Sunbeam Snakes, also known as the Iridescent Earth Snake are a relatively poorly known species of serpents. However, one look and they immediately draw the attention of reptile enthusiasts. This is because of their iridescent appearance and unusual lifestyle.
Thus, it is important to learn everything about their way of life, biology, natural habitats, food habits, and care sheet if you want to ensure that your pets thrive in your hands.
Rest assured, you will know everything needed to care for a sunbeam snake after reading this post.
Table of Contents
Factual Information about the Sunbeam Snake
Sunbeam Snakes (Xenopeltis unicolor) are from the ‘Colubrid’ family, naturally found in abundance in the Southeast Asia region.
These beautiful animals are named after their iridescence which is similar to a sunbeam. Consequently, their scales shine like a rainbow when exposed to the sun’s rays or another light.
It’s really quite something, and these snakes are very beautiful.
These snakes have the same iridescent property as White Lipped Pythons and Rainbow Boas along with a few others.
In terms of evolution, Sunbeam Snakes are from a ‘basal’ or ancient form of snakes. Also, they are closely related to boas and pythons.
There are only two species of these snakes in the world known to man: Xenopeltis hainanensis and Xenopeltis unicolor.
Xenopeltis unicolor is the more common one and usually found for sale as captive pets.
Sunbeam Snake Habitat
Sunbeam Snakes are completely terrestrial. Meaning, these incredible looking snakes inhabit lower mountain forests, lowlands, disturbed habitats, and scrublands.
Additionally, they tend to prefer boggy, wet, or swampy grounds that assist its active burrowing lifestyle. These snakes spend a major portion of their time hidden under trash, leaves, stones, fallen trees, and natural caverns in the earth.
They live freely in humid forests, farm fields, rice paddies, and parks or gardens close to woods.
They are rarely ever found deep in the forests. However, that may be more to do with people simply overlooking them in that habitat. Most Sunbeam Snakes are recovered from disturbed areas that contain trash and litter.
Species and Geographic Range
The Sunbeam Snake is found in a wide geographical region stretching from Southeast Asia to Indonesia, all the way to the Philippines.
Plus, the snakes are also found in Burma, Thailand, Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam), Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, and Java.
Lastly, the Iridescent Earth Snake can be found in the Nicobar Islands of India and several parts of southern China.
Sunbeam Snake is of the Xenopeltis genus from the Xenopeltidae family.
The snake is a primitive and nonvenomous.
Are Sunbeam Snakes Venomous or Dangerous?
No, Sunbeam Snakes are not venomous, nor are they dangerous. While they are quite the most popular pet snake, they are nothing to fear!
Additionally, it likes to burrow and it is characterized by its smooth, glossy, iridescent scales.
Xenopeltis unicolor is the more widespread species. It can be characterized by its chocolate-brown coloration and boasts a white belly.
The other species Xenopeltis hainanensis is not as common as the former. In fact, this species is limited to southeastern China and Vietnam in a few isolated pockets.
Xenopeltis unicolor is also called the Common Sunbeam Snake, or the Iridescent Earth Snake.
Sunbeam Snake Diet
Experts have only ever studied the diet of Xenopeltis unicolor. The snakes that were wild caught had lizards, frogs, and snakes in their bellies. It can be safe to assume that Sunbeam Snakes can digest small mammals and birds easily.
It is important to note that Sunbeam Snakes can be very fast eaters. They tend to swallow their prey more quickly as compared to most other snakes of the same size.
Skinks, rodents and frogs are known to be a favorite with these snakes. They also eat other snakes that are smaller to them in size. So, if you are thinking of keeping one, make sure you get a separate cage. In captivity, these snakes will usually eat rodents and mice that they kill by constriction.
Hunting in the wild
Sunbeam Snakes are non-poisonous and tend to stay out of sight for the major portion of the day.
They like burrowing underground using their wedge-shaped head to push away loose soil, leaves and litter. The serpent is quite capable of digging, but doesn’t usually make the effort. They prefer to use burrows made by other animals.
Sunbeam Snakes are more active during the night when they leave their burrows to hunt. They never let their guard down at night and slither quickly with head pressed flat to the surface.
They use their flicking tongue to pick up scents of nearby animals and potential prey from the air. Most Sunbeam Snakes kill their prey by constriction. However, they may swallow live prey if it is small enough.
Dealing with predators
The Sunbeam Snake will shake its tail when it feels threatened in a manner similar to the rattlesnake. However, there are no rattles on a Sunbeam Snake’s tail so no noise is made. Nonetheless, the motion alone warns predators and makes them think twice before approaching.
Predators that do come too close are greeted with a nasty smelling fluid that oozes out of the snake’s vent area.
