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  • Richard Adams
  • October 29, 2016 08:48:27 PM

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The UK reptile and amphibian blog, teaching you how to care for exotic pets.

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    Nassarius Snail Care

    The Nassarius snail is an easily-maintained marine (saltwater) species. The care levels  they require are minimal – not only will they source their own food on most occasions but they can also help to keep your tank clean by feasting on unsightly detritus. Nassarius snails will slowly comb through the bottom of your aquarium, scavenging […] The post Nassarius Snail Care appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    The Nassarius snail is an easily-maintained marine (saltwater) species. The care levels  they require are minimal – not only will they source their own food on most occasions but they can also help to keep your tank clean by feasting on unsightly detritus.

    Nassarius snails will slowly comb through the bottom of your aquarium, scavenging on uneaten fish food, waste materials and even dead organisms that have found their way to the bottom of your saltwater aquarium.

    While these snails aren’t active enough to keep you entertained at all times, they are therefore pretty helpful in the aquarium’s ecosystem.

    Now that you know all the benefits of having Nassarius snails in your fish tank, let’s talk about all the things that you need to know to take care of these little organisms!

    Nassarius Snail Habitat

    Nassarius photo

    Nassarius snails can be found in the wild, but these specimens often don’t fare well in a closed aquarium setting.

    To get over this hurdle, it is generally safest to select Nassarius snails that have been bred in captivity. As you will be putting them in your own aquarium that will simulate similar conditions to what they are used to, meaning that minimal adjustment by your snails will be required.

    Tank Size

    Nassarius snails only reach a maximum shell size of around ¾ inch, meaning that they can be accommodated in almost any size of marine tank – including the tiny little nano tanks which have become popular in recent years.

    The one consideration to make is how many snails can be safely accommodated in your tank. Here most experts recommend a stocking ratio of approximately one or two snails for every gallon of water.

    Water Temperature

    The Nassarius snail is a saltwater organism. It needs stable temperatures to survive in a captive setting. The ideal temperature for this variety of snails is anything between 72°F and 80°F (which translates into 22°C and 27°C). This is quite a wide range of temperatures when compared to other components of saltwater aquariums, such as corals. This is handy, as it can make them quite easy to care for in captivity, as they can thrive in a variety of conditions.

    Water Composition

    Other than temperature, there are a number of factors that influence the composition of your aquarium’s water. Some key points to keep in mind are the pH levels and the specific gravity. When it comes to pH, the preferable range for Nassarius snails is roughly 8.3 or 8.4. The specific gravity should be between 1.023 and 1.025.

    Lastly, as with most invertebrates, Nassarius snails cannot survive in water with high nitrate levels. The levels should remain less than 20 ppm for these snails to thrive.

    Equipment and Plants

    Nassarius snails have very limited requirements. Of course, you’ll need to install a good quality filtration system so that the water remains clean at all times.

    One important requirement is a good amount of sand at the bottom of the fish tank. This is important as Nassarius snails spend most of their time buried into the sand, scavenging for any uneaten food items, decomposing parts of living organisms and so on. Other than this, you can pretty much add whatever suits your fancy. It can be ornamental rocks, driftwood, aquarium plants and so on.

    Behavior of Nassarius Snails

    Nassarius snails are very peaceful. They do not show many signs of aggression at any point in their lives. Having said that, there have been instances of a few of these snails getting together and attempting to cause harm to another snail or small creature.

    Ensure that there is a big enough sand bed and you will only see the Nassarius snails in your aquarium when it is time for them to have a meal.

    Integration into the Tank

    Nassarius snails may be easy to care for but you shouldn’t just drop them into your tank and forget about them. There is a specific acclimatization procedure to be followed that will help to integrate these little creatures into your aquarium.

    As in the case with most invertebrates, you should consider using the slow drip method to do this. Using a separate bucket and a siphon drip line, you will slowly get the snails used to the water in the aquarium, before transferring them to your main tank.

    Best Tank Mates

    As snails are not aggressive by nature, they can work well with all other peaceful co-inhabitants of your aquarium. Nassarius snails will even survive living with many more aggressive species, so long as they aren’t known snail eaters.

    The only restriction here is that they should all be creatures of the sea or oceans. The Nassarius snail is a saltwater organism and it must be kept in conditions simulating its marine ecosystem. You cannot add freshwater fish to such aquariums or place Nassarius snails into freshwater aquariums .

    Fish That Don’t Work Well

    As snails are pretty much defenseless, you don’t want to put them in situations where they might need to defend themselves. There are a number of species that enjoy eating snails. In other words if you have snails and are contemplating over which fish to buy, avoid any of these snail eaters.

    In addition to these, crabs don’t tend to work well with snails, often attacking and even killing them.

    Feeding Nassarius Snails

    The Nassarius snail is essentially a scavenger. If you add these organisms to a well-established aquarium, you may not need to even feed the snails, as they will go through the sand bed and eat any detritus that they find.

    They eat leftover food, waste, as well as remains from dying or dead organisms.

    However, if that food isn’t enough, you can supplement their diet with things like algae wafers, fish food pellets or frozen brine shrimp. They are particularly biased towards meat and can consume mussels, clam, scallops and so on.


    While snails are notorious for multiplying in number, the Nassarius snail isn’t very easy to breed.

    While these snails lay eggs routinely, the possibility of them maturing is very low. There can be many reasons behind this, like other fish in the tank, eggs getting buried in the sand bed and so on.

    The process isn’t impossible but as these snails are available with professional breeders for a very low cost, the entire exercise may not make too much sense.

    Final Thoughts

    Nassarius snails are an interesting organism to add to your saltwater aquarium. While they might not have all the color and shine that other tank inhabitants offer, they are none-the-less interesting to watch. Of course, they can also cut down on your tank maintenance, acting as an organic “cleanup crew”.  

    What’s not to love?

    Photo by SERC Photos

    The post Nassarius Snail Care appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

    Coral Banded Shrimp Care Sheet

    The coral banded shrimp is a beautiful decapod crustacean that makes for a great addition to any marine aquarium. Many aquarists seek out this boxing shrimp because of its color and personality, which can add a lot of interest to your tank. It is also reef safe, which means it can be added to your […] The post Coral Banded Shrimp Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    The coral banded shrimp is a beautiful decapod crustacean that makes for a great addition to any marine aquarium.

    Many aquarists seek out this boxing shrimp because of its color and personality, which can add a lot of interest to your tank. It is also reef safe, which means it can be added to your aquarium without the fear of it tearing up the corals.

    Coral banded shrimp are quite easy to take care of, which is another reason why people like to add them to their aquariums. With the right amount of care and attention, this boxing shrimp can flourish in your marine aquarium.

    It is important, however, to remember that these are semi-aggressive creatures. They may not live well with all types of fish and crustaceans. You will have to check the compatibility of the other members of your aquarium with this shrimp before leaving them in the same space.

    If you are looking to buy this species but are confused about how to take care of it, read this comprehensive care sheet that will walk you though all the basics.


    coral banded shrimp photo

    The coral banded shrimp’s natural habitat is the oceans of Indonesia but it survives well in captivity. There are very specific arrangements that need to be made before you buy a coral banded shrimp. 

    To get a better understanding about what works for these crustaceans, here is an in-depth look into the right size of tank, the temperature and composition of the water that the coral banded shrimp will be in, and the ideal equipment and decorations.

    Tank Size

    Coral banded shrimps grow to no more than 3 inches long. This means that while you won’t need an enormous 100 gallon tank to keep your shrimps happy, they also don’t tend to do well in tiny 10 gallon tanks either.

