Sunbeam Snake Facts and Information

This iridescent snake has been rising in popularity lately due to its stunning appearance. Read more to see if this snake is right for you.

The Sunbeam Snake is a petite, nocturnal snake with high humidity requirements. When viewed in natural sunlight, they will have an iridescent appearance. This Snake is recommended for handlers who are looking for a lowkey snake who will spend most of their time during the day sleeping in their burrow.

First, I will discuss the physical characteristics of the Sunbeam Snake, its origin, and the reasons for its popularity. Then, we will discuss the snake’s size, lifespan, and tank requirements. I will go further in-depth about their high humidity levels, substrate options, and optimal temperatures. Next, I will dive into their diet and common health issues. After that, the discussion will turn towards their temperament and captive behavior. Finally, I will summarize the article, so the reader will be able to make an informed decision on whether the Sunbeam Snake would make a great pet for them.


The Sunbeam Snake, or Iridescent Earth Snake, is known for its stunning, rainbow colors and petite build. These snakes are black or brown and have an iridescent quality to their scales when they are viewed in sunlight. This means that on cloudy days or when kept in captivity without overhead lighting, this snake will appear black with no iridescent coloring. This is important to note, as many people want this pet due to its unique coloring. They are native to humid areas in Southeast Asia and China. These snakes can be found in muddy rice fields, slithering through the moist ground. In the wild, they will hunt amphibians, birds, small lizards, some mammals and mice that burrow beneath the soil. They spend the majority of their time burrowing underground during the day and then surface at night to hunt.

The irredescent quality of the Sunbeam Snake’s scales.

 Many of the available pets are wild-caught and are shipped from Southeast Asia. These snakes may arrive ill from their long journey to the United States. It is always best to seek out a local, captive-bred establishment to ensure a healthy snake. If you can’t find a local breeder and choose to get a wild-caught Sunbeam Snake, a wellness check at an exotics veterinarian is highly recommended.

Generally speaking, the Sunbeam Snake would be a good beginner to intermediate snake for someone newer to the hobby. The main issue would be creating a high humidity environment. However, if a misting system is set up, the handler should be able to easily maintain the optimal humidity for this snake to thrive in captivity. Their smaller size and shorter lifespan are also conducive to a novice handler. These snakes do not enjoy being handled, making them low maintenance pets. The Sunbeam Snake is a good choice for beginner to intermediate handlers who are looking for a smaller, easier-to-care-for snake than some of the popular Boas or Pythons.

Physical Characteristics and Lifespan

This petite snake will reach a length of about 3 feet, making them smaller and thinner than some of the other popular snakes. The widest part of their body will be about the size of a quarter. They have a small, pointed head and a cream-colored underbelly. Their small wedge-shaped head can be used to burrow through the Earth. These snakes have smooth, overlapping scales that are conducive to burrowing and prevent dirt from being trapped between their scales. The small ridges in their scales make it easier for them to glide through the dirt. These overlapping scales act similar to a prism and create a rainbow effect. During most interactions, your snake will be black, brown, or grey in appearance. When the sunlight hits their scales, they will show off their beautiful rainbow coloring.

These constrictor snakes will only live about 10 years with optimal husbandry, which makes them less of a commitment than some other snakes. These burrowing snakes should have a 55-gallon tank, and appreciate the extra space to roam. They are not arboreal, so height is not as important as length. You will find them cautiously exploring their ground cover at night, or burrowing during the day. Make sure to provide your snake with lightweight decor, to give them sufficient places to hide. These snakes can be shy and are easily spooked. Providing multiple hiding spots will help your snake feel more comfortable. 

Tank Requirements

Because of this snake’s penchant for burrowing, it is important to have around 6 inches of loose substrate that mimics the qualities of soil. Paper towels or newspaper substrate is not sufficient for this breed. When organizing their vivarium, refrain from placing heavy basking rocks in there. The Sunbeam Snake will be an avid burrower and may burrow underneath heavy decorations. There is a risk that the decoration could cause the tunnel system to collapse, possibly pinning your snake underneath. These snakes love humid conditions, so make sure to dampen the substrate daily. Most of the snake’s time will be spent burrowing during the day and exploring the enclosure at night.