Sunbeam Snakes stiffen their bodies and jerk wildly if a predator actually touches them. While this poses no threat to the predator, the wild motions cause them to leave the snake alone.
Iridescent Earth Snake Mating and Reproduction Behavior
Mating and reproductive behavior in Sunbeam Snakes is a mystery to many. Almost 99.9% of Sunbeam Snakes for sale are caught in the wild. Nobody has really understood how to mate them successfully and breed them in captivity.
It is known that these snakes are oviparous, which means their young are produced by means of eggs.
However, very few captive breeding has ever been reported. Female Sunbeam Snakes are known to lay as many as seventeen eggs at a time. These eggs take about seven to eight weeks to hatch.
Physical Attributes of the Sunbeam Snake
The Common Sunbeam Snake and the Hainan Sunbeam Snake are among the two most beautiful snake species in the world.
Their bodies have a metallic look and shine in several different colors depending on the light bouncing off them. The back looks dark purplish brown or black when a Sunbeam Snake is in the shade. However, as soon as the snake slithers out in the sun, these large scales erupt into a mesmerizing wave of colors.
The scales on Sunbeam Snakes can bend light like raindrops bend sunlight to create rainbows. This iridescence property and their penchant for burrowing have given this snake another name – Iridescent Earth Snake.
The bright rainbow sheen is caused by iridophores – nanostructures in their scales. Iridophores contain inbuilt microscopic layers which refracts light. The iridescence is made stronger by the dark pigmentation layer that runs beneath the surface. This offers the snakes a violet or blue undertone.
The sheen on Sunbeam Snakes is amplified by the scales that sit closely together against the body. This is to help the snake facilitate its favorite behavior of burrowing.
Size and Texture
The Sunbeam Snake Size can vary depending upon its health and diet. The adults are usually as thick as a large banana with the skin. Adult Sunbeam Snakes can easily reach 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) in length. Their tail makes up a tenth of the total body length. It begins at the vent which is a slit-like opening on the underside.
Both, male and females grow to the same length. However, few females have known to grow as long as 1.3 meters or 4 feet. This is extremely rare and should not be expected in most situations.
The scales are smooth to touch and their texture is similar to rubber. These snakes are burrowers, but debris and dirt seems to slide right off the scales. Their head is built like a shovel blade with a flat edge. They have small eyes that aid in burrowing.
Color and Skeletal Structure
Young snakes usually have a white collar or patch on the upper neck along with the tell-tale iridescence.
Adult Sunbeam Snakes have flattened bodies that are light grey, white or light yellow on the bottom. The light color goes all the way to their lip scales. These snakes have extremely small eyes on their head and are about the same diameter as the neck. The head is not as apparent as in vipers, pythons, and other snakes.
The skeleton has several interesting features. For instance, there are teeth in the front of the upper jaw bone. All teeth are hinged at the base instead of being firmly attached to the jaw bone. This allows the teeth to wiggle without falling out while biting into prey.
Keeping Sunbeam Snakes as Pets
Sunbeam Snakes are known for their friendliness and non-venomous nature. They rarely ever bite in captivity as long as you handle them properly. You should not mistake their friendliness for liking human touch. New pets should not be handled more than once or twice a week for a few minutes. This can result in undue stress.
They tend to be shy at first and will resist interaction. This is a normal and expected behavior. The snakes will soon open up to occasional handling. Sunbeam Snakes can make wonderful pets once they start feeding. They are beautiful and lose their shyness quickly.
Sunbeam Snakes are known to make interesting terrarium subjects. Be prepared to face a few housing challenges in the beginning. However, once you are all set up and established properly, you won’t have any trouble with these snakes as pets. They handle quite well and rarely bite. They are cool and smooth to the touch and are beautiful to look at.
These snakes are quite possibly the most iridescent snakes in the world. You will think you are holding a rainbow if you hold one any under light.
Selecting the right Sunbeam Snake
Most available specimens in the market are wild-caught from China or bred by established breeders. You don’t have to worry about taking this snake away from their natural habitat, as tThey are not on any endangered or threatened animal list.
You need to be careful where you purchase your Sunbeam Snakes from. Reason being, is that they can be full of parasites if you decide to buy an animal that would never be a pet like a cat, dog, or horse, for instance.
This is a critical reason why we always suggest buying a snake from a breeder or reputable pet store.
What to Do After You Buy a Pet Sunbeam Snake
The first thing you should do is take the snake to a vet and have them treated for worms and other parasites. It is possible that the creatures are covered in blisters due to improper handling and housing.
