Rosy Boa: A Classic Snake

21 May

Rosy boas (Charina spp.), formerly known as Lichanura spp., of the Boidae family have been kept in captivity for many years and have always been one of the best snakes for beginners, due in most part to their docility. This has also proven to be one of their unintentional downfalls, as their docility in the wild has led to their decreased numbers. There are many forms of this classic snake and all are the most calm and easily handled snake that I have ever encountered in my years within the industry. On average Rosy boas Lichanura spp. never attain a total length of four feet and usually are found to be between and average of two to three feet at maximum size. They have been recorded to live in captivity past 20 years of age. Their native range finds them in the American Southwest region and into Baja and Sonora Mexico. In the United States they are found in California and Arizona both in the Colorado Desert and Mojave Desert. There are also populations found within the coastal communities of Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and San Diego counties. Rosy Boas Lichanura spp. are found in talus or rock slopes, alluvial fans, boulder piles and in desert sage scrub as well as chaparral habitat areas.

Taxonomic Tangle
Edward Drinker Cope originally described this species in 1861. According to the references, there are either four species or one with a few different subspecies. The accepted scientific name currently held by most is Charina trivirgata. To my knowledge, this is a genus still in flux with one taxonomist questioning the findings of another and so on; for the sake of argument, I will go with what I can see with my eyes.
There might be two species when looking at wild coloration. As for the six locality species, which some people are selling, I am not buying into it. I have been in the field for many years and have never seen one that would lead me to believe that there are that many species, with any discernable differences or traits that they would pass on to their offspring. I have viewed many websites, but one in particular caught my attention. It listed six different species of rosy boa (Charina spp.), some of which I hadn’t heard of before. Looking at the photos posted there, I saw the same species name listed numerous times, but the snakes themselves had a little change in pattern or color. It was claimed in the text that these were various locality species. To my knowledge, this has never been questioned, nor has it been a proven trait in the wild.
Further research revealed that six species have been named throughout the history of the snake, but almost all are currently being questioned. Only two,Charina roseofusca and Charina trivirgata, are readily accepted by most. The care outlined below will work for both species.

Colors Choices
Rosy boas come in a variety of colors due to successful captive-breeding projects. Typically, there are four general colors to choose from. The most popular is the albino. The animals are white with orange stripes running down the dorsum or back of the snake from the top of the head and sides to the tip of the tail, and they are simply hypomelanistic. Then there’s the crème-colored with chocolate stripes, and lastly, there is the steel grey color with orangey stripes. The normal color form that commonly found is the steel grey with the dark orangey stripes. There are also the true albinos, which are completely white with red eyes. The entire species has the familiar vertical pupil usually associated with nocturnal animals.

Substrate
When it comes to substrate, I use good old playground sand with a grain width smaller than a number-2 pencil led. I can usually find it at the local home improvement center for less than $10 for a 50-pound bag. Another option is bark. I wouldn’t use concrete sand, because it is usually moist, and I have never been able to get it to dry out. Not to mention, that concrete sand may be harmful to your pet. I can hear the detractors already talking about impaction and various other ailments with the use of sand of any kind. The fact is that I have used washed playsand for more than 10 years, and I have never had an issue with impaction, not even when species that I have kept have eaten some of the sand. That said, I cannot personally guarantee anything. As with all animals, they are, in fact, wild and have their own personalities, which cannot be predicted. Is it possible a snake could become impacted? Yes. Is it likely to happen? Not in my experience. Is it worth the risk? Well, during my 10 years of using playsand, I have never had an issue. I am frugal, and although I will give my animals the best care I can, I will not sacrifice my pocketbook. If I determine through research that it may cost me more time or money than I am willing to spend, then I will not purchase the animal.
Researching an animal before you buy it is important. By research, I mean you need to read everything that you can get your hands on and not just the care sheets handed out at the local pet shop. Spend the time and money as if you if you were about to buy a new car. Rosy boas can live up to 20 years or more. This is a lifetime investment, so treat it like one.