You have a few options for the composition of your substrate, but it is best to play around with different mixtures until you find something that holds its shape when wet and does not get dusty when it dries. This snake enjoys high humidity levels, so the substrate should be fairly moist at all times. As an owner, you can experiment with different ratios of eco earth, coco choir, play sand, and peat moss. It doesn’t have to be bought specifically with pets in mind, and you may be able to find the same organic ingredients for far cheaper at the local hardware store. Just make sure that whatever substrate you buy is organic and you sterilize it before placing it in the vivarium. This is an important step and ensures that you are not introducing any harmful organisms to your Sunbeam Snake’s habitat. The easiest way to sterilize the substrate is to heat it in your oven until the core temperature of the mixture is heating to 200 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes. Be careful that your soil does not reach higher temperatures, as this can cause the organic matter to release harmful toxins. Make sure to monitor the dirt closely when it is in the oven to prevent overheating or ignition. Remove it from the oven to cool and cover it until you are ready to place it in your Sunbeam Snake’s vivarium. After it has cooled to room temperature, you may introduce the substrate into your snake’s habitat.

These nocturnal snakes thrive with lower temperature gradients than most other reptiles. The cool side should be kept at around 70 degrees with the basking side not reaching hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A thermostat should be used at all times to prevent overheating. Thermostats use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of an area in the enclosure and shut off the heating apparatus when optimal temperatures are reached. When you program the thermostat to shut the heating fixture off at a certain temperature, you are preventing overheating and possible electrical fires from malfunctioning bulbs. There should be a temperature and humidity gauge at both ends of the enclosure to ensure an optimal gradient. If you can provide your snake with stable humidity and temperature control, it will greatly improve their quality of life and reduce any husbandry-related health problems.

  A low wattage basking lamp would be the best form of heat for this species. These lamps provide sufficient levels of ambient heat, but will also cause reduced humidity in the enclosure. To maintain minimum temperature requirements, a heating fixture may be needed at night to maintain 70 degrees in the enclosure. It is important to note that if you need supplemental heating at night, you are using a ceramic heat emitter. You will need to provide your snake with a regular day and night cycle. This means that there will be light during the day, but at night the tank will be dark. This is especially important for nocturnal snakes. Ceramic Heat Emitters will provide subtle warmth without lighting up the enclosure and disrupting your snake’s sleep cycle. Refrain from using infrared light bulbs for nighttime heating. Recent studies have shown that the reptiles can see the light and that it interfered with their ability to sleep.

While UVB is not considered necessary for most snakes, providing UVB lighting will increase the quality of their life and will not harm them. It will also allow you to see the rainbow coloring that makes this snake so popular. Without sufficient lighting, you may not be able to witness that iridescent phenomenon. UVB helps snakes create Vitamin D, which is helpful for proper bone formation. UVB can be introduced during the day cycle to maintain health and visibility.

 A misting system is necessary to keep this snake happy with a humidity level of 75-100%. A shallow water dish large enough for complete submersion should also be provided, but not so deep that your snake can drown. The water should be changed multiple times a week to prevent the buildup of algae and substrate. DIY misting systems are the most effective way to create stable humidity levels. There are commercial misting systems available, but they are notably more expensive and are known for breaking within the first year. Creating your own misting system will run about 75$ and it will work for years to come. This can be accomplished pretty easily by connecting a water pump to a water source and tubing with nozzles to direct the water in the cage. Then, you can set it on an outlet timer, allowing it to run on a customized schedule. You should be able to find the components to create a durable misting system at your local hardware store and the setup is minimal. It is not recommended to hand mist these enclosures daily, as this will need to be done at least once an hour to keep the humidity levels above 75%. Most people are unable to stay home every day to mist their snake’s enclosure sufficiently.

Captive Diet

Similar to most pet snakes, the Sunbeam Snake will be fed primarily on frozen, captive-bred mice. Captive-bred rodents will reduce the likelihood of your snake contracting parasites from its meal. Refrain from feeding live prey, especially unmonitored. Live prey will fight for their life and can injure your snake in the process. If you do need to feed your pet live prey, monitor the interaction closely and remove the prey if your snake is not eating it. This snake is considered a hardy, fast eater. So, food refusal should be rare. They are constrictor snakes, so they will squeeze their prey until dead. This is a unique trait to watch in captivity.

Due to this snake’s petite size and small jaw, frozen mice are a better choice than rats. Make sure that you are not feeding your snake prey that is larger than the snake is wide. It is best to feed your snake multiple smaller prey items than it is to feed one large item. Adults can be fed every other week, with subadults eating about twice a week. Subadults can be fed fuzzy mice and adults will be able to digest hopper mice. 

When thawing out the rodents, place the frozen mouse in a Ziploc bag with cool water to defrost overnight. A few hours before you are planning on feeding your snake, place the mouse in warm water. This will slowly heat the rodent to room temperature, and make it more enticing for your snake. Refrain from microwaving the mouse, as this can cause uneven heating and possibly burns. Tongs are recommended for feeding snakes. This reduces the likelihood that your snake will associate your hands with food and potentially bite you during handling sessions.

