Constrictor snakes are highly popular among snake keepers, but they can be rather tricky to accommodate. On the one hand, they are not venomous, so they’re far safer than their deadly counterparts.
On the other hand, constrictor snakes are typically large, heavy, and massive, so housing them isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Fortunately for you, I’ve come to provide you with the best of both worlds: a constrictor with the body of a venomous species. I’m talking about the rubber boa.
So, let’s see what this one is all about.
The rubber boa (Charina bottae) is a short but powerful constrictor snake with a rather unusual appearance. While several species are available with various colors and slightly different characteristics, rubber boas share many similarities.
The lack of any meaningful color pattern is the most obvious one, as the rubber boa is clean, with only one dominant color.
The snake’s body is slender but compact and shiny, with small scales and a smooth appearance. Unlike the typical boa look, this species is somewhat unconventional. The head is no longer wide with powerful and distinct jaws but rather follows the body’s width.
The boa’s appearance reminds of a coral snake, whose anatomical composition causes predators (including humans) to mistake the snake’s head for the tail.
Fortunately, this isn’t a fatal mistake to make in the case of the rubber boa, considering that the snake isn’t venomous.
But where does the name of the rubber boa even come from? It comes from the snake’s skin, which can often be loose and wrinkled, giving the reptile a rubbery appearance.
This species can grow up to 20-30 inches, so it’s considerably easier to house than its larger counterparts. Even so, the rubber boa is by no means a beginner-friendly constrictor, and we’ll discuss why shortly.
Distribution and Habitat
Rubber boas reside primarily in North America, specifically in Canada and the western US. Here, it thrives in a multitude of habitats, including rocky areas, mountainous regions, and forests.
Since they are nocturnal reptiles, they become active at twilight and spend most of their night hours on trees and low branches. These make for great hunting vantage points, allowing the boa to scan for potential meals.
Daytime catches them cowering under rocks, in shade, resting and sleeping until nightfall comes again.
They will often wander in plain sight as well to warm up under the sun and regulate their body temperature.
Behavior and Diet
The rubber boa is a defensive animal that likes peace and safety. It won’t display aggressive behavior towards humans but will defend itself if necessary. The main defensive mechanism comes with its body positioning.
Rubber boas form tight balls when threatened, bringing their tails next to their heads. This is to confuse the potential predator regarding which end of the snake should attack.
Fleeing isn’t exactly an option for them because these boas are rather sluggish. So, they rely on their habitat and lack of movement to remain invisible to predators.
It’s also worth noting that these are quite powerful snakes, despite their small size. So, predators won’t always have their way with the snake.
The rubber boa is carnivorous and consumes a multitude of animals. The boa’s main diet consists of small mammals like mice and rats, as well as lizards, smaller snakes, birds, and whatever else happens to wander in their vicinity.
They won’t even refuse larger insects if nothing else is available.
Breeding and Reproduction
The rubber boa’s breeding is where radio silence sets in. While we do have an idea of the snake’s reproductive behavior, we don’t have the full picture yet.
The consensus is that rubber boas reproduce in the spring and deliver about 2-12 hatchlings per breeding session.
The offspring typically measure up to 10 inches and can feed on their own as soon as they’re born.
Generally speaking, it’s most likely that the rubber boa has a similar breeding behavior to other boa species, but that’s not definitive. More information is necessary to determine the snake’s actual breeding behavior.
Threats and Conservation Status
Rubber boas rank as a species of special concern in the US. This qualifies the species as almost vulnerable or, to use the Canadian term, ‘threatened.’
There are 2 primary threats to this species’ life:
- Human threats – Human threats are the most impactful because they affect the snake population the most. Here, we include habitat destruction, fragmentation, and general environmental degradation due to human activity. These problems force the boa population into more crowded regions, causing territorial fights and increased risks of human interactions. The pet trade also contributes to the snake’s dwindling population, as are accidental encounters with humans, which often result in dead boas.
- Natural predation – Natural predation isn’t as much of a concern, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Rubber boas don’t have too many predators due to their small size and innocuous coloring, making the reptile difficult to spot. The main natural predators include birds of prey like owls and hawks, bears, foxes, raccoons, and even larger snakes. Boa’s eggs are also endangered by rodents, lizards, and egg-eating snakes out for an easy protein treat.
