A sunbeam snake on the substrate

Sunbeam Snake Care: Everything You Need To Know

Sunbeam snakes are jaw-dropping reptiles that have gotten a lot of attention recently. When you look at their beauty, it’s not hard to see why!

But whenever a pet reptile becomes trendy, there’s a wave of misinformation that follows. You wouldn’t believe some of the recommendations we’ve seen on other sites!

So we’re here to set the record straight.

This guide covers everything you’ll need to know about sunbeam snake care, so you can be confident that you’re fully prepared for ownership.

Species Summary

The sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor) is a gorgeous species that’s recently become more popular in the pet trade. Thanks to some widely spread videos and pictures on social media, these snakes are in high demand!

A sunbeam snake on the substrate

Native to Southeast Asia, sunbeam snakes are fossorial snakes. They like to live in damp forests, rice paddies, and gardens. Rather than spending their time in the trees, they prefer to burrow in the ground and stay hidden.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this snake species floating around out there on the internet. This is usually what happens when there’s a sudden surge in popularity around a particular pet (we see it all the time).

Contrary to popular belief, sunbeam snakes aren’t super difficult to care for. As long as you meet their needs, they can be a rewarding pet snake that provides you with years of enjoyment!

Appearance & Colors

The standout feature of this snake is its coloration. The scales of the sunbeam take on an iridescent finish. In the light, it flashes a spectrum of color that’s quite stunning and aesthetically pleasing.

Furthermore, a thin layer of dark brown or black pigment sits just below the scales. Pair the black backdrop with a rainbow shine and you have a gorgeous snake that you’ll want to show off!

The color of sunbeam snake scales

The rest of the body is relatively standard. The head is wedge-shaped and slightly thin compared to the width of the body. The snake also has very subtle neck delineation, which is useful for its burrowing behavior. On its underside, the scales are much lighter in color.

Expert Tip: Juveniles look very similar to adults. The only exception is a ring of white scales that circles the neck. While striking, the scales gradually fade to black to create a uniform color within a year.

Average Sunbeam Snake Size

The typical sunbeam snake size is 3 to 3.5 feet in length. On rare occasions you’ll see a specimen that gets close to the four foot mark, but that’s very uncommon. In general, these are considered to be a rather moderately-sized snake to keep.

Sunbeam snakes are quite skinny as well! At their widest, these snakes have a diameter that’s very close to a quarter!


The average lifespan of a sunbeam snake is around 10 years in captivity. This is a rather decent lifespan that will give you plenty of time to enjoy them and build a bond.

Expert Tip: These snakes are difficult to age upon importation, leading some to purchase older snakes that seem to die early. Do your best to seek out a reliable and trustworthy seller to limit the chance of this happening!

Some believe that these snakes have a shortened lifespan that’s directly caused by living in captivity. Others think that the shorter life expectancy is a product of importation.

The jury is still out on which theory is the correct one. Regardless, it’s important to provide the best care possible. Like any other species, sunbeams can react negatively to poor living conditions. They can encounter disease that shortens their lifespan all the same.

Sunbeam Snake Care

Despite what you might have heard, sunbeam snake care isn’t too challenging if you follow the correct recommendations. However, they do have some unique requirements that might seem a little unusual for someone who is used to the standard requirements of other snakes.

But with the right information, keeping a sunbeam snake happy and healthy shouldn’t be an issue! Below are some important care guidelines to follow.

Enclosure Size

You have several different options when it comes to the enclosure you use for your sunbeam snake. Below are the two common options we recommend for owners:

  • If you’re a collector, these snakes will do just fine as part of a rack system. Use a tub that can hold no less than 32 quarts.
  • If a standard terrarium is more up your alley, we recommend an enclosure that’s at least 20 inches long and 10 inches wide.

Height isn’t important here, as the sunbeam snake sticks to the ground. However, if you have room for a larger tank with more floor space, go for it! This is a species that actually enjoys having more room.

Expert Tip: You can use a vivarium-style terrarium or a standard aquarium tank. If you go for the latter, make sure you use a mesh-top lid that’s secure and tight.

What To Put In Their Habitat

Sunbeam snakes don’t require a ton of flash and pizzaz! Instead, they prefer a simpler environment (which means less initial setup work for you).

The most important thing you need is a good layer of substrate.

Loose soil-based substrate is best for burrowing. You can use commercial substrate products that use coconut coir as a foundation. Or, you can make your own using a mixture of peat-based soil and san. A mixture of 75 percent peat to 25 percent is best.

Put a layer of about six to eight inches thick at the bottom of your snake’s habitat. This will provide ample depth for burrowing and hiding.

As for decorations on top of the substrate, keep things simple. A slab of lightweight coconut bark or faux log is all you need.

