Sunbeam Snake

Xenopeltis unicolor

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
    • Temperature:
    • Humidity:
    • Lighting:
  • Substrate:

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, sunbeam snakes eat frogs, other snakes, skinks, lizards, and small mammals.
  • In captivity, they are fed rodents.

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


hot water bottle

Temperature Guidelines

  • Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler.



  • Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a Coleman style coolers that have been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). Small and medium sized snakes travel inside an inside-out, knotted pillowcase. Large snakes travel loose in the cooler that is also bungeed shut.
  • lg cooler sm cooler cooler

Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling


Potential Messaging

  • Snakes are an important link in the food chain. They provide food for many bird and mammal species that prey on them. The main diet of most snakes is rodents. Therefore, snakes provide a very valuable service – pest control. Most snakes are non-venomous and will avoid humans if they can. Venomous snakes want to use their venom to kill small prey animals or to defend themselves; since humans are too big to be considered prey by most snakes, the best way to avoid a bite is not to make the snake feel threatened. Ask guests to avoid any snakes they may see in the wild and appreciate them from a distance.
  • Massive tracts of forested habitat are being converted to large-scale, commercial palm oil plantations. Habitat for orangutans, rhinos, clouded leopards, and many other endangered species on the islands of Southeast Asia has been lost to the palm oil industry for years. Now, Africa and even South America are increasingly affected. Palm oil can be used to make biofuels and shows up commonly in foods and cosmetics sold in the United States. Because of pressure from consumers world-wide many manufacturers have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which promotes practices such as planting palms in long, narrow patches that animals can move through easily without becoming lost and hungry. Please ask guests to be aware of palm oil (frequently listed as palm kernel oil, palmate, or palmitate) in the products that they buy and contact any manufacturer of a product with palm oil asking them (1) to harvest palm oil responsibly or not at all, (2) to join the RSPO, and (3) to mark their products with the RSPO seal.

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Sunbeam snakes are found in Indonesia, India, and southeast Asia. They live in lowland river valleys, rice paddies, and other, similar areas with damp soil near water.

Physical Description

This snake is reddish-brown, brown, or blackish with no patterns. The belly is whitish-gray, also with no pattern. Juvenile snakes have a pale color around the neck. The head is depressed (flattened) which allows for easy burrowing.

The common name of this snake derives from the iridescence of its smooth, skiny scales. In the sunlight or under strong artificial light, the scales scatter the light like a prism, showing a beautiful rainbow coloration.

Maximum size for this species is 4 feet long, but it is usually somewhat less than that.

Life Cycle

Not much is known about the mating or breeding behaviors of sunbeam snakes. Up to 18 eggs are laid per clutch, and the hatchlings resemble adults in appearance and behavior. Sunbeam snakes live for 10 to 15 years.


This snake spends most of the day under ground in the soft soil; they are accomplished burrowers. They will emerge from their burrows at dusk to forage for prey. These snakes are very secretive and fossorial.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is not considered endangered.

Did you know…

  • They have equal-sized teeth that are attached only by ligamentous hinges on their posterior edges (that is, the teeth are attached to ligaments instead of bone.) Such folding teeth allow prey to pass into the esophagus but lock into place when the prey struggles backwards. It also allows them to eat their prey faster so they don’t have to spend as much time above ground, where they are vulnerable to predators themselves.




Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters