|Common Name:||Sunbeam Snake|
|Scientific Name:||Xenopeltis unicolor|
|Life Span:||9 to 12 years|
|Size:||0.9 to 1.25 meters|
|Habitat:||Parks, gardens, forest clearings, scrubland, rice paddies, and marshes|
|Country of Origin:||Southeast Asia and Southern China|
The Sunbeam Snake, also known as the Iridescent Earth Snake, is among the two species that belong to the family Xenopeltidae. The other species is the Hainan Sunbeam Snake. These creatures deserve to be called Sunbeam Snakes because they have smooth scales that can be very iridescent when they stay under the sun. The same is the effect if the camera flash touches their scales.
Sunbeam Snakes are brown when exposed to normal light. Each of their scales is pale-edged and pale underneath. The young snakes are darker with a light collar across the rear side of their neck. Also, these snakes have a robust body with a flattened head that is not wider than their bodies. They also have a rounded snout and small eyes while their tails are short.
The backs of Sunbeam Snakes are dark purplish-brown or even black. However, their scales shine in green, blue, red, and yellow when these snakes slither out on the bright and sunny day. They even look good with their whitish belly. This coloring goes up to the collar around the back of their head and in front of their neck while they are still young. The heads of Sunbeam Snakes are wedge-shaped which help them dig into the soil when making a burrow.
In terms of size, adults normally reach less than 3 feet or 0.9 meters long. Others can grow for up to 49 inches or 1.25 meters. The sunbeam snakes are amazing species. If they held under the lighting or the sun, they become a beautiful, living rainbow.
Beyond their amazing capability, sunbeam snakes vary from other snakes that they choose to be wet and a little cooler, requiring humidity and dampness. Due to their fossorial nature or adaptation to burrowing and spending their underground, they want to burrow in wet dirt. They stay hidden for most of the day.
Geographic Range and Habitat
Sunbeam Snakes live in Southeast Asia and Southern China. These snakes are fully terrestrial and inhabit lowland to lower montane wild, disturbed habitats, and scrubland. On the local scale, these snakes prefer the boggy, wet, or swampy ground where they follow a partly burrowing routine. In the woods, Sunbeam Snakes live in a swampy area like the rice paddies. They are excellently adapted to live in a place with damp climates. If you wish to keep one as a pet, then you should give it a moist environment. Often, they burrow in mud and soil when hunting for rodents, frogs, and other tiny reptiles.
Sunbeam Snakes are nonvenomous. They stay out of the sight for the most of the day, remaining underground in the burrows. Sunbeam snakes use their wedge-shaped heads in pushing through litter, leaves, and loose soil. Though they can dig, Sunbeam Snakes often use the burrows made and left by other others.
These snakes go out of the burrows only when they need to hunt and eat. Sunbeam Snakes are solitary and secretive animals that like privacy. They are not aggressive, but they don’t find frequent handling a good thing. Frequent handling causes these snakes to feel stressed and disturbed. Sunbeam Snakes must be touched minimally and left to their devices whenever possible.
Sunbeam Snakes are also timid that they love to be left on their own. In most cases, they feel stressed out when picked up. However, when picking them up to clean the cage or for other reasons, the snake seems to be not aggressive. There should be no problem handling it just like the other snakes.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that the Sunbeam Snakes excrete a foul musk when worried. Thus, unless you like to shower, avoid prodding, poking, and holding your pet. Don’t do anything that can make it feel threatened. You can handle them only once or twice per week. Sunbeam Snakes are mild-tempered. They rarely bite, but they may do it as self-defense when feel threatened.
While these snakes feel shy, their attitude changes in the long run with regular proper handling. Sunbeam Snakes are calm and friendly as they don’t show any signs of distress around strangers.
Moreover, Sunbeam Snakes become more active in the evening. They often go out of the burrows and hunt in this period. They move fast with their heads pressed against the ground while letting their tongue flick repeatedly to pick up the scents of any animal in the air. If they feel threatened, the Sunbeam Snakes shake their tail like what the rattlesnakes do.
However, the Sunbeam Snakes don’t have rattles, so their tails move quietly. When predators are around, these snakes will emit a foul-smelling scent oozing from their vent section. If touched by the predators, they will stiffen their bodies and jerk about madly. While this action does not pose danger to predators, it will still be enough to drive them away.