    The ideal size of tank for the coral banded shrimp is generally agreed to be anything above 30 gallons. This will give your shrimp enough space to find its little nook away from the other fish in your aquarium.

    Water Temperature

    The coral banded shrimp can only survive in marine aquariums. The ideal water temperature is between 72°F and 80°F (approximately 24°C to 27°C). Anything outside this range can be detrimental to the growth and survival of your shrimp.

    Water Composition

    Along with the temperature of the water, its composition is just as important (if not moreso). The ideal pH should be kept within the 8.0 and 8.4 range. In addition to this, the ideal specific gravity should be between 1.022 – 1.025 and the carbonate hardness of the water should be kept between 8 and 12 dKH.

    As is the case with most other invertebrates, this type of shrimp cannot function in situations where the nitrate levels or the copper levels are too high. There is also a need to maintain appropriate iodine levels in your aquarium, which is essential for proper molting.

    Equipment and Plants

    As is the case with all aquariums, you will need to have a good quality filtration system installed in your tank.

    The substrate can be gravel, sand or small rocks. In addition to this, you should make sure there are enough nooks and crannies where your coral banded shrimp can hide away from view.

    Coral banded shrimps are compatible with reefs in most cases and considered reef safe.

    There is a degree of disagreement between people on this point. While some maintain that their coral banded shrimp caused no harm to the aquarium reef, others have reported noticing holes in the reef and attributed it to the coral banded shrimp in the aquarium.

    If the food supply for the shrimp is falling short, they have been known to steal food that is meant for anemones and corals.

    Behavior of the Coral Banded Shrimp

    coral banded shrimp photo

    The coral banded shrimp is a relatively peaceful creature in most situations but it is placed under the semi-aggressive category.

    They are especially territorial and aggressive when it comes to other types of shrimp. Their aggression towards other shrimp can be such a problem that even other coral banded shrimp are not safe.

    The more dominant shrimp can easily harm and eat the other weaker or slower shrimps. The only exception to this is any mated pair of coral banded shrimps, in which case they may be able to survive together.

    The root of the shrimp’s aggression is its diet. It often ambushes slow-moving creatures and steals their food. If the coral banded shrimp is fed well, it is far less likely to harm other tank mates.

    Integration into the Tank

    If you are looking to add coral banded shrimp to your marine aquarium, you will have to make sure that the crustacean is given enough time to acclimatize slowly in the aquarium’s water.

    The most popular method to adopt when you are considering acclimatization for your shrimp is the slow drip method. This means transferring the coral banded shrimp into a separate container along with the water that they came with.

    Start a drip from the tank of your aquarium to this container till the quantity doubles.

    Discard half of the water and start again till the volume doubles again.

    Finally most of the water in the container would be the water from the aquarium, at which point it is safe to transfer the coral banded shrimp to the main tank.

    The process should be slow so that you can avoid any shock to the crustacean and may take several hours to accomplish.

    Best Tank Mates

    marine fish photo

    Even though it was mentioned earlier that coral banded shrimp could be a little aggressive with their own kind, they tend to work well with most peaceful varieties of marine fish. To avoid the risk of fighting, try to ensure that your fish are larger than your shrimp and don’t harbour any aggressive territorial traits.

    Fish That Don’t Work Well

    lionfish photo

    The coral banded shrimp is very small and not very powerful, which makes it an easy target for larger or more aggressive fish.

    In addition to this, coral banded shrimp should not even be kept with other types of shrimp because of their own aggression. If given a chance, the coral banded shrimp will prey on any other creature that is smaller or weaker than it.

    For best results, it is recommended that you only keep one coral banded shrimp in your aquarium. This will help to avoid the loss of other shrimps (even coral banded).

    Some examples of tank mates that don’t work well with coral banded shrimps include:

    • Lionfish
    • Snappers
    • Groupers
    • Triggers
    • Eels
    • Other types of shrimp
    • Any other predatory fish that is larger than the coral banded shrimp


    The coral banded shrimp is not a very picky eater. Traditionally a scavenger, this crustacean is an omnivore that can consume a wide variety of foods. T

    he most important thing is placing the food near to your shrimp. If you fail to do so then any fish that is faster can grab it. In such case – if the shrimp is left unfed – it will try to look for food from other live sources present in the aquarium.

    The coral banded shrimp is capable of eating live snails, hermit crabs or other shrimp present in the water.

    You can feed your shrimp any type of frozen food, small bits of meat, specially made flake foods or shrimp pellets.

    If you are putting shrimp pellets in the aquarium for your coral banded shrimp, make sure that there is at least one complete pellet per shrimp. This should prevent them from stealing food from other members of your aquarium.


    There are a number of indications as to the sex of coral banded shrimps. Firstly, the males tend to be a little smaller than the females. In addition to this, females have a blue or green discoloration in the region where the legs meet the torso – the ovaries. This coloring is missing in the males.

    While you may find yourself enamored by the idea of breeding your own coral banded shrimp, it is easier said than done. Firstly, it is important that you ensure that you have a pair from different sexes. If you leave two shrimp of the same sex in the tank, the stronger one will eat the weaker one in all likelihood.

    Assuming you have successfully purchased a pair, after mating female coral shrimps will lay eggs in multiple batches around the aquarium.

    The problem is with the size of these eggs. They are so small that they can easily be sucked into the filtration system or be eaten up by other fish in the tank. For this reason, the breeding is usually left to professionals.

    Common Health Problems

    Coral banded shrimp are hardy creatures that don’t usually suffer from the common fish diseases.

    The main reason why people lose their shrimp is toxic shock because of warped levels of salinity or pH in their aquarium.

    Coral banded shrimps are also very sensitive to high levels of nitrates or copper.

    It is important that you check all these levels on a regular basis to ensure that the shrimp lives out its entire 2-3 year lifespan.

    The other problem that can affect coral banded shrimps is a lack of food. Keep the shrimp’s relatively slow speed in mind as you ensure that the food you are placing in the tank reaches it.

    Final Thoughts

    The coral banded shrimp is an interesting addition to any marine aquarium. However, before you go out and buy yourself this shrimp, keep its temperament, dietary and habitat-related needs in mind.

    As it is known to be aggressive towards other shrimps, keep only one coral banded shrimp in your tank. Check the water composition regularly and feed the shrimp a variety of food.

    These factors will ensure that your shrimp stays happy, healthy and active!

    Photos c/o bocagrandelasvegas & petturik & prilfish

    The post Coral Banded Shrimp Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

    Bullsnake Care Sheet

    Make no mistake – bullsnakes are impressive reptiles. Large in size, bulky, beautifully patterned and with a variety of strategies to ward off potential predators these snakes can put on a real show when they feel threatened. Indeed, my first ever experience of a bullsnake was a large adult specimen, in a pet shop where […] The post Bullsnake Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    Make no mistake – bullsnakes are impressive reptiles. Large in size, bulky, beautifully patterned and with a variety of strategies to ward off potential predators these snakes can put on a real show when they feel threatened.

    Indeed, my first ever experience of a bullsnake was a large adult specimen, in a pet shop where I used to work as a teenager. Whenever the cage had to be opened he would rapidly expel air from its lungs, giving a sound like an airbrake, and would rattle the end of his tail just like a rattlesnake. If ever was there a snake that scared me it was this beast!

    bullsnake photo

    Of course, this was just the view of an inexperienced teenage reptile keeper. As it turns out, not only did that specimen calm down nicely with regular attention, but that most bullsnakes can become incredibly calm and accepting of their keeper, and can be handled without incidence.

    In short, if you’re looking for a snake that displays impressive proportions, coloration and behaviour then bullsnakes may be the perfect pet for you.