Despite the numerous risks, the rubber boa is a resilient creature that has adapted to a variety of ecosystems.
Captive Care of Rubber Boa
If you’re planning to adopt a rubber boa, consider the following tips:
- The cage size matters – A 10-gallon enclosure is the standard recommendation of most boa keepers, but you can always go a bit larger. In terms of overall dimensions, make sure that the boa’s enclosure is as long as the snake and as wide as half the snake’s length. A tight lid is necessary to prevent this escape artist from getting out, which you should expect, given the reptile’s strength and ingenuity.
- The layout – Boas are primarily arboreal snakes, so craft their tank layout accordingly. Make sure that the terrarium has sufficient vertical space and add a good and stable climbing structure for resting and exploring. At the ground level, go for a smooth and safe substrate like paper or, even better, shredded aspen. The latter is great for supporting the snake’s burrowing behavior. Also, have a hiding box, cave, or tunnel at the ground level. This is great for when boas need to rest and take a nap.
- Environmental parameters – Interestingly, rubber boas are well adapted to low temperatures. They can also brumate, which is entering a hibernation-like state to conserve energy and go through the winter season safely. The ideal temperature range sits between 68 and 75 F, with a basking spot going as high as 80 F. Brumation temperatures can go as low as 45-50 F, but not any lower. You should provide the rubber boa with the right conditions to brumate 2-3 months per year (depending on the specimen), as this is part of the snake’s physiology.
- Lighting – A steady day/night cycle should be fine for your rubber boa. If the room is too dark, get a medium-intensity UV light to fix the problem. Don’t keep the snake’s enclosure under direct sunlight, as these snakes require low temperatures; direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause your snake to overheat and die.
- Handling – The rubber boa is probably the friendliest and most docile constrictor snake you can find. This species doesn’t mind handling and quite likes to bond with its human keeper. Even so, adjust the handling sessions to your snake’s preferences. You don’t want to overwhelm your boa and stress it out.
To close this chapter out, I want to point out an important aspect. Wild-caught boas are not meant for captive keeping.
This species is notoriously difficult to tame, causing most wild-caught captive boas to die soon after being moved into their new home. Only purchase captive-bred rubber boas to avoid this issue.
Not to mention, you will also protect the wild population by not engaging in the boa trade in this manner.
Rubber Boa Venom and Bite
Fortunately, rubber boas are not venomous. They also have smaller teeth than larger boa species and slightly weaker jaws, rendering them pretty much harmless.
Their teeth are strong enough to secure the snake’s prey but not enough to pierce the human skin or inflict any type of serious damage.
Rubber boas are also rather shy and friendly and are unlikely to bite except when stressed, scared, or mishandled. Give the snake the respect it deserves, and you should have no problem with it.
Rubber Boa Snake in Cultural Significance
This species is not as popular as larger boas are, but its impact through history is well noted. Rubber boas used to embody strength and resilience in the eyes of North American native cultures, who often associated this snake with spiritual strength, good luck, and power.
They believed that the small boa could protect them from evil and wore its skin during magical and religious rituals and incantations.
The snake’s body was also believed to possess medicinal properties. Old North American tribes used to rely on the snake’s skin and organs to produce artisanal medication to address headaches and conditions like rheumatism.
Today, the rubber boa ranks as the staple reptile of California, with many people still idolizing the species as a symbol of spiritual power.
Research and Studies
It’s worth noting that the rubber boa has only been moderately studied compared to other snakes like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and other more popular species.
Part of that is because this species doesn’t rank as endangered, so there’s no urgency to assess population numbers, predation, the impact of human activity on the population, etc.
Fortunately, there are several studies and reports to consider should you desire to find out more about the boa’s physiology, habitat, and ecosystem.
- Study regarding the boa’s biology, diet, and natural predation – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1565356
- ITIS Taxonomic Report – https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=174326#null
- In-depth analysis of the rubber boa’s genome structure – https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/113/6/641/6691355
The rubber boa remains a fascinating animal, despite its reduced popularity. This snake is considered a threatened species in some areas, which places it under protection.
If you’re interested in acquiring a rubber boa, only purchase a captive-bred specimen to support the healthy part of the reptile trade.