Limited information is available on how long these snakes can live in the woods. However, when they grow in captivity, they reach the age of 12 though they have an average lifespan of 9 years.
Also, limited information is available about breeding Sunbeam Snakes. Some breeders have reliably bred these animals yet. Almost all sunbeam snakes are caught and raised in captivity. However, it is not an issue as the pet trade comes with little effect over the wild populations.
Sunbeam snakes are oviparous. Every clutch consists of 3 to 17 eggs.
Common Health Problems among Sunbeam Snakes
Since they are mostly imported, these snakes typically carry worms and parasites. Treatment is necessary and should be given as soon as possible. After buying a Sunbeam Snake, take it first to the nearest herp or exotic veterinarian before bringing it home.
Sunbeam Snakes are typically covered with blisters all over their bodies because they aren’t well-housed before being offered for sale. If your pet has blisters, then treat it with antibiotics.
They like the wet and humid environment. However, this kind of environment is quite problematic as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. So, be meticulous when cleaning the cage.
Remove the fecal matter promptly. At the same time, you must replace the used substrate every few weeks. But, change it as often as possible when there are signs of mold.
A substrate made of coconut fiber is an excellent choice as it can effectively absorb bad odor and help prevent mold from breeding and spreading. Nonetheless, the humidity level should be consistently high for the snake’s health and comfort. Don’t forget to replace the water bowl’s content regularly.
Ideally, you must clean the cage regularly. Do it up to 4x in a year, which means clean your pet’s enclosure every 3 months using a 10% bleach solution. Rinse the cage thoroughly and dry it after.
Bad husbandry often leads Sunbeam Snakes to some common health problems. They can be carriers of worms and mites that may cause a variety of diseases. Your pet is sick if you notice any of the following signs:
- Poor appetite
- Labored breathing
- Fluid discharge from the nostrils and mouth
Sunbeam Snakes seem to be somewhat similar to some species of snakes. These include:
Red-Tailed Pipe Snakes
These snakes have shorter and thicker tails and bands of white or black under their bellies.
Yellow-Bellied Water Snakes
These snakes are iridescent. They come with a wide head instead of the narrow wedge-shaped one. Also, these snakes are yellow to cream on the bottom.
Rainbow Water Snakes
They have dark and light lines run down their bodies instead of iridescent scales. These snakes also come with longer and skinnier tails.
Sunbeam Snakes help in controlling the populations of mice and rats. They eat small rodents, lizards, frogs, and other snakes. It is eaten by bigger monitors and snakes.
Conservation Threats and Status
These snakes remain common due to their wide distribution and tolerance for most habitats, involving the areas near the houses. However, Sunbeam Snakes are massively caught for their skins and commercial pet trade.
Interactions with Humans
Sunbeam Snakes and humans leave each other alone in most cases. However, these snakes are getting more and more popular as reptile pets. Many people are fascinated with their color-changing scales.
Keeping Sunbeam Snakes as pets can be challenging, though. That is true because they stay underground in most cases. They even give off a bad smell when handled.
These snakes can also get very nervous. Stress can be a reason for their immediate death right after they’re bought. Besides, the snakes don’t reproduce well in captivity. Meaning, people should hunt them in the woods to supply the commercial pet sale instead of raising the babies from the captured snakes.
Sunbeam Snakes are not dangerous to humans. They rarely bite. They don’t have venom, so they are not harmful to humans.
It’s best to house the Sunbeam Snakes in the enclosure with plastic or wooden sides. Glass aquariums are not advisable as they absorb heat. They may become overheated and burnt without close monitoring of temperatures. Also, the clear sides and tops of the glass terrariums cause stress to snakes.
It is best to buy a vivarium or terrarium made especially for snakes. These cages are easy to open on top, but they remain secure and strong enough. You can also apply an opaque film, but it must be okay with a terrarium.
A 40-gallon vivarium is big enough to house a Sunbeam Snake. Your pet must be shorter than the width and length of a vivarium. Since it spends most of its time digging the soil, it does not need branches or any other decorations inside its enclosure.
The amount of substrate and conditions are more important than anything else. However, you can still put some decorations in the enclosure of your pet if you want to. Likewise, you must provide your pet with an artificial cave. The animal will love it for sure.
This artificial cave will serve as the best spot for your pet’s favorite activity – hiding. This cave should be big enough so that your pet can hide it completely whenever it wants to. An artificial cave made for snakes can be made of a clay pot or something else. Chose what you think is the best for your Sunbeam Snake.