    In this bullsnake care sheet we’ll discuss the latest knowledge on their captive care, allowing you to maintain your snake properly in captivity.

    Natural Habitat of Bullsnakes

    Bullsnakes have the Latin name of Pituophis catenifer sayi. They’re incredibly widely distributed across North America, being found found as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alberta. This is a good thing; a snake that can thrive in a huge range of different habitats is one that tends to adapt well to captivity and is quite forgiving about captive conditions.

    While bullsnakes may be encountered in almost any habitat, their preference seems to be for dry, sandy prairies where they hunt for rodents to eat. This means that a dry captive habitat (with constant access to drinking water) can be a very effective strategy.

    Bullsnake Cages & Vivariums

    bullsnake photo

    We’ve already seen that a dry desert/prairie habitat tends to work well for bullsnakes.

    However there’s a second major consideration before choosing your bullsnake vivarium.

    The reality is that these can be big snakes in comparison to most North American snake species.

    Hatchlings typically measure in at around 30cm long, and can double in size in their first year.

    While some adults may top out at around four feet long, a more typical adult length is some six to seven feet long. Some specimens are even bigger.

    This therefore means that unlike tiny snakes like sand boas, which can be housed quite successfully in very modest enclosures, the bullsnake owner will need a big vivarium – at least for an adult snake.

    It is generally recommended that snakes should be kept in a cage where the length added to the width is equivalent to the overall length of your snake. This means that a six foot long adult bullsnake would require a cage roughly 4’ x 2’ (total = 6’) to be able to stretch out properly.

    While, of course, hatchlings can be kept in much smaller quarters, accept that sooner or later you’re going to have to invest in a large vivarium for your pet. If such an expense would be painful for you then I’d suggest keeping a different snake species that achieves a far more modest adult size.

    A suitable bullsnake vivarium should offer you a number of benefits:

    Security – All snakes are natural escape artists, managing to squeeze themselves through the tiniest of gaps. Bullsnakes may be good-sized snakes, but this only adds to their abilities; being strong creatures they are capable of pushing off lids or opening vivarium doors that haven’t been properly secured. When choosing a bullsnake cage be sure that it is fully escape-proof, and use locks or clips to prevent the cage being opened from inside.

    Space – The best bullsnake cages provide plenty of space for your pet to move around. Bullsnakes tend to be mainly fossorial – meaning they spend the majority of their time on the ground rather than climbing in branches. You’ll therefore need to be certain that you’re providing suitable floorspace for your snake.

    Environmental Control – You’ll need to be able to provide artificial heating for your bullsnake. Fortunately UV light isn’t a necessity, though some keepers choose to add it both for visual appeal and to create a clear day/night cycle for their pet. All the same, consider how you’ll fit a suitable reptile heater (and thermostat). Enclosed cages – such as those made from wood, plastic or glass – tend to retain their heat better than mesh cages.

    Appearance – While it shouldn’t be your only concern, it does make sense to choose a cage that looks nice and sets off your snake to full effect. A beautifully-landscaped vivarium can become a real focal point in your home.

    Some examples of effective cages that have been used for bullsnakes of varying sizes include:

    Exo Terras

    Exo Terra glass terrariums are great-looking cages that offer a host of practical benefits. The front-opening doors make cleaning and feeding nice and easy, and these lock shut when not in use.

    The mesh lid helps to maintain a low humidity level and to fit a ceramic heater into the cage. Compatible lighting hoods (sold separately) are an easy and good-looking way to add artificial lighting.

    If there is a downside to these Exo Terras it is that they only come in a limited range of sizes. A larger model can therefore make a stunning and practical home for smaller bullsnakes, but larger specimens will eventually outgrow their quarters.  

    Plastic Shoe Boxes

    These are certainly not the most attractive of cages, but they’re cheap, easy-to-clean and can be stacked on one another. All you need to so is source one of a suitable size, add some ventilation (I use an electric drill to add ventilation homes) and get going.

    Note that ceramic heaters aren’t suitable for plastic cages like this as they can melt. For your own peace of mind try to source one where the lid “clips” onto the base. These locking handles will help to keep the container secure.

    Aquariums With Mesh Lids

    One of the most practical options, especially for larger specimens, is a glass fish tank. While they’re heavy, fish tanks are cheap to buy (or even make), come in a range of different sizes and are pretty easy to keep clean.

    In order to prevent your bullsnake from escaping you’ll also want to invest in one of the specially made mesh lids available on the market.

    Not only will the mesh lid prevent your snake from escaping, but they can also make accessing your pet a little easier thanks to their hinged lids.

    Wooden Snake Vivariums

    I’m a big fan of wooden vivariums with sliding glass doors at the front. These can be bought in all manner of sizes and shapes, or can be easily and cheaply built at home.

    Indeed, for larger snakes like bullsnakes, the flexibility to custom-design a wooden vivarium to your own specifications can be a lot of fun. Whether you build or buy one, be sure to add a cage lock to prevent the sliding glass doors from being pushed open.

    Heating & Temperature

    One of the keys to successfully keeping any species of snake is providing the correct temperature. Bullsnakes are no different so will likely require some supplementary heating for much of the year.

    In terms of temperatures, a basking spot or hotspot should be created at one end of the cage. A temperature of around 85’F (30’C) tends to work well, though a few degrees lower won’t be the end of the world.

    The other end of your bullsnake cage should remain unheated. This therefore creates a temperature gradient, allowing your snake to bask in the hot area, then regulate its temperature by slithering away to the cooler end when it chooses.

    There are a number of ways to achieve these temperatures:

    Heat Pads

    Variously known as heat pads, mats, cables or tapes, these are all very similar in design. Essentially electricity passes through a thin ceramic strip, heating it gently. These tend to be low-powered, which means they produce only a modest warmth. The upside is that they also use very little electricity.

    If you’re planning to use a heat pad then consider carefully how you’ll install it. For example, placing a heat mat under a wooden vivarium will prevent the warmth from permeating; you’ll want to actually place the heater inside the vivarium.

    A similar problem can be thick layers of substrate, where once again the heat may not permeate properly. Assuming a thin layer of substrate, these can be placed under glass or plastic terrariums, but will need to be inside wooden cages.

    Their low power output makes them perfect for people who either want to keep their electricity bill down, or who are using a plastic cage which might otherwise melt or buckle with more powerful heaters.

    As a final note, don’t aim to purchase a heat mat that covers the entire floor of your bullsnake cage. Instead it should cover just ¼ to ⅓ of the cage floor, creating that all-important thermal gradient.

    Ceramic Bulbs

    Ceramic bulbs can be a fantastic source of heat for your bullsnake. These bulbs get a lot warmer than heat mats so can be a great way to provide a lovely basking spot for your snake.

    As they get hot, you’ll want to place a bulb guard over your ceramic heater to prevent your snake coming into contact with the bulb and getting burned.

    Buy a ceramic bulb with a reflector to “push” the heat down to the floor of the cage. These bulbs can require some effort to install in a wooden vivarium, and should never be used with plastic cages.

    They can, however, be very quick and easy to install in a mesh-topped cage like an Exo Terra; the bulb reflector can simply be gently rested on the mesh top of the cage, with the heat travelling down to the basking spot on the floor of the cage.

    Heat Lamps

    Incandescent bulbs that produce both light and heat are preferred by some reptile keepers. Personally I’m not a huge fan, as they tend to have a short lifespan, and can explode if they come into contact with water (such as if your bullsnake splashes it’s water bowl). Just like with a ceramic heater, be sure to use a bulb guard to protect your snake.