Snakes kept in Chinese holding areas before being exported are rarely without blisters. Fortunately, these can be easily treated using a topical antibiotic. You should also create a safe living space with a proper humidity level of 75%.
Sunbeam Snakes are known for their hardiness and rarely ever give problems. However, choosing the right snake will go a long way in ensuring that your pet remains healthy and vibrant.
While selecting any snake for a pet, you should always choose one that feels strong to the touch. They should be moving about as you handle them. The snake should be curious and active, not limp.
Check for Behavior
It is alright for the snake to be scared or shy. But, they should not be weak or exhausted. Look for scale rot and excessive amounts of visible blisters. These are not good signs. They are evidence of unsanitary conditions. It is possible for the blisters and rot to turn into an infection.
Make Sure it Looks Healthy
Never choose a skinny snake.
Young Sunbeam Snakes should be a quarter thick. Choose a fat individual which is healthy and well-fed. It should have a rotund and round cross section like a sausage. Feel the snake about. It should feel plump in your hands. Avoid snakes that have folds in their skin. This is evidence of malnutrition and dehydration.
Overall, these tips should help you find the perfect Sunbeam Snake companion. You should know that these snakes are imported seasonally. So, either you will find a bunch of them on sale or none. They are freely available at reptile shows, specialty reptile shops and online stores.
Sunbeam Snakes can make rewarding and interesting captive animals even if they are not all that common as pets.
Sunbeam Snake: Care Guide
These iridescent serpents make great pets, but you need to find an appropriate enclosure of them. Try to keep them separate from other snake pets, since they are known to feed on snakes.
The best sunbeam snake cage setup would have a Rack system that is 32qt or larger built for an adult or sub-adult Sunbeam Snake. The temperature should be around 80 degrees. It is recommended that you keep few hot spots in the cage around 85 degrees.
If a Rack system is not on hand, you should use at least a 15 or 20 gallon tank for an adult and a 10 gallon tank for a sub-adult. Use a heat pad to warm the tank. Keep it in one side of the tank. Never use a heat lamp with Sunbeam Snakes since it dries out their skin.
Make sure the heat pad is set at an ambient temperature of 80 degrees. You may need another to create a hot spot around 85 degrees.
Using a tank with these snakes is tricky. To prevent the snake from escaping, it’s important that the screen lid is always locked tight
. You may need to cover the screen with a plastic wrap or foil to retain the heat and humidity. Consider using a proportional thermostat that can accurately control the cage’s temperature.
Substrate or Snake Bedding
Sunbeam Snakes love burrowing.
Unfortunately, this is also the most complicated part of owning one if these incredibly iridescent snakes.
They require just the right amount of moisture in their bedding, and the bedding has to be dirt-like yet sanitary and microbe free.
You need to give it the right kind of dirt to feel at home. Try using specialized snake bedding in the form of concentrated bricks that rehydrate to a “dirt” like consistency.
You may want to use a coconut based substrate to hold the right level of moisture in. You should fill in anywhere from 6 to 8 inches of dirt so that the snake has plenty of space to burrow.
If you want you can also mix sand and peat moss potting soil. This should be 25% sand and 75% potting soil. The bedding needs to be damp without being soaking wet.
High moisture levels will cause blisters on the snake while low moisture will dry out its scales.
It is very simple to feed Sunbeam Snakes even if they are known to be lizard, frog, and snake eaters in the wild.
You should start by feeding them live mice and switching to frozen or thawed. Getting your snake to adjust to thawed meals can reduce the pressure of having live mice on hand.
Sunbeam Snakes require smaller meals since they have a smaller jaw structure as compared to many pythons and boas.
Adult Sunbeam Snakes that are about 2 feet long need about 2 or 3 fuzzy mice at a time. Typically, try to feed them once per week.
If they don’t take to eating 2-3 meals in one setting, you can try spreading out the feeding over a day or two. When they grow bigger, or if they are simply a larger variant, you may be able to feed them 2 or 3 hopper mice at a time.
If you’re ever unsure — speak to your breeder or whomever you purchased the Iridescent Earth Snake from! They’ll likely be able to help.
You may need to feed your pet every week as sub-adults or juveniles. You can slow down and feed them once two weeks as they grow older.
Water is important to all snakes. Sunbeam Snakes like to soak occasionally. You should supply them with a wide and shallow water dish.
They are not a highly aquatic snake species, but they do like to slither through the water as they drink. Make sure the water is always clean. These snakes are active burrowers and often drag substrate into the water bowl.
All in all, Sunbeam Snakes are beautiful creatures. They glow in the sunshine and reflect a mesmerizing rainbow color from their iridescent scales. Also, they make decent pets for a more advanced owner.