.
You must change the water daily or more often if you see fecal matter in it.
If you are housing more than one snake in the same enclosure, have two water sources on either side of the enclosure.
Rubber boas can be difficult eaters which is why we have recommended them to beginner to intermediate owners.
Babies will rarely eat before their first hibernation period. This means they can be 20 months old before eating their first meal.
Males and females that are wild-caught may refuse food until they have also undergone a hibernation period in their new enclosure.
We suggest offering your Rubber boa a meal once a month during their active period. If they take it then that is okay, if they do not – try again in a week.
Suitable prey items include pinky mice, mice, or other small mammals.
Our prey size guide:
Largest point of girth of prey item = Largest point of girth of snake
We suggest 1 to 4 prey items depending on the size of your boa and the size of the prey item.
We always suggest using Frozen/Thawed (F/T) prey and never live prey. Live prey can damage your boa, they can carry diseases and parasites, and they are expensive to keep.
We suggest F/T prey because there is more access, it is less expensive, and it is safer for your snake. To defrost the prey item simply put it in a bowl of warm water until it is defrosted.
NEVER give your snake partially defrosted prey as the temperature difference will kill it!
Take the prey item/s and place them near one of the hides in the enclosure for the snake to scent and find. Once they become used to you and their regular prey items you can feed them from your hand and they will not bite you!
If your snake is not taking food you can try one or a combination of three things to encourage them to eat.
- Wash the prey item of all scent. Wash the prey item with water and a light soap. Thoroughly rinse the prey item of all soap before feeding it to your snake.
- Get some nesting from a mouse or vole nest and place the prey item on the nesting in the enclosure.
- You can brain the thawed prey item. Pierce the head and brain of the prey item so that your snake can scent the brain of the prey item.
Your Rubber boa will love being handled if it is handled correctly. Do not just grab your snake or poke at it suddenly. This will probably result in a defensive response.
If your snake is feeling threatened it will ball up and/or musk.
Make your snake aware of your presence and try picking it up by digging your hand slightly under the substrate and lift the snake that way.
Always support your snake’s full body weight when holding it.
Your snake will probably curl around your wrist or neck to absorb the warmth from your skin.
Potential Health Issues
Rostrum abrasion: Screen doors or rough substrate will lead to your snake scraping its nose (rostrum) and damaging its scales.
Parasites: Keeping multiple snakes in the same enclosure will generally increase the chances of mites and parasite transmission. Wild-caught snakes usually have a high parasite load so treat them proactively if you receive one.
Mites: Mites are external parasites that are an indication of improper enclosure care. They burrow under the snake’s scales to get at the blood. They carry their own internal parasites so dealing with them is a top priority. You will see them as small black or red dots on your snake.
Scale rot: Scale or mouth rot occurs when the humidity levels are too high and your snake develops a bacterial skin infection. It is imperative that you seek a vet’s help immediately.
Rubber boas must be brumated to have a successful breeding season. They come out of brumation at the end of Winter/early Spring and start their reproductive season.
Offer them prey items when they come out of brumation. Females will generally feed at this time and will continue to do so until they are gravid (pregnant). Males will generally wait until the female is gravid until they feed.
You do not need to worry about introducing and reintroducing males to females because they are housed in the same enclosure! This makes breeding them a little easier.
The babies are born towards the end of Summer/early Autumn.
Yes, they are born! Rubber boas are ovoviviparous (live-bearing) snakes. This means that the female keeps the eggs inside her body. The eggs hatch inside her body and the young snakes are ‘born.
The litter size is small so only about 9 snakes are born from each female. Females only reproduce every 4 years or so. So, breeding Rubber boas takes patience and dedication.
Baby Rubber boas are 7 to 9 inches long and are pinkish in color and look a lot like worms.
Like we have said before they will probably only feed once they have gone through their first hibernation period. However, you can offer them food a week after they are born.
Owning a Rubber Boa is so rewarding because it is one of the gentlest snakes in the world. They handle great and can feel very affectionate because they like to lay against your skin for warmth.
Since it is illegal to trade in wild-caught Rubber boas in many states in the USA, sourcing them ethically can be a little difficult. However, owning one for the next 20+ years is worth any and all hassle.
We wish you every success on your journey and ‘herp’ you have a wonderful time with your new boa friend!