    Warning: When it comes to heating any reptile cage a good quality thermostat is essential. This will control the heat being produced by the heater, preventing your bullsnake from overheating. I cannot overstate the importance of this. There are many different thermostats available, and it can be quite intimidating to choose the right one, as different thermostats are designed for different heaters. Read my guide on choosing the best thermostat for your reptile.

    Water & Humidity

    Bullsnakes may favor a dry desert or prairie habitat in the wild, but they should always have access to fresh water. Unlike some other snakes like rainbow boas they seldom soak themselves in their bowl, and let’s also not forget that these are bulky, strong snakes.

    For these reasons many bullsnake keepers provide a small yet heavy water bowl that cannot be easily tipped over an active specimen. A stoneware cat bowl can work well in this regard. The water should be changed daily to keep it fresh, with the entire bowl being regularly scrubbed and sterilized using a reptile-safe detergent.

    Their wild habitat means that a low-humidity environment works well for this species. Their substrate should be dry, and good ventilation should allows any evaporated water from their bowl to escape.

    Best Substrate for Bullsnakes

    bullsnake photo

    Once you’ve chosen a suitable bullsnake cage you’ll next need a substrate to line the base of the cage. As bullsnakes thrive in a reasonably dry environment there are many different substrates that can work well.

    Some breeders like to use newspaper, and replace this as necessary, though I personally worry that this prevents some natural behaviors.

    My personal preference is for a deeper and more natural substrate; try to provide an inch or more of substrate so that your bullsnake can burrow around in it at will.

    Some good examples of potential substrates used for bullsnakes include aspen bedding, reptile-safe sand, corn cob granules or beech chippings.

    Be sure to spot clean this as necessary, removing any substrate that either becomes damp from spilled water or messy due to faeces or feeding. In this way you can keep the cage clean and fresh-smelling at all times.

    Vivarium Decor

    The decor you choose for your bullsnake cage will depend on both the size of the cage and your personal preferences. While some keepers opt to try and replicate the wild habitat as closely as possible, adding artificial plants, rocks and pieces of wood others prefer a far more sterile environment.

    Whatever your choice, there are a number of additional pieces of equipment that can come in handy:


    Many bullsnakes will burrow into their substrate, and you’ll find them resting partially-concealed. All the same, it is best practise to provide at least one reptile hide, into which they can fit their entire body. This will help your snake to feel safe and secure, providing a place for them to hide away as they they desire.

    Studies in the wild suggest that while bullsnakes may range over a surprisingly large area, they generally are found within one meter of a suitable hide or refuge, suggesting that it is important for them to be able to hide away.

    This is hardly surprising when other field studies have suggested that mortality rates in the wild can be 40% or more on an annual basis, due at least in part to predation.

    There are a range of hide options that I have discussed here.

    Lastly, if space allows, I think it’s quite nice to include two hides – one at the hot end and one at the cool end – so that your bullsnake can choose the hide that suits them best.


    Monitoring the temperature in your bullsnake vivarium is an important part of your ongoing maintenance routine. While terrarium heaters should ways be controlled with a good quality reptile thermostat it is also wise to double-check on temperatures regularly.

    A huge range of different reptile thermometers are available on the market, from traditional “disc” thermometers to more modern digital thermometers. It is these latter thermometers which I personally use.

    These typically have a temperature sensor on a long wire, so you can afix it in the perfect place, while keeping the actual LCD readout outside of the cage. Even better, some models include two different sensors.

    It is these that I use so I can monitor both the hotspot and the cooler end at the end same time.


    While bullsnakes do not require a high humidity to remain in good health many reptile keepers like to just keep an eye on the humidity levels – as monitored using a hygrometer. If you suddenly see the humidity levels rise then this may an indication that a water bowl has been knocked over and/or the substrate has got damp.

    Feeding Bullsnakes

    Bullsnakes tend to have healthy appetites in captivity. As carnivores the easiest and most reliable prey prey items are suitably-sized rodents. Youngsters will take small mice while large adults may happily consume large weaner rats. Generally speaking a “suitably sized” rodent is one roughly equivalent in girth to the fattest part of your snake.

    Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days, while most adults remain in good condition being fed every 7-10 days.

    Personally I dislike the idea of feeding live rodents in captivity. Not only is this illegal in some countries but it risks making a mess of your cage and potential damage to your bullsnake.

    Fortunately frozen rodents are easily and cheaply sourced. They can be defrosted as needed and given to your snake. Personally I like to place the rodent into a plastic bag and suspend it in warm water before feeding; this warming helps to bring out the scent and make the rodent feel like it has died recently.

    As a final note, even docile snakes can sometimes mistake their keeper for food on feeding day. Be cautious when opening your bullsnake cage with a rodent. If in doubt purchase some long forceps or feeding tongs to prevent you having to place your hands into the cage.

    Promptly remove any uneaten food from the cage to prevent it rotting and creating unhygienic conditions. If necessary spot clean any substrate that has become messy after feeding to maintain a scrupulously clean vivarium for your snake.  

    Handling Bullsnakes

    As my early experience of bullsnakes taught me, these can be quite intimidating snakes, especially if they’re unused to frequent gentle handling. That said, much of the huffing and tail shaking is more bluff than anything else and most specimens will calm down well with dedication.

    Bullsnakes most certainly should be considered a species suitable for handling, but their large adult size and shows of aggression mean that this is a process most easily started when they are young.

    Invest time into regular, short bouts of handling, remaining calm throughout. If your bullsnake huffs at you when you open the cage door then consider investing in a good quality snake hook to gently remove them from the cage. In most cases, once out of the cage they will calm down noticeably.

    If your bullsnake is unused to handling then I would suggest spending no more than 5-10 minutes with them initially, but doing so every day or two. Thereafter try to handle your snake routinely to keep them calm.

    With a little effort on your part most bullsnakes can become a pleasure to handle.


    The larger size of bullsnakes can make them slightly more difficult to care for in captivity than their smaller cousins like corn snakes or ball pythons, but this effort is well worthwhile.

    Impressive snakes that display fascinating behaviour, and can become very tame, bullsnakes can make fantastic pets. And now, with a number of breeders working hard to produce some amazing morphs, there’s more choice than ever before when it comes to colors and patterns.

    What’s not to love?

    Photos c/o Sauntering Photographer, ikewinski 2ndPeter

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    How to Lower pH in an Aquarium or Fish Tank

    Getting your water chemistry right is crucial for a healthy fish tank. While there are many different factors to consider, one of the most important is the pH of your aquarium water. All too often the pH of standard tap water is far too high for many species, so in this guide we will discuss […] The post How to Lower pH in an Aquarium or Fish Tank appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    Getting your water chemistry right is crucial for a healthy fish tank. While there are many different factors to consider, one of the most important is the pH of your aquarium water.

    All too often the pH of standard tap water is far too high for many species, so in this guide we will discuss how to lower the pH of your aquarium or fish tank water.

    Understanding the Concept of pH

    fishtank photo

    Before we get to the ways in which you can lower the pH in your aquarium, lets try to understand what this means.

    Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. In its neutral form, where it has equal numbers of hydrogen (H+) ions and hydroxide (OH-)ions, water has a pH of 7.0.

    If any chemicals or minerals get dissolved in this water, the balance of ions will move from the original state. If the hydrogen ions increase in number, the water becomes more acidic and if the hydroxide ions increase, it becomes alkaline.

    These states are referred to as low and high pH respectively, with acid coming on the low side and alkalis on the high side.

    The acidity and alkalinity are measured on the pH scale for convenience.

    How Do I Check the pH?

    Checking the pH of your fish tank is a very easy exercise. There are a host of testing kits that available in the market which will allow you to quickly and easily monitor the pH in your tank.

