The rubber boa (Charina bottae) is a non-venomous, mild-mannered snake only found in British Columbia and the US-North West. The name Charina is derived from Greek, meaning graceful.
The ‘Rubber Boa’ is a snake that actually looks like a long elongated rubber tube. The reason it appears rubbery is because of its loose skin with hundreds of tiny smooth scales that gives the reptile a smooth glossy appearance.
The rubber boa belongs to the boa family of snakes which also includes the anaconda and reticulated pythons.
However, despite the external appearance, the rubber boa is a fascinating reptile. In fact, it’s often known to be one of the most friendly snakes in the world.
Rubber Boa Attributes, Size, and Appearance
This snake is the smallest species in the boa family. When they are full grown, rubber boas range between 12-28 inches long and will weigh 70-80 grams.
The adult female is slightly larger and heavier than the male. It has a relatively firm muscular, thin body. The mature adult will have a slightly brown greenish color with a pale yellowish underbelly.
The snake has a very short or absent neck, round head, and tiny eyes.
At the end of the tail is a tiny hard cap which the snake presents as a decoy; the snake will jab at the predator with its tail as if it is striking. They do this so their head will be protected in case the predator decides to bite.
Because it is sometimes difficult to tell the head apart from the tail, the rubber boa is often referred to as the ‘two-headed’ snake.
Like other boas, this species also has tiny vestigial remnant limbs on either side of its vent.
The very young or newborn snakes resemble earthworms because of their small size and light brown/pink color.
The young rubber boa is pale looking and translucent. It has no distinct margins and the scales are smooth, which gives the body a worm-like look.
How Long do Rubber Boas Live?
In the wild, Rubber Boas typically live around 5-10 years. Given they are a rather delicate, non-aggressive, and docile species, they tend to be preyed upon by more dominant animals.
They also tend to be clumsy and slow, which doesn’t help much.
On the other hand, the lifespan of a Rubber Boa in captivity can be anywhere between 15-20 years, and even up to 25 years in some cases.
For the most part, almost all snake species have a longer lifespan in captivity vs. in the wild.
How The Rubber Boa Defends Itself
When threatened, the rubbery looking boa will usually curl up into a ball and hide its head underneath the body with the tail sticking out.
The goal is to cause great confusion in the predator.
Other than that, the rubber boa also has the ability to release a foul musky odor from the vent, which is a potent deterrent for many predators.
Overall, the rubber boa is a sluggish reptile and is rarely aggressive. It is more likely to hide than engage in a battle with any predator. So, if you chance upon one in the wild, it will very likely not be of any danger.
Where This Species is Found
The majority of rubber boas are found in the Northwest USA and in British Columbia, Canada. There are two species — the northern and southern rubber boas.
The key difference is that the northern rubber boa prefers the temperate or cooler climate whereas the southern boa prefers slightly warmer conditions.
The northern boa is found chiefly in British Columbia but these snakes have also been thriving in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Oregon. On the other hand, the southern boa is found along the NW USA corridor all the way down to Northern California.
These regions are particularly noted for tall grassland, woodlands, coniferous trees, many streams and rivers, dry pine forests, and a riparian area.
These areas offer a cooler temperature, a great hiding place, ample food, and safety. Overall, this species of boa tends to avoid arid climates, contrary to many other species of snakes.
Like most snakes that reside in the North West USA and British Columbia, the rubber boa does hibernate during winter.
It often hides in underground dens (hibernacula) where it will spend 3-4 months.
The one key difference is that unlike other Boas, the rubber boa does not share its den with other species of snakes for hibernation. Usually, the young litter from spring will hibernate with the mother.
Rubber Boa Reproduction
The rubber boa comes out of hibernation in March/April of each year (springtime). Mating occurs soon after and the gestational period is about 3-4 months. The young snakes develop inside the mother’s body.
Most adult rubber boas can tolerate the low temperature of springtime but pregnant mothers usually require more warmth and sunshine to ensure healthy development and maturation of the young.
The gestation period (3-4 months) will continue till about mid-August when 2-8 tiny newborns are born. At this age, they can be easily mistaken for earthworms
Pet Rubber Boa Care Sheet
Rubber Boa Enclosure Setup
Because the rubber boa is a small snake, a tank measuring 20-30 gallons is adequate. The top must be secured with a heavy lid but still allowing fresh air to recirculate.
Since the snake prefers dark and small spaces, the tank should contain hollowed logs, tree branches, rocks placed to form a crevice, and stacks of newspaper for the floor.
Like any snake, hides and structures should be provided so they can feel safe and protected.
A freshwater bowl must be in the tank as these snakes are prone to dehydration. In general, it’s best practice to change your snakes water bowl at least once every day or two.
Often times, snakes will soil their drinking water, and that can lead to harmful bacteria growing in the bowl.
Further, you should sanitize your snake’s water bowl at least once per week. Carolina Customs make a great sanitizing spray, and this should also be used to clean out their substrate.
Substrate for Rubber Boas
Avoid fine substrates like sand as the snake can inhale the particles which can lead to respiratory distress. Use unscented aspen/pine shavings, which are also easy to clean. You can also use a coconut chip substrate, too.
It’s best to avoid any substrate with perfumes or unnatural scents, so be sure to check the label and make sure there aren’t any harmful agents added to the substrate.
Feeding can be a problem with this species.
Sometimes, there have been cases of these snakes refusing both frozen and live mice. In the wild, the snake prefers to eat very young voles and baby mice.
So, if you do choose to get a rubber boas as a pet, be sure to follow these guidelines for a healthy eating routine:
- Feed the snake consistently and on a regular weekly schedule.
- Don’t swamp back and forth between frozen and live mice. This can cause a lot of confusion and stress for your pet.
- Since rubber boas don’t grow to be big, they will likely eat fuzzies or one step above fuzzies for their whole life. Be sure to check in with your breeder to get recommendations on mouse sizes. Sometimes, rubber boas can range in size, and this will influence the types of necessary feeder mice.
Temperature and Humidity
Surprisingly, rubber boas don’t like the heat.
In fact, heat can be quite dangerous to this species of snake, as they thrive best in cooler conditions. It’s one of the very few species of snakes that prefers lower than average basking temperatures.
Like most pet snakes, it is recommended to have an ambient and basking portion of the rubber boa’s enclosure. The ambient side should range from 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, while the basking portion should not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overall, the temperature has to be lower than 85F at all times and the habitat must resemble what is found in the wild. This is critical to the health of this species. The boa’s body cannot sustain temperatures above 90 degrees F, and will likely perish if it has prolonged exposure to high heats.
The snake has a slow growth toward maturity and requires a special habitat for hibernation.
Like other boa species, rubber boas are crepuscular; meaning they are active at dusk and dawn, and also remain active at night.
The rubber boas tend to prefer cooler temperatures. Overall, the rubber boa is not a very active snake; it is quite slow and lethargic in its daily activities. It is rare for the snake to be seen during the day.
Most of the time it spends underneath logs, vegetation, rocks and in crevices. It does come out in the open when the temperatures are between 65-75 degrees. This behavior not only protects them from other prey like birds but it enables them to ambush other prey.
When basking in the sun, the rubber boa will usually rest on rocks as this allows for more efficient thermo-regulation compared to wood or leaves.
Reproduction only takes place every 3-4 years. While this may limit the number of rubber boas, on the plus side, the rubber boa has a long life span with many reaching ages greater than 25 years.
The home range of the rubber boa is small, perhaps 50-200 square yards. It prefers to stay in an area where there is cover, food, and a site for hibernation.
Rubber Boa Diet
Because of their lethargic lifestyle, rubber boas generally eat much less compared to other similar reptiles.
Since the rubber boa is a slow creature. So, it tends to seek prey which is also defenseless such as baby moles, mice, or voles that are still in the nest.
The modus operandi is similar to that of other boas. They suddenly grab the prey, wrap its body, and squeeze it. This causes the animal to suffocate and die within a few seconds.
Also, when the rubber boa preys on baby mice or rodents it uses the tail as a weapon to scare the mother, while it swallows the nestling. Almost all rubber boas will have heavily scarred tails from bites made from the mother rodent who tries to protect its babies.
Rubber boas are very versatile, but they are ghastly slow.
Not only do they hunt on the ground, but they are also able to climb trees, burrow into the ground and even catch prey in the water, which enables them to have a diversified diet and ensure steady availability of food.
Besides rodents, other mammals that are consumed by the rubber boa include small lizards, nestling rabbits, small birds, bird eggs, other snakes, bats, small chipmunks, squirrels, and salamanders.
Are Rubber Boas Dangerous?
No, the snake is shy and harmless.
Rubber Boas are also nonvenomous. In fact, they are one of the nicest species of snakes. If you were to find one in the wild and try to pick it up, it would likely comply and be very friendly toward you.
This species is renowned as one of the most friendly species in the world.
So much so, that rubber boas are often used therapeutically to help people conquer an irrational fear of snakes. Believe it or not, this is one of the only snakes in which there’s never been a recorded strike or bite on a human.
If a Rubber Boa were to bite, it wouldn’t hurt at all.
If anything, the bite is more like a needle prick. When frightened or threatened the snake will roll into a ball with its head tucked and tail sticking out. It is a hilariously non-aggressive snake.
Overall, handling this species is incredibly easy and you won’t have to worry about it striking you at all. Just be confident when handling them like you would any other species of snake.
Are They Endangered?
Rubber boas are not venomous snakes and are very vulnerable to the same threats faced by other species of snakes.
While they aren’t endangered and are considered “Least Concerned” by the IUCN Red List, this species still faces a few challenges as a population.
Urbanization and construction of roads in the North West and British Columbia have led to hundreds of basking boas being killed by vehicles every year.
With human development, the habitat of the rubber boa is continuously being eroded. And because these snakes are not aggressive, they are often trafficked, with many dying in captivity because of poor holding conditions.
Finally ,because the snakes have a very low reproduction rate and confined habitat, they are more vulnerable to loss of the population.
There are reports that in some places in British Columbia the population of rubber boas has been thinned. While the IUCN doesn’t think this species is at risk, Canada considers the rubber boa to be of special concern.