Refrain from holding your snake for the first 72 hours after it eats. This can cause regurgitation of its meal and can severely stress your snake. Snakes need time to rest and digest their meals in peace. If your snake regurgitates, do not feed it again right away. Let it rest until the next scheduled feeding. When the time has come to feed your snake again, make sure that you are feeding half the amount of food as normal. This will prevent regurgitation from happening again. 

 You can monitor the progression of the digestive process by watching the food lump that will appear in your snake. If it becomes smaller with each passing day, your snake is properly digesting the meal. If the food lump does not decrease in size, refrain from feeding your snake again as it may lead to impaction. Impaction is when your snake’s digestive system becomes clogged. Impaction can be deadly if not promptly treated. A vet visit is essential if you suspect your snake is impacted or if regurgitation is occurring regularly. 

Health Issues

Sunbeam snakes have a shorter lifespan while in captivity. Many of these snakes are wild-caught imports. This means that they were caught in the wild in their native habitat and shipped to the US. This poses a few problems. Wild-caught snakes are known for their hard-to-tame personalities and the possibility of health issues upon arrival. Parasites are common with wild-caught snakes. Your snake should be monitored for any health concerns. If possible, contact local breeders for captive-bred Sunbeam Snakes.

Sunbeam Snakes react to certain bacterial infections by developing painful blisters on their body. If this medical condition occurs, take your snake to the nearest exotics vet and sterilize their enclosure before they are reintroduced. To prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria in their enclosures, spot clean daily and deep clean at least once a month.


Sunbeam snakes are a good choice for someone who wants a low-key, smaller snake that prefers to be left alone. These snakes are burrowers, so they will remain hidden from view for the majority of the day. They are also nocturnal, so they will be active primarily at night. This means that you will not be able to see or interact with your snake daily. This may be a good thing for owners who want a snake without the hassle of frequent interactions. It is also important to note that because the snake burrows during the day and comes out at night, you will be limited in seeing the rainbow coloring that makes it such a popular pet. More often than not, your snake will look like a plain black or brown snake with a cream-colored belly. In addition, due to its nocturnal activity, it is not recommended that your snake be disturbed during the day when it sleeps. Handling and feeding sessions should occur during sunset or later. This will prevent you from disturbing its sleep. 

This species of snake does not enjoy being handled frequently. It can stress your snake and lead to health problems. When snakes are stressed, their immune system can become compromised. This can result in severe illness and even death. It is hypothesized that their shorter lifespan is due in part to the stress of captive care. It is important to monitor your snake for stress and to limit handling if this is the case. A good rule of thumb is to handle your snake once a week and watch for any signs of stress. When stressed, the Sunbeam Snake may emit a pungent odor from its vent, a warning to leave it alone. Tongue flicks and slowly exploring is a sign that your snake is relaxed when being handled. Make sure that you are supporting their bodies during handling sessions. If your snake seems relaxed, you may increase the frequency of handling.

Here’s a fun fact, the Sunbeam Snake’s teeth are on hinges, so they can subtly wiggle back and form. Sunbeam snakes can be shy, but they are not known for biting as a defense mechanism. If they do bite, their teeth are small and it shouldn’t be a medical emergency. If you are bitten, clean the area immediately to prevent infection. Monitor the area for redness and swelling. Contact a healthcare professional with any concerns. It is more likely that your snake will shake its tail in an intimidation attempt than it would be to bite. This is similar to what a rattlesnake would dowhen confronted, but no rattling sound comes from the Sunbeam Snake. When threatened, they will release a foul odor from their vent to ward off any attacks. The Sunbeam Snake will use alternative defense mechanisms before it decides to bite you.

Final Thoughts

Sunbeam snakes make a stunning pet for someone who is looking for a smaller snake to watch in its vivarium. Sunbeam snakes may not enjoy being handled. This snake is nocturnal and will frequently burrow. Those looking for an actively visible snake should not consider this breed. This snake will reach 3 feet in length and 10 years in captivity. This makes it less of a commitment than some of the larger, more popular pet snakes. A smaller snake will mean a smaller tank and less money spent on food. 

This snake will also need lower temperatures than many other breeds, but significantly higher humidity. A misting system is necessary to keep this snake happy and moist. Because this nocturnal snake enjoys burrowing, several inches of moist substrate will be necessary. The substrate should be changed every other month to reduce the likelihood of bacteria buildup.

When kept in optimal conditions, this snake will thrive. Monitor for signs of distress or the appearance of blisters on its body. Obtain your snake from a local breeder, if possible, to reduce potential health issues. Sunbeam snakes are stunning snakes known for their iridescent color display in natural light. These beautiful snakes would be a great choice for night owls who are looking for a laidback companion who prefers to be hidden from view.