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Rubber Boas

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Rubber Boa
Gary Ruplinger

The rubber boa (Charina bottai) is a small boa native to North America. Some subspecies don't get over 18 to 22 inches long, with 26 inches as a maximum. They are generally solid color, with skin that folds up when they make a tight bend. Their scales are smooth and tight. Colors naturally range from light yellowish or greenish tan to dark steel gray or chocolate. The babies are pinkish.

Rubber boas are found in the wild in the northwestern United States. Usually they have a rounded tail that almost looks like another head. They use it to induce mice to attack the wrong end, so the head of the snake can grab the mouse. They naturally hang out in groups. Lifespan is commonly 20-30 years long, and sometimes even longer.

The enclosure for a rubber boa (or several) can be as small as a five gallon aquarium. They are able to get out of many enclosures, so it must have a secure lid if you hope to keep the snake. The substrate can be newspaper, but other substances more like nature are more comfortable. Sand, aspen chips, sterile potting soil, and Astroturf call all be used. If the substrate is one that can be swallowed with the food, it is wise to feed the animal in a separate container.

Being northern snakes, rubber boas don't need the warmth other snakes need, and often do quite well at room temperature. An undertank heating pad can be used when they are carrying young or digesting a meal if the room is cold. The tank should not get above the mid 80's (about 30 degrees Celsius). Low 70's (21-23 degrees Celsius) to low 80's (about 27 degrees Celsius) are suitable temperatures for the enclosure. A low wattage red bulb can be used to provide a basking spot, but it should not get above the mid 80's (about 30 degrees Celsius). If the climate where you are is warmer than this, keep them in an air conditioned room or open the windows at night.

Rubber boas like getting under boards and rocks. A humidity box can be an asset for them. This is a plastic container lined with moist paper towels or sphagnum moss and equipped with an entry hole. This gives the boa a moist place to hide. Rubber boas are different from many types of snake because they sometimes hide in groups.

A water bowl with clean water should be included in the enclosure. Rubber boas need a dish large enough to soak in and it should be changed frequently. Change it immediately if a snake defecates into the water.

Rubber boas can be soaked once a month while they are hibernating, to help them shed when it comes time. Soaking is done by putting them in a jar with a half inch of cool water for about 15 to 30 minutes. The reasoning behind this is that the natural area where the snake would hibernate would be damp and even occasionally flooded.

While they are active, soaking can take place twice a month. Don't use warm or hot water. It feels much hotter to the snake than it does to us. Also don't soak them too soon after eating or they are likely to defecate into the water. More soaking will help the shedding take place without difficulty.

There are some good reasons for using a separate container for feeding if you have more than one snake in the enclosure. Mainly, it helps you know who has eaten and how much. Also, if the substrate is something that can be swallowed, a separate container will help you avoid that potential problem. A feeding container can be made from a margarine tub. Make small air holes in the lid. The neatest way to make holes is with a soldering iron. Poking and drilling leave rough edges that can scratch the rubber boa.

In the wild, rubber boas generally clean out nests of baby mice. They can stretch enough to eat adult mice, but don't usually bother with trying to fight them in order to eat them. Because they are used to eating several small mice at once, they can be fed a few pinkie mice at a time. Place the pinkies in the container. Put the snake in the container. Put on the lid and put the whole arrangement back in the enclosure and make it secure. Rubber boas have been known to push the lids off butter dishes.

Because they are small snakes who naturally take big meals, they don't have to be fed very often. Once a month is generally plenty, and even then it may be refused. Overfeeding is less of likelihood with these small boas than with other larger captive snakes. Give a rubber boa several pinkies or fuzzies at each monthly meal.

Rubber boas seem to enjoy being picked up and handled, but until they get used to it they might hiss and flip their tails in defense. They might musk or release a little liquid on you. However, they will not strike at you.

A good method for picking up a rubber boa is to touch it first with light but steady pressure, so it gets used to the feel of your hand. Then, if it is on a substrate like potting soil, slide your fingers under the snake and some of the dirt and pick it up. Make sure the air is a little cool so the snake will enjoy the feel of your warm hand. (Make sure you warm up your hand if it's cold before handling the snake.) While being handled, they like to coil around your wrist or finger.

Times of shedding are a little hard to predict. They can happen every few weeks or every few months. The first indication is that the eye will start to look milky blue. Moist hide boxes and something rough in the cage to rub against will help the shed take place easily. The color is often lighter after the shed than it was before.

The rubber boa is a sweet little snake that makes a fine pet. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find them in pet stores because of wildlife management laws in some areas that prohibit breeding.



 

 
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