    If you’re on a budget then many reputable aquarium stores will actually test your aquarium water for you – often for free. Just appreciate that this option, while cheaper, can be less practical when you’re trying to continually monitor pH in your fish tank.

    Do You Need to Lower the pH?

    While there are some specified pH levels that are recommended for different types of fish, trying to achieve the perfect pH is a futile exercise.

    Instead, check if your fish are doing well in the water. If you notice some bloating, loss of appetite, or other signs of distress, you will need to take out a test kit and check the pH.

    If the ideal pH is off by a bit but the fish aren’t showing any signs of trouble, you can leave it at that. Keep in mind that fish are very sensitive to changes in pH so stability is the most important factor.

    Ways to Lower pH

    If you notice that there is something wrong with your fish and find that the pH at a higher level than intended, you will need to take steps to remedy this. The pH can be lowered in a number of ways, most of which are natural. Here are some of the best solutions…

    Water Change

    One possible reason for the pH increasing or decreasing in your tank is dirty water. If you haven’t been changing the water of your aquarium frequently, you may want to try that before anything else.

    However don’t just change all the water in the aquarium at once. Firstly, be sure to test the pH of the fresh water you’re planning to add, to ensure that it won’t actually make the problem worse. Additionally, it is less stressful for your fish if smaller, more regular water changes are carried out over an extended period of time.

    Removing any leftover food or waste can also help in lowering the pH of the water so it’s a good idea to get your aquarium vacuum back into service.


    A great way to lower the pH of the water in your fish tank is adding driftwood. The best part about this method is that it creates conditions that are similar to the natural habitat of many fish. In addition to this, it is also aesthetically pleasing, bringing some fun changes to your aquarium.

    Adding driftwood works by releasing tannins into the water of your aquarium, lowering the pH in a natural way.

    It is important that the wood is prepared well before being added to the tank. Try to reduce as much of the color as you can otherwise it can leach into your aquarium water, giving it a brownish hue. You may want to boil the driftwood well before use as this not only helps get rid of the color, but also kills any algae or fungus that could develop on the wood at a later stage.

    Peat Moss

    Another natural way of lowering the pH of your aquarium water is adding some peat moss to it. While the moss will discolor the water slightly, it is a great way to lower the pH as it releases tannic and gallic acids into the water. This attacks any bicarbonates and reduces the water’s pH and hardness.

    Peat moss can be easily bought in the form of pellets or chunks. Simply putting it in the tank for a minute or two will not be helpful. You need to keep it submerged in the tank for a good amount of time for it to be effective. If you want to avoid too much discoloration, start with a small clump and monitor the pH. If it works, you might not need to add more.

    Almond Leaves

    The third natural remedy to lower the pH level of your aquarium is adding Indian almond or catappa leaves. These can be found at most aquarium or fish shops and make for a great water conditioner.

    Usually dried and packaged in strips, you may want to soak them in water before adding them to the fish tank. Not only will this start the process of decomposition, but it will also remove quite a bit of the natural dyes which might otherwise stain your water.

    According to most aquarium owners, these leaves work in a manner that is similar to peat moss and driftwood. While all of these options will leave some color in the water, they are the best natural weapons when the pH of your water is too high. They are safe to use and will not harm your fish in any way.

    Reverse Osmosis Filter

    If the natural methods are not working for you, you can employ the reverse osmosis method. There are reverse osmosis machines that clean water using a partially permeable filter, filtering over 90% of the contaminants – including the ones that increase pH. Smaller ions are allowed in, which makes the water overall healthier.

    The downside of this method is that it is expensive and can be a little bulky. However, it can prove to be a great investment in the long run as it will be a complete solution to your pH problems. For people with large aquariums, it is a great option.  


    Monitoring pH is an important part of keeping your aquarium healthy. Fortunately, with a low-cost testing kit this is simplicity to do.

    What’s more, should you find that your fish tank water needs the pH reducing then there are an assortment of resources and techniques that will help you achieve this. Even better, they’re generally chemical-free and may actually add extra interest to your aquarium.

    With just a little bit of patience your tank will soon be back to its former self, while the tank inhabitants will all benefit from your efforts.  

    Photo by chris favero

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    Otocinclus Catfish Care

    Popularly known as dwarf suckers or Otos, the Otocinclus is a popular fish species that is often kept in captivity. This is a type of catfish belonging to the family Loricariidae and is most commonly found in South America. If you are looking for a new addition to your planted aquarium, the Otocinclus catfish is […] The post Otocinclus Catfish Care appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    Popularly known as dwarf suckers or Otos, the Otocinclus is a popular fish species that is often kept in captivity. This is a type of catfish belonging to the family Loricariidae and is most commonly found in South America.

    If you are looking for a new addition to your planted aquarium, the Otocinclus catfish is a safe bet as it is peaceful, helps keep algae in check and is easy to look after.

    Despite having minimal needs, many hobbyists end up losing their Otos in the first month or so after buying the fish. There are many reasons for that, and most of these are concerned with the type of environment that you keep your fish in.

    To help you avoid the common mistakes that fish owners make when they first bring in Otos into their aquariums, here is a comprehensive care sheet. It will walk you through all the basics that you need to know to take care of your fish!


    Otocinclus photo

    While the natural habitat of Otos is moderate or slow streams and rivers of South America that have good amounts of oxygen, this fish can survive well in planted aquariums as well.

    They are fun to have, as they are very active, showcasing their personality at all times of the day.

    In order to keep them happy, you will have to keep certain key factors under control.

    Tank Size

    Otos are very small – about 1.5 to 2 inches when they mature completely. This means they don’t need a very large tank.

    You must, however, keep in mind that Otos are very social. This means that at least six or more should be kept together.

    If you are sticking to just 6 Otos, a 10 gallon tank can work. If you want to scale up to 10-15 Otos, it is recommended that you invest in a 20 gallon tank.

    It is also easier to maintain a wholesome ecosystem in the bigger tanks, which is important regardless of the type of fish you are keeping.

    Water Temperature

    The ideal temperature that you should aim for is between 72°F and 82°F (22-28°C). This temperature will have to be maintained at all times as these are tropical freshwater fish that need the right temperature to flourish.

    They do not need any special lighting in the tank so your standard community tank lighting should work well enough.

    Water Composition

    This is where things get a little tricky.

    Otos cannot survive in dirty water so you need to ensure that you have a good quality mature filter.

    This filter should be able to process the water in the aquarium at least three to four times each hour. This is measured by the filter’s GPH rating.

    It is important that the tank has no measurable quantity of ammonia or nitrite.

    In addition to this, the nitrate level should be between 0 and 20 ppm for a healthy habitat.

    Try to change about 30% of the water every week so that the system is refreshed regularly.

    The pH of the aquarium should be kept at a neutral or slightly acidic level. This translates to a pH value between 6 and 7.5.

    Equipment and Plants

    The most important piece of equipment – the water filter – has already been discussed before. In addition to this, you will need to install a good quality aeration system and a mechanism for water circulation.

    This is where an air pump and water pump come into play.

    Standard lighting requirements call for LED lighting that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the fish or other elements of the tank.

    You will also need to purchase a CO2 injector, which is essential for all planted aquariums, and a bunch of test kits to measure the levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates in the tank.

    You can place rounded and smooth stones, along with pre-soaked branches into the aquarium so that the Otos have enough space to graze.

    Make sure that there are no sharp edges where the fish can harm themselves. Such cases can lead to an outbreak of disease within the aquarium, which is something you want to avoid at all costs.