Expert Tip: Avoid including any rocks or heavy wood in their habitat. There’s a high likelihood that your sunbeam snake will burrow underneath it at some point, causing it to collapse on top of them.

Temperature & Lighting

Contrary to what their name might indicate, sunbeam snakes actually like cooler temperatures! They don’t require a sweltering basking spot like other species. In fact, using a basking light could dry them out and cause health issues (more on that later).

While they still require a temperature gradient, the gradient needs to be subtle. Here’s what you’ll need to provide:

  • To create a warm spot, use an under-tank heating pad. Use it to raise temperatures in the warm spot to 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ambient temperatures on the cool side should stay around 70 degrees.

A standard lighting system is all you need to simulate the day/night cycle.

We recommend investing in a digital thermometer to keep track of temperatures in the enclosure. You want to make sure that the environment stays stable even with standard lights.


High humidity is a must! Sunbeam snakes require humidity levels of 75 percent or higher.

You can achieve this with a combination of daily misting and ventilation control. Moisture should cling to the substrate to keep the air muggy. If you live in a cooler environment, you may need to cover mesh tops on the enclosure with foil to keep some of the humidity inside the enclosure.

Expert Tip: Once again, accurate measurement tools are going to be a lifesaver here. Pick up a hygrometer to ensure that humidity levels are high around the clock.


Sunbeam snakes pull moisture from a lot of different sources within their environment. However, it’s still recommended that you provide them with a shallow water dish.

The dish should be wide enough for the snake to get in since they often use it for soaking. You may even observe them drinking as they take a dip!

It’s important to clean the dish regularly and make sure that it always has some fresh water in it. Neglecting this can lead to bacterial buildup and a whole slew of unpleasant diseases.

Food & Diet

In the wild, sunbeam snakes eat a wide variety of foods. They eat frogs, rodents, and small reptiles.

One of the biggest misconceptions about this species is that they need those foods in captivity as well. While they’ll certainly accept them, most owners choose to provide mice exclusively.

Xenopeltis unicolor preparing for food

They will probably prefer live mice in the beginning. However, you can gradually move toward thawed frozen mice as time goes on.

Sunbeams are predatory and constrict their prey before eating. However, they don’t have massive jaws like other species. This means it’s best to provide multiple smaller mice in a single feeding rather than a single big one.

Younger snakes can eat two or three mice every week. Meanwhile, adults do best with two or three larger hopper mice every other week.

Potential Health Issues

In most cases, sunbeam snakes are imported to be sold as pets. That means we highly recommend taking them to a vet to treat any diseases or parasites before you bring them home.

Once healthy, these reptiles can still experience a bevy of health conditions. They’re susceptible to all the usual ailments like snake mites, respiratory infections, and bacterial infections.

Sunbeam snakes respond a bit differently to some kinds of bacteria. Certain bacteria can cause blisters all over the skin. If this happens, seek veterinary help to get proper treatment with antibiotics.

Fortunately, most health problems are easy to avoid. In fact, if you keep the temperature and humidity levels under control there won’t be a whole lot for you to worry about!

Expert Tip: To prevent ailments caused by bacteria, spot clean the enclosure daily. Then, perform a deep disinfection and substrate replacement about once a month.

Behavior & Temperament

There’s no denying that the sunbeam snake has some jaw-dropping looks. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be on display all of the time!

The reason for this is that sunbeams spend a lot of their time burrowing in the substrate. They come out periodically, but this snake feels more at-home when covered in dirt and grime!

Expert Tip: This can actually create a neat effect in the right circumstances. Seeing a small glimmering rainbow peeking out of the soil is pretty cool!

The good news is that this species is very laid-back. They rarely bite and aren’t particularly flighty. As long as the enclosure is in top-notch shape, they’re pretty easy-going and relaxed.

Handling Them

Sunbeam snakes don’t mind being handled a couple of times a week. However, you need to make sure that you don’t overdo it!

These reptiles can become stressed when you handle them too much. In some instances it might even lead to slight aggression. In severe cases, they can start suffering from stress-related diseases!

That’s why the general rule is to avoid handling these snakes more than once or twice a week. Always keep an eye on their behavior while you’re handling them as well. If they look agitated or try to wriggle out of your hand, respect their wishes and give them some space.

For the most part, sunbeam snakes are unbothered by handling (assuming you’re following the rule above). Just be respectful and support their bodies to keep them safe and comfortable.


As you can see, sunbeam snake care isn’t nearly as difficult as some people think. As long as you have the right information (see above) and the willingness to spend the necessary time to ensure that your snake is comfortable, everything will be just fine.

Owning one of these snakes is incredibly rewarding, and the stunning visual display you’ll get on a daily basis is second to none. They really live up to the hype!

If there’s anything in this care sheet that you’d like us to clarify for you, drop us a line!