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Choosing a Rosy Boa

Although they are very secretive and quite apt to bite, rosy boas have a devout and continually increasing following. There is a sufficient diversity in color and prices to interest both beginning and the advanced hobbyists. And the fact that a pair or a trio of these snakes can live nicely in a tank of only 20-gallon size contributes to their popularity.

Rosy boas initially became popular about 40 years ago, then, for reasons unknown, lost that popularity. What they lost has now been regained and greatly surpassed. Hobbyists covet these little boas – they are generally about three feet long – and are so selective when breeding the snakes that they often designate the particular desert canyon from which the snakes originated in their common name.

Rosy boas are nocturnally oriented, secretive snakes, adept at remaining beneath surface cover, be it human-generated or natural. All are pretty and of small size, but they are also powerful constrictors and an ambush predator. If kept dry and warm, all are hardy. They are easily bred in captivity, and have small clutches of large, living young.

Normal phase rosy boas are available from many sources. Among these are pet stores, specialty dealers, herp expos and breeders, as well as at various Web sites. They are also advertised in the classified sections of reptile magazines. The various aberrant colors are still so expensive that they are not yet pet store items. These still must be sought from specialist reptile dealers and breeders.

Nearly all the rosy boas in the pet trade are captive bred. They sell from $75 to more than $500 each.

Although a rosy boa can be rather snappy (especially at feeding time), its small size renders it relatively harmless. Discounting this tendency to snap, we consider these excellent starter snakes for hobbyists in arid climates.

Origin and Life Span

The various subspecies of rosy boas occur in the southwestern United States, northwestern mainland Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. The scientific nomenclature is muddied on these snakes, so we will merely designate them as subspecies of Charina (Lichanura) trivirgata and acknowledge a coastal, an inland and a Mexican form. You may see many references to a Central Baja and an Arizona subspecies, but at the moment these are not officially recognized. Documented captive longevity for a rosy boa is more than 31 years.


Typically clad in scales of cream and orange, gray and brown, or straw yellow and chocolate, rosy boas are pretty and, if healthy, have an opalescent overlay to their colors, which vary geographically.

Those from coastal California are often quite dark – having poorly delineated stripes of brown or reddish-brown against a ground color of gray. The race found in northwestern mainland Mexico has a straw yellow to cream ground color against which the chocolate stripes are precisely delineated. The desert phase has a ground color of pale gray with straight-edged stripes of terra-cotta or russet. Arizona specimens are about intermediate in appearance between the Mexican and desert races. A steel-gray patternless morph occurs on northern Baja and extreme southern California and a beautiful orange-striped pearl gray morph occurs on the central Baja Peninsula.

Rosy boas have smooth scales and small eyes with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is proportionately short and thick, but pointed. They are heavy-bodied but a rosy boa has a narrow head that is not much wider than its neck. Cloacal spurs, proportionately larger on the males than on the females, are present. In fact, the spurs of some females are occluded by a fold of skin. Albinism is well-documented in the wild and is now firmly established in captive breeding programs.