    There are a number of plant varieties that you can grow in your aquarium. It is important, however, that these are slow-growing plants as the faster ones will consume all the carbon dioxide before the algae gets a chance to grow.

    Otos graze on algae so the presence of these aquatic organisms is essential for their growth.

    Some good options for slow-growing plants are Anubius, Java ferns, Cabomba and Cryptocorynes.

    Integration into the Tank

    Once you have bought your Otos, you cannot simply introduce them into your tank. They first need to be quarantined. This means placing them in a separate tank with similar composition for a fixed period of time before moving them to the main tank.

    This process can take up to a few weeks but it is essential so that you can gauge whether your fish are healthy. Otherwise, you stand the chance of infecting your entire fish tank by introducing disease-ridden Otos.

    It is also important that you allow for some algae growth in the tank before Otos are introduced. This will help in ensuring that your fish have some food to graze on when they are finally placed in the main tank.

    You will have to closely monitor the activity of your Otos during their first month in the fish tank. If they get by just fine, it is highly likely that you will be able to have them around for a long time with proper care.

    Best Tank Mates

    Rasbora photo

    Not all types of fish work well together. You cannot simply pick the most colorful or attractive fish and put them all together in one big fish tank.

    There are a number of factors that need to be considered.

    Firstly, all the fish should have similar water composition requirements. You cannot put one fish that needs higher temperatures and another one that needs lower temperatures and expect them to survive together.

    Relatively small and peaceful fish make for the best tank mates when it comes to Otocinclus catfish.

    Some recommendations if you are looking to add other fish to the tank are Boraras, Dwarf Gouramis, Neon Tetras  and Rasbora. These do not directly compete with Otos for nutrition or threaten their safety in any manner.

    Fish That Don’t Work Well

    oscar fish photo

    Any type of big or aggressive fish can be considered dangerous when it comes to the small and peaceful Otos. Otocinclus catfish can easily get scared of bigger fish or even be eaten by them if you do not put enough thought into what fish is going to be living with the Otos.

    Even fish that aren’t naturally predatory, like the goldfish, can end up eating Otos because of their small size. Other fish to avoid include Cichlids, Jack Dempsey (as they eat almost anything smaller than them) and Oscars.


    Figuring out the right kind of food to feed your Otocinclus catfish is another important consideration. Here’s what a well-balanced diet for Otos looks like…


    Otos are algae eaters and can commonly be confused with other types of fish – like Chinese Algae Eaters, Siamese Flying Fox and Siamese Algae Eaters.

    It is important that you introduce Otos into planted tanks that are stable and mature, with lots of algae growth. The soft green algae that grows on different surfaces is most readily consumed by Otos. In some cases, Otos are also seen eating brown algae or diatoms.

    While algae can be their primary source of nutrients, most aquariums do not have enough algae growth to sustain large shoals. This means you may have to supplement their diet with other foods.

    This food can be in the form of algae wafers (loaded with essential nutrients) or catfish pellets – specialized food developed to give catfish their required nutrition.


    In addition to the algae and supplements that are commonly fed to Otos, you can also use some of the vegetables that you eat on a regular basis. Some examples of such vegetables are spinach, romaine lettuce, Brussel sprouts and zucchini.

    You will need to blanch these vegetables before they can be introduced into the aquarium. This means adding the vegetables to boiled water, letting it rest for a short period of time in it, and then moving it to cold water. This stops the cooking immediately.

    Otos do not automatically gravitate towards these vegetables so you may find yourself waiting for them to discover your carefully-prepared vegetables. Be sure to remove any uneaten vegetable matter to prevent it rotting and causing issues with your water chemistry.

    Buying Your Fish

    Many Otocinclus catfish owners notice their fish dying within the initial month or two of owning them. It can be a confusing situation, especially if you have taken good care and maintained ideal conditions in the tank.

    It is important that you personally visit your local fish store and only buy your Otos after examining the specimens on offer. Ask questions like how long the fish have been in the store – if they’ve been there a while, they are more likely to last – or what is being fed to them. Look at the fish and check if they look healthy.

    Signs of Healthy Oto Catfish

    There are a number of signs that show whether a fish is healthy or not. This isn’t just important when you are buying the fish. It is also important that these signs continue to show when the fish have been in your aquarium for a while.

    • The fish should have a good color (black, white or brown) and not look grayish.
    • There shouldn’t be any bloody marks on the fish.
    • Rounded – not bloated – bellies that are a sign of a well-fed fish.
    • Two sharp points on the edge of their fins.

    Signs That Something Is Wrong

    There can be a number of different problems that arise when you are taking care of your fish. For example, if you notice the fish coming up to the surface to take in air, there could be a problem with the air pump and the tank may be lacking oxygen. It is important that you fix it immediately.

    There are other symptoms that are indicative of health problems. Some of these are listed below:

    • Breathing heavily
    • Reduction in regular appetite
    • Prolonged periods of inactivity

    If you notice any of these, your fish may be suffering from a disease. Some of the common problems at this stage are fungal and parasitic infections. It is recommended that you consult a veterinarian in such cases.


    Otocinclus catfish make for great additions to your aquarium. Not only are they active and interesting to look at, they are also relatively easy to take care of. Once you are able to get through the initial month or so when most of the casualties take place, you will be able to enjoy enjoy watching your dwarf suckers for a long time to come.

    Photos c/o bert_m_b stee & Carlos Reusser Monsálvez

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    Rainbow Boa Care Sheet

    My first proper introduction to rainbow boas was as a teenager, when I started to date a girl who kept one as a pet. I was immediately taken with the incredible iridescence shown under natural sunlight (or the right artificial lighting). It is this ever-changing color that has resulted in their common name of “rainbow […] The post Rainbow Boa Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    My first proper introduction to rainbow boas was as a teenager, when I started to date a girl who kept one as a pet.

    I was immediately taken with the incredible iridescence shown under natural sunlight (or the right artificial lighting). It is this ever-changing color that has resulted in their common name of “rainbow boa”.

    rainbow boa photo

    Since that first encounter rainbow boas have always been a firm favorite of mine. Not only are they stunning snakes to have in the home, but they also grow to a respectable size, can be far more active than many other popular snakes and can become incredibly tame with gentle, ongoing handling.

    If there is a downside to rainbow boas as pets it is that they are slightly more fussy with the conditions they require. Once these have been achieved, rainbow boas can live long and healthy lives, with many specimens allegedly living to 20 years or more.

    In this rainbow boa care sheet we’ll look at what makes rainbow boa care different to other snakes, and the best ways to achieve these unusual conditions in the home.

    Natural Habitat

    Rainbow boas have the Latin name Epicrates cenchria. Rather than one single species there are actually a number of different recognised rainbow boas. Fortunately the care of all species tends to be very similar indeed.

    The most popular of all is the Brazilian Rainbow Boa. While this species is found in Brazil, it can also be found widely distributed across much of Central and South America, including Costa Rica, Perú & Venezuela.  

    Growing to between 5 and 7 feet in total length – with females typically getting slightly longer while males are more muscular – these are typically nocturnal snakes. Rainbow boas are equally at happy on the ground and are known to be far more active than many other pet snakes.

    As might be expected from a snake found in and around the rainforests of Central and northern South America these snakes they appreciate a high level of humidity – a crucial topic that we’ll cover later on in this care sheet.

    Caging & Vivariums for Rainbow Boas

    boa photo

    The key to successfully keeping rainbow boas in captivity is getting their environmental conditions right. These conditions are quite special, so considerable thought is required to select the most suitable vivarium.

    A suitable rainbow boa cage should incorporate the following elements:


    As a general rule of thumb your snake should be able to full stretch out in it’s cage. For hatchlings this means that a small 10 gallon tank or plastic showbox can work well. However adults will require far more space. A vivarium of 48” (120cm) in length is advised, with a depth of around 24” (60cm).