The best substrate for the cage of your pet is something dirt-like. The top bedding should be around 4 to 8 inches in depth. This will encourage your pet to burrow. Coconut coir combined with peat moss is a good choice for the substrate. This combination will create the dirt-like bedding for your pet.
The bedding should be damp. Prop up a side of the cage slightly. By doing this, you can collect the water on the other side, making the spot wet with a muddy consistency. The rest of the bedding must be extremely moist.
You can also go for a substrate in brick form. In using it, all you have to do is soak it in the water, allowing it to break down. This should form a humid environment for your snake. Since it’s great at retaining moisture, it makes sure the humidity is always at its best level. Feel free to include a sphagnum moss in it.
You can also use a substrate consisting of 1 part sand and 3 parts peat moss. A coconut fiber-based substrate is a nice option as well because it can effectively retain the moisture while it’s good at absorbing the bad odor.
The enclosure’s ambient temperature must be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 26.6 degrees Celsius with the warm spot reaching 29.4 degrees Celsius or 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In creating a warm spot inside your pet’s enclosure, tape the heat mat to the tank’s underside. This will create a temperature gradient in which one part of the enclosure is cool while the opposite is warm.
In regulating the enclosure’s temperature, you can use a heat mat thermostat. With a temperature gradient, your pet can regulate and maintain the ideal body temperature by moving all over the temperature. The temperature at night may drop, but it should not be lower than 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 degrees Celsius.
Sunbeam Snakes need increased humidity levels for them to grow. The level of humidity within the enclosure should not be lower than 75 percent. Ideally, the humidity level should be between 80 to 100 percent. If you’re living in places with high humidity levels, then it must be easier to maintain the right humidity level within your pet’s tank.
You can increase the humidity and keep it at the ideal range in many ways. For beginners, the best way of doing it is by using substrates like peat moss, cypress mulch, green moss, sphagnum, and coconut coir. These substances are great in retaining moisture and promoting humidity. Additionally, you can mist the bedding regularly with a mister. Lastly, give it a humid box and monitor the humidity levels inside the cage by using a humidity monitor.
Last but not least, don’t forget to add a water bowl to your pet’s cage. It’s rare to see a snake drink, but it does when no one can see it. This is true especially for the Sunbeam Snake that is timid. Give it clean and freshwater in a neat bowl every day. Replace the water every day as it can easily get dirty and contaminated.
This water bowl must be large enough for your pet. Even snakes love to bathe for some time. Make sure this water bowl is strong enough and will not flip over when your pet tries to get into it.
As it spends most of its time underground, your Sunbeam Snake doesn’t need any form of special lighting like the UVB lights for reptiles. Day/night light kits or something similar can be used in lighting the cage for 12 hours every day to give a day-night cycle. Also, lighting makes cleaning quicker and easier as you can better assess and check the cage.
Diet and Feeding
Oftentimes, people are shocked to see how fast the Sunbeam Snakes can eat. These snakes grab their prey faster than you imagine. They will constrict and swallow the lifeless animal as faster as they can.
Sunbeam Snakes living in the forest are known to ingest shrews, frogs, moles, lizards, and other tiny vertebrates. When grown in captivity, these snakes tend to strike anything that disturbs the substrate in their cages. Therefore, you must use tongs and give them the right-sized melted frozen mice.
Like boas, Sunbeam Snakes are constrictors. They don’t have fangs, but they have sharp teeth used in grabbing their prey. Once they bite the prey, they will immediately coil and wrap their bodies in the animal, constricting and bringing it to death. Once it dies, these snakes will swallow the prey completely.
When feeding your pet, always give it dead rodents. If the snake is young, it may refuse to accept the lifeless prey at first. If that is the case, you can start feeding it with live prey and then switching to pre-killed or frozen one after a while. Always remember that the jaws of Sunbeam Snakes are smaller than other constrictors, so you can’t offer it a rabbit or something else. Just feed it with smaller foods.
You can feed the hatchlings with a thawed rat every week. A 2-foot long young Sunbeam Snake can eat 2 to 3 fuzzy rats per feeding. Adult snakes can take 2 to 3 hopper mice. Like the babies, you must feed the young snakes every week. For adults, feed them every 2 weeks.