Housing Needs 
A very simple 20-gallon long enclosure works well. You can use a 20-gallon high tank, but it is my experience that the 20-gallon long works better for this species, as they are a more fossorial snake. A 20-gallon long measures out to about 30 inches long, 12 inches wide and 12 inches tall. This allows for décor, which the snake will use, but be careful not to overcrowd the enclosure with unnecessary items. When considering enclosure decor, think of the snake’s well being as well as your own visual tastes. You need a hide and water bowl large enough for the snake to climb into and heavy enough so that they won’t tip either over. A hide is something that all reptiles should be provided at all times. One is good, but two is awesome. One should be at the cool end of the enclosure and the other should be at the warm end. Throw in a sand-blasted piece of grapevine, and you’re almost done. Rosy Boas Lichanura spp. are more likely to burrow rather than climb but I include the sand blasted grapevine as it gives them a place to rub against which assists in their shedding process. It should go without saying, but you absolutely must have a tight-fitting lid with a pin to hold it in place.

Light and Heat
I have combined these areas because they are almost synonymous when it comes to rosy boas. Given that this species is nocturnal, there is really no need to provide a UVB light or any type of light source for that matter, other than what is already in the house.
Heating, however, is another subject. There are a few choices when it comes to selecting a heat source. I do not recommend hot rocks. These have caused burns in the past. Undertank heaters work and are relatively inexpensive, but they only work so well. Typically, they only heat the enclosure 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you live somewhere that is colder than 80 degrees on any given day, then you should reconsider the undertank heater.
The type of heater that I use for my rosy boas is a ceramic heater. These do not emit light, and they last a long time.

Rosy Diet

In the wild, rosy boas are presumed to eat small snakes, nestling birds, amphibians and small mammals. In captivity, we feed only frozen thawed mice of appropriate size. Babies get pinkies, juveniles get hoppers and adults are given full-sized mice. I have never had any issues with prey rejection with the rosy boas that I have purchased from breeders.

To defrost the frozen meal, you will want to place the plastic bag in a cup of warm water after purchasing it. To test whether it is fully thawed, squeeze gently in the middle. If it is soft, it should be safe to feed. When feeding any snake, place it in a container other than its enclosure. If you feed the animal in its regular cage, it will eventually associate opening the enclosure with food. It may, as a result, lunge at your hand because of this conditioning.
Any type of container will do. Tupperware bowls with air holes are often used, or a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled into it for ventilation can also work. The holes should be about one half-inch in diameter to ensure air circulation. I often feed my snakes at night and will use a 5-gallon bucket. I place the snake in the bucket prior to the mouse, I then place the mouse inside then close the lid and leave it for an hour or so. I have never had an issue when using the feeding bucket method with the snake becoming overly aggressive and lunging at me as I placed the prey inside but to be safe I would suggest using tongs of some type.

Handling Tips
Handling any snake should be proceeded with caution. Regardless of their docile reputation, if a snake feels threatened, they only have a few defenses. These defenses are usually either biting or squeezing. Like any boa, rosy boas will typically squeeze, but they also have teeth and are good at using them. Personally, I’ve never had a rosy boa bite me, but the potential is always there.
The right initial contact when opening the enclosure is to touch the snake about mid-body to let the snake know that you are there and not a predator. After the snake has felt your touch, gently scoop it up in one hand and support the rest of the body with the other. After about an hour or so, you can place the snake back into its enclosure.
Never pick up a snake that has eaten within the last 48 hours, because this stress may cause regurgitation. This is not a good thing by anyone’s account. If you have never smelled snake vomit, then why start now? It’s one of the foulest things that I have ever experienced, and I used to clean dog kennels for a living.

Captive-Bred are Best
Something that most, if not all, herp enthusiasts are aware of but can never seem to mentioned enough is the fact that captive-bred reptiles make the best pets. The rosy boa is also on the IUCN Red List as well as CITES. On the IUCN list they are now at the listing of Least Concern and on CITES they are listed under Appendix II. Please, let’s all do ourselves a favor by only observing wild specimens and keeping captive ones. This will allow the classic Charina ssp. to continue to prosper in the wild and in captivity for many years to come.

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One Response to “Rosy Boa: A Classic Snake”

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  1. A Night in the Anza Borrego « Apartment Living & Reptiles - May 30, 2011

    […] entering the area known as Scissors crossing at some rock outcroppings hoping to find the desert rosy boa Lichanura trivirgata gracia while we didn’t find those, we did come across one of their prey […]

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