    Brazilian rainbow boas are quite active snakes, and will sometimes climb when given the opportunity. While the floor space has already been discussed, permitting some vertical height with branches to climb on is also recommended.

    For this reason many people do away with very low tanks, and instead aim to offer 24” (60cm) or more of vertical height. This seems of particular benefit for larger, more mature snakes.


    As we will discuss later, rainbow boas require high levels of humidity. This means that cages offering too much ventilation are often not ideal. For example, if you opt to use a glass fish tank with a standard reptile-safe mesh lid then you’ll want to block off part of the mesh to retain humidity.

    This is one reason why “enclosed” vivariums such as those made of plastic can be particularly successful. If you opt to purchase or buy a melamine wooden reptile vivarium then be sure to add silicone sealant to the joins. This prevents moisture from entering the timber, shortening the lifespan of your cage.

    Air Flow

    While we want to maintain a humid environment, some air flow is still important to prevent a build-up of mould. Cages which give you the opportunity to vary their ventilation can work particularly well for rainbow boas.


    If you live in a temperate part of the world then it’s likely you’re going to need to provide some supplementary heating – at least in the winter months. Think about how you’ll achieve this in the confines of any vivarium you’re considering. More information on temperature and heaters is provided later in this care guide.

    Best Cages / Vivariums for Rainbow Boas

    Now we’ve got the essentials out of the way let’s take a closer look at some specific vivariums that should be suitable for your rainbow boa.

    Plastic Shoe Boxes

    For youngsters and hatchlings many small plastic containers can be turned into a suitable cage. Personally I use Really Useful Boxes in the UK, as I like the way that the lid clips on for additional security.

    The one thing you’ll need to do is to add some ventilation holes. Either cut out a section and replace it with fine gauze/mesh, or use an electric drill (my preference) to just drill a number of holes.  

    Exo Terras

    I utilize Exo Terra glass vivariums extensively in my exotic pet collection. They look great, they’re easy to heat and add lighting to and the front-opening doors make routine maintenance quick and simple. They can also be of use to rainbow boa keepers – with a few provisos.

    Firstly, Exo Terras come with a mesh lid, which means that retaining humidity can be challenging. Therefore if you’re going to use one, be sure to block off some of this mesh. The easiest option I have found is simply to purchase some thin perspex which I place over the top.

    A second weakness is that Exo Terras only come in a limited range of different sizes. This means that while they can work quite well for juvenile rainbow boas they may not be the best option for a full-sized adult snake.

    For someone with a hatchling who wants a mesmerizing display, however, they can work well.

    Aquariums With Mesh Lid

    Aquariums come in a far wider range of different sizes, and even 48” long tanks are quite cheap to buy. Historically the issue has always been how to prevent your snake from escaping; after all snakes can get through the tiniest of gaps. This has been solved thanks to the use of mesh lids which fit over the top.

    As with the Exo Terra, while this mesh prevents escapees, it allows for too much air movement. Once again, therefore, you’ll want to block some of this off to maintain the right humidity levels in your cage.

    You’ll also need to consider that such cages have to be accessed from the top, which can be slightly less practical.

    All told, however, with a few minor changes a glass fish tank with a (modified) lid can represent a cost-effective caging option.

    Wooden Vivariums

    I love wooden vivariums and use them for many of my snakes. They’re cheap to buy (or cheap to build) and the wood helps to retain moisture and heat making for a comfy home.

    If you’re planning to buy or build a wooden vivarium for your snake then there are a few considerations to bare in mind. Firstly, be sure to use aquarium-safe silicone sealant to seal all the joints where the panels meet. This will prevent moisture getting into the wood and causing damage.

    Secondly, be sure to select (or make) a vivarium that includes air vents, permitting a degree of air flow.

    While wooden vivariums therefore represent a decent option for those on a budget, the humid conditions required by your boa mean that such cages may not last as well as other options.

    Plastic Cages

    A small number of plastic vivariums are available on the market – such as those made by Vision. While far from cheap, these are arguably the most practical option of all.

    Made from a single piece of molded plastic they won’t rot in humid conditions, are super-easy to keep clean and hygienic and have been tested by serious reptile keepers for years.

    If you’ve got a decent budget – and a large rainbow boa – then these are probably the best vivariums on the market right now.

    Heating & Temperature

    Perhaps rather unusually for pet reptiles, rainbow boas don’t tend to do very well in overly-hot conditions. While a temperature that is too cool may result in your snake becoming less active or going off it’s food, particularly high temperatures can lead to death.

    You’ll therefore need to maintain your Brazilian rainbow boa’s cage within a very limited range of temperatures.

    The best temperature for a rainbow boa is between 75’F and 80’F (23-27’C).

    It is generally best to heat one end of the tank, allowing the other end to remain cooler. This creates a temperature gradient, permitting your boa to seek out the area that suits it best.

    There are a range of pieces of reptile heating equipment that can help you to accomplish these temperatures:

    Heat Mats & Pads

    Possibly the cheapest and easiest solution is a low-powered heat mat. A suitably-sized mat can be purchased to heat just ¼ to ⅓ of the snake tank. This should be placed on the bottom of the cage.

    The issue with heat mats when it comes to rainbow boas is how best to install them. The heat may struggle to pass through wood or thicker plastic, meaning that it has to be placed directly inside the tank.

    While heat mats are waterproof to a degree, they can struggle in a humid environment. As a result, if you opt to use a heat mat either place it under the tank (if you’re using a glass tank) or inside it, but under the substrate, in other cages. Be sure to monitor it regularly to make sure the heater doesn’t suffer from moisture ingress.

    Please note that due to the reasonably modest upper temperature level it is crucial to use a thermostat with the heat mat. The probe should be placed at the hottest part of the cage to prevent overheating. Click here to learn more about choosing the right reptile thermostat.

    Ceramic Bulbs

    Ceramic bulbs represent a great alternative, and are one of my favorite type of heaters of all. These bulbs are placed inside the tank, and reflect heat down to a basking spot below. They don’t produce any visible light so can be left on 24/7.

    It is important to note that ceramic bulbs can get very hot so there are two number of important considerations before installing one. Firstly ensure you install a suitable bulb guard, which will prevent direct contact between your snake and the bulb. Doing so eliminates the chances of burns.

    Secondly, as with other reptile heaters, be sure to choose a suitable thermostat. Note that you’ll need a very different type of thermostat for a ceramic bulb. If you’re unsure read my thermostat guide here.

    I also have a beginner’s guide to using ceramic reptile heaters here.

    Heat Lamps

    Not my preference, but some keepers opt to use a heat lamp that produces visible light. All the standard rules – bulb guards and thermostats – also apply here.  


    Brazilian rainbow boas, like their cousins, are typically nocturnal snakes. Therefore they don’t have a specific need for artificial lighting in the home. That said, without such lighting you’re unlikely to see your rainbow in their full glory.

    As a result, while it is by no means a necessity, many keepers opt to install artificial lighting. If you opt to go down this route aim for a bulb that mimics the wavelengths given off naturally by the sun, so you can enjoy the full iridescence of your snake.

    Water & Humidity

    boa photo

    As we have discussed, rainbow boas require a high relative humidity to thrive in captivity.

    Stories abound on discussion forums about specimens passing away when they have been kept too dry.

    Water and humidity is therefore one of the most important elements of all to successfully keeping rainbow boas as pets. Here’s what you need to know…

    Water Bowl

    Your rainbow boa should have access to a bowl of fresh water at all times. This should be thoroughly cleaned daily in reptile-safe detergent to prevent the build-up of potentially harmful bacteria.