When it’s time to feed your snake, don’t forget to defrost and heat the food properly before giving it. For your safety, use tweezers or tongs in feeding the animal. Feeding it with your hands may end up getting yourself hurt by the snake. While the bite of a Sunbeam Snake is not dangerous, still it could become a traumatic experience for anyone. It will also be a bad experience for the animal as you will frighten it once you involuntarily jerk your hands back.
Snakes of all species shed their old skin from birth until adulthood. Shedding often occurs while they are young. You’ll know your pet is about to shed when its eyes become cloudy. In most cases, snakes can handle the process on their own. Seek help from a professional breeder or veterinarian when you feel your pet is struggling to shed.
Availability – Where to Buy One?
Since they are popular reptile pets, you can buy Sunbeam Snakes from the local pet shops or online pet stores. You can also try to look for a professional breeder in your area.
How to Care for a Sunbeam Snake?
Sunbeam Snakes are among the most curious-looking snakes. It comes with iridescent scales that give it a very polished look. These snakes are black and deflect light in the way that the scales produce a colorful but eerie glow that can constantly change. This particular phenomenon is difficult to capture using a camera. But it is truly spectacular, allowing the Sunbeam Snakes to stand out from the rest.
To keep these snakes happy and healthy, you must provide everything it needs. Of course, it needs a safety shelter, fresh and clean water, a good substrate, and a stable food supply. Food must be more available if you’re taking care of a young Sunbeam Snake.
Facts about Sunbeam Snakes
- The scientific name for Sunbeam Snakes is Xenopeltis unicolor. These snakes are inky black, and their bodies are full of iridescent scales. These snakes shine through when they expose themselves to the sun or any lighting. This phenomenon can also be seen in other snakes like the Colombian Rainbow Boa and white-lipped python.
- The Xenopeltis unicolor belongs to the family Xenopeltidae that includes two species: X. hainanensis and X. unicolor. These species also form the genus Xenopeltis. These two species are both called sunbeam snakes which are identical in look.
- Xenopeltis unicolor is endemic to countries in Southeast Asia like Laos, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Thailand. It also exists in some parts of Indonesia.
- Sunbeam Snakes are typically 3 feet long. They are slim snakes with wedge-shaped heads. It lets them burrow deeply through the soil where they will spend most of their time.
- The scales of Sunbeam Snakes are highly polished. The color of their skin enhances the iridescence. Young Sunbeams have white scales under their head that will disappear in the long run.
- When they feel bothered, the Sunbeam Snakes jerk their bodies and shake their tails. It should serve as a warning. However, these snakes will never attack and bite. When your pet does it, don’t try to pick it up. Just leave it alone.
- Also, Sunbeam Snakes can produce a foul-smelling scent. Its moves plus this unpleasant smell are useful in protecting themselves from predators, both animals, and humans.
- Sunbeam Snakes are fast-eaters. Most reptile keepers who own this snake say they are surprised to see how fast these snakes can eat. Despite that, they can’t feast on big meals. They can only eat frogs, lizards, rats, and other small animals. They don’t have big jaws which may help them ingest rabbits, birds, and other large animals.
- These snakes love to hide. In the woods, they show up only when they are hungry. The same can be the case when kept in an enclosure. That’s why there should be a hiding box or an artificial cave in its cage.
Do Sunbeam Snakes love being handled?
You can handle them, but Sunbeam Snakes are not having fun with the human touch. They should be touched minimally, preferably once or twice a week.
Are Sunbeam Snakes friendly?
Sunbeam Snakes are not friendly because they are timid. They don’t enjoy being handled, but they are never aggressive.
Are Sunbeam Snakes good reptile pets?
Sunbeam Snakes are good reptile pets because they are docile and harmless despite being timid. Besides, they look great with their iridescent scales.
Do Sunbeam Snakes bite?
Sunbeam Snakes are less likely to bite, though they may look fierce when feeling threatened. These timid snakes stay harmless in most cases.
Do Sunbeam Snakes Have Venom?
Sunbeam Snakes don’t have fangs or venom. Therefore, they can be good pets for patient reptile keepers.
How do Sunbeam Snakes kill their prey?
Sunbeam Snakes are constrictors. They kill their prey by wrapping tightly their bodies to their victim. Once it dies, that is only when these snakes ingest the animal.
Are Sunbeam Snakes endangered species?
So far, the Sunbeam Snakes are not listed as endangered species. Their populations remain stable.