Their range stretches from the Pacific Coast east to western Utah and Montana as far north as southern British Columbia in Canada and as far south as the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains in California.
Beside the states where their presence is widely known Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho there have been some rare sightings in Colorado and Alberta.
The rubber boa inhabits a wide variety of habitats ranging from meadows and chaparral, grasslands to deciduous and conifer forests and even high alpine settings. Contrary to most snakes aren't very tolerant to higher temperatures and don't inhabit areas with climates too hot and dry, preferring warm, moist habitats.
But they can live and thrive in surprisingly cold areas, especially for snakes, for that reason rubber boas can be found from sea level to elevations up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m). During the cooler winter months, rubber boas find a burrow to hibernate until the spring when warmer temperatures return.
The rubber boa is primarily nocturnal but probably is also active during dawn and dusk, that one of the reasons that contributes to how rarely they are seen. During the day they spend most of their time under shelters in rocks, logs, leaf litter or animal burrows.
The rubber boa in the most northerly of all boa species and one of the smallest members of the boa family.
Small is a bit of an understatement when comparing them to their much larger relatives native to south America, which include among others the emerald tree boa, boa constrictor, and the giant green anaconda.
The rubber boa as a small, stout, smooth and shiny body with an average length ranging from 14 to 33 inches (38 to 85 cm), females are usually slightly longer than males.
They have short blunt heads no wider than the body with small eyes with and vertical elliptical pupils. Their coloration ranges from tan to dark brown but sometimes they are olive-green, yellow, or orange, with a lighter belly surface.
The species scientific name Charina comes from the Greek word for graceful or delightful and the name bottae in honor of an Italian ship's surgeon, explorer and naturalist Dr. Paolo E. Botta. They get their common name from their smooth and shiny skin and wrinkled or loose appearance giving them a rubbery like look and texture.
Birds of prey, raccoons, ravens, coyotes, skunks, moles, cats even other snakes are known predators and any reasonably sized carnivorous animal present in their habitat is a potential predator for the rubber boa.
Unlike most other snake species, rubber boas never use striking as a defense mechanism
Being a non-venomous snake, when threatened the rubber boa buries its head and coils its body into a ball, leaving the tail, which resembles a head, exposed. The rubber boa will also emit an overpowering musk odor to further ward off potential predators.
Due to the rubber boa amazingly docile behavior, this species often used with children or to help people overcome their fear of snakes. When picked up, rubber boas will gently wrap around the person's wrist.
Taxonomy / Subspecies
Like many other animals, the taxonomic classification of the rubber boa is uncertain and under debate.
In 1920, 3 subspecies were described Pacific rubber boa (C.b. bottae), Great Basin rubber boa (C.b. utahensis) and Southern Californian rubber boa (C.b. umbratica) by Van Denburgh. But these were not widely accepted.
Nowaday scientists disagree on whether the southern rubber boa (Charina umbratica) should be a separate species or only considered a subspecies (C. b. umbratica).
Diet / Feeding
The rubber boa is a slowish small snake that feeds primarily on young nestling mammals like voles, shrews, deer mice among others. They are nocturnal hunters.
But even though small rodents are their preferred prey, rubber boas will eat lizards and snake eggs, lizards, young birds and bats and on occasion even other snakes.
When they do find nestling rodents they will eat the entire litter if given the chance.
The rubber boa will use its blunt tail to deflect any attacks from the mother, holding the attacker at bay with "false strikes" of the tail. That's why they often have extensive scarring on their tails.
The mating season occurs just after the rubber boa emerges from hibernation in the early spring. The rubber boa is an ovoviviparous species, meaning females give birth to live young. But many females will only reproduce once every 4 years, giving birth to up to 9 young, anywhere from August to November.
They are born with around 7 to 9 inches long and reach maturity at around 2 to 3 years of age. Young snakes look very like adults, but often appear pink and somewhat transparent darkening with age.
Conservation / Threats
The rubber boa is a common species with a healthy population throughout their wide range and is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. The species is also listed on CITES Appendix II.
The main threat to the species come from over-collection for the pet trade, although it is currently illegal to sell wild-caught rubber boas in the United States.
However one of the proposed subspecies the southern rubber boa (C. b. umbratica) population is probably declining due to habitat loss and degradation due to logging, wood gathering, smog and resort development. It is currently listed as threatened and therefore protected by California law.
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