    Brazilian rainbow boas will often attempt to fully submerge themselves in their water bowl for a good soak. This dictates the size of the water bowl; it should be large enough that your snake can entirely curl up inside it, with a water level that is low enough that it won’t spill out while your snake bathes. A wide, shallow water bowl therefore tends to work well.

    As Brazilian rainbow boas are surprisingly strong snakes my personal preference is for a a heavy stoneware cat or dog bowl (depending on the size of the snake) that isn’t easily up-ended or moved around the cage.  

    Regular Sprayings

    Rainbow boas thrive when the humidity in their cage sits at around 75-90%. In order to accomplish this invest in a good-quality houseplant spray gun and routinely spray the inside of the vivarium.

    It may be necessary to do this daily to maintain the correct conditions. Be sure to use lukewarm water and try to avoid spraying directly at your snake. 

    Controllable Ventilation

    Just because your rainbow boa appreciates a humid environment doesn’t mean that there should be no ventilation. A warm, stuffy cage creates the perfect conditions for microbes and mould to grow.

    Therefore you should select a cage that allows for air movement.

    Best of all are cages with variable ventilation, so you can experiment with spraying and ventilation to create the optimal conditions.


    To help maintain high humidity levels many keepers opt to provide a “moss box” for their snake.

    A snake-safe hide is added to the cage, under which moist sphagnum moss is placed. This moss itself can be moistened every few days. In this way your snake will always have somewhere humid to sit if it so desires.

    Suitable Substrate & Regular Cleaning

    It is important to appreciate that humid conditions can not only rot substrate but can allow mould to grow. Neither of these is acceptable for a pet rainbow boa.

    Therefore be sure to choose a substrate that works well in a humid tank, and take care to remove uneaten food, faeces and sloughed skins promptly to keep conditions in the cage hygienic.

    Best Substrates for Rainbow Boas

    The most important thing when considering which substrate to choose for your rainbow boa tank is whether it can withstand a humid environment. Many popular snake substrates quickly rot and go mouldy under such conditions.

    Fortunately there are still a range of options available to you. Some of the best substrates are:

    • Cypress mulch
    • Orchid bark
    • Rainforest substrate
    • Coir granules (coconut fibre)
    • Chemical-free potting compost
    • Paper towels (if these are replaced regularly)
    • Newspaper (I dislike the use of newspaper but many use it successfully)

    Even when using these substrates be sure to keep a close eye on any mould that may appear and spot clean it as necessary.

    Brazilian rainbow boas don’t tend to dig too much, so a deep substrate is unnecessary. Personally I like to use just a couple of inches of substrate. I like to routinely spray the substrate as well as the rest of the tank, so that it retains and slowly gives out moisture.

    Tank Decor

    We’ve discussed the importance of a decent-sized water bowl and a substrate that can cope with humid conditions. You know how to heat and light your cage now too. But what else should be present in terms of tank decor?

    Here are some suggestions to consider:


    Every snake kept as a pet should have the opportunity to hide away from view when it suits them. Brazilian rainbow boas are really no different.

    Whether you use a moulded “cave” for your snake, a piece of hollow cork bark or even just a cereal box your snake should be able fully conceal themselves in the hide.

    If the cage allows I like to include two different hides – one at the warm end and one at the cooler end.

    As discussed earlier, consider stuffing one of these hides with damp sphagnum moss to further increase the humidity available to your snake.

    Climbing Branches

    Rainbow boas will catch birds in the wild if the opportunity presents itself. While not fully arboreal many keepers find that their snake happily climbs around any branches present.

    To add environmental enrichment for your snake – as well as making your vivarium look impressive – consider adding some sandblasted vines or other branches for climbing.

    Artificial Plants

    Artificial plants aren’t an absolute necessity but they can add visual interest to your boa cage, as well as giving your snake more privacy. I’m a fan of using artificial silk plants which can look very realistic indeed.

    Rocks and/or Wood

    Lastly, rocks or other pieces of wood can be added to the cage. I strongly encourage you to buy these from a reputable reptile store to reduce the odds of introducing parasites into your rainbow boa cage.

    Also, be sure these are securely fitted so they can’t crush your snake. Wood, for example, can be siliconed or tied into place to prevent it moving or falling.

    Rainbow Boa Feeding & Food

    Being so widespread in their native habitat, Brazilian rainbow boas have been studied extensively in both the wild and in laboratories.

    One fascinating piece of work involved dissecting preserved museum specimens to examine the contents of their stomachs. The scientists noted that “mammals constitute the primary prey” while less often rainbow boas may “prey on birds more opportunistically”.  

    This very closely matches up to what reptile keepers have long grown to know – that suitably-sized rodents make a perfect staple diet for rainbow boas. Larger specimens may also accept the odd day-old chick to vary their diet.

    Brazilian rainbow boas tend to have a healthy appetite in captivity, being far less fussy likely to go on extended fasts than ball pythons. As a result most will readily accept pre-killed mice and rats of a suitable size.

    Live feeding of rodents is never recommended if it can be avoided, as this not only places your snake in danger of bites or scratches, but is illegal in some countries too (I’m looking at you UK!).

    Rainbow boas will usually accept a rodent of the same size as the widest part of their body. Smaller prey can still be fed if that is all that is available to you.

    I personally maintain a freezer filled with different sized mice and rats for my collection. On feeding day a suitable rodent is removed from the freezer, placed into a plastic bag and suspended in warm water. This helps to speed up the thawing process, and also ensures you’re feeding a “warm” rodent to your boa. I have found that this seems to make the rodent more appealing to many snakes.

    Be careful when feeding as some snakes may strike in your direction, unaware you are not the rodent. It is generally easiest and safest to use feeding tongs or long forceps to place the rodent into the tank.

    Bearing in mind that rainbow boas are naturally nocturnal it generally makes sense to feed your boa late in the evening as the light is starting to dim. If you find that the rodent remains uneaten the next morning then remove it to avoid spoiling.

    Also be sure to spot clean any substrate as necessary; in the humid, warm conditions of a Brazilian rainbow boa cage any debris can quickly become unpleasant.

    In terms of feeding frequency, most baby rainbow boas will eat every 4-5 days, while adults are typically fed every 7-10 days.

    Be aware that, like some other popular pet snakes, rainbow boas can become obese in captivity. Moderate feeding and suitable space to move around should help to limit this risk.

    Handling Rainbow Boas

    One reason why Brazilian rainbow boas have become so popular over the years is their calm demeanor as adults.

    They attain a size that is easily managed in captivity; large enough to enjoy handling without risk of damaging your pet, but not so large as to worry about dangers to your own health if things go south.

    Hatchlings, in contrast, are often rather more feisty and may attempt to strike while they are being got out of the cage.

    The key is starting early and getting your snake used to short, calm periods of handling. It is often safest to use a snake hook to gently remove your rainbow boa from their cage. Once outside most specimens calm down considerably.

    Scientific studies have shown that the females – which tend to grow slightly longer – tend to adapt more quickly to handling.

    Handling rainbow boas can be particularly rewarding as these are such active snakes.

    Unlike a ball python that may just sit motionless in your hand, rainbow boas tend to represent a much more engaging experience. On the other hand, due to the heightened activity level be sure to hold the snake securely, ensuring that the cage remains open so it can be easily replaced.

    Ideally aim to handle your snake over a low, soft object such as a mattress, so that if it should make a break for freedom then it won’t suffer damage in the fall.

    Photo by berniedup

    Photo by berniedup

    The post Rainbow Boa Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

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