Kenyan Sand Boa 101: Everything You Need to Know

Kenyan Sand Boa

Are you looking for a friendly, adorable and easy-to-care-for snake?

You will love the Kenyan sand boa.

Sand boas have googly eyes, small nostrils and a smooth, stout body perfect for burrowing. Many owners find their cute faces and intricate markings irresistible.

These small constrictor snakes are from the deserts of northeastern Africa. They are known for their unique hunting style of burrowing and ambushing prey.

In this article we share everything you should know about these beautiful constrictors.

SIMILAR: Types of Sand Boas: Identification Guide (with Pictures)

Species Overview
Common Name Kenyan, Egyptian or East African sand boa
Scientific Name Eryx colubrinus
Family Boidae
Range Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Tanzania, Niger
Size 1 to 2.5 feet
Color Orange, tan, or yellow base color with dark chocolate patches and a white underbelly
Lifespan 15 to 20 years
Husbandry Simple
Diet Small mammals
Tank Size 30-gallons
Temperature 75-95°F
Humidity 30-40%
Price $75-300

Species Overview

Sand Boa

Kenyan sand boas (Eryx colubrinus) are small, stout snakes native to northeastern Africa.

They live in the dry savannas and deserts from northern Egypt to southern Tanzania.

Their unique appearance allows them to stay camouflaged and burrow in and out of sandy desert soil. This “sand-swimming” behavior lets them ambush prey by lying in wait just under the surface of the sand with only their faces exposed.

Sand boas are constrictors that use their muscular bodies to kill prey through suffocation.

These constrictors are members of the Boidae family, which includes species like the boa constrictor, rosy boa, and green anaconda.

Though the Boidae family includes some of the largest snakes in the world, the Kenyan sand boa is one of the smallest boa species. Females are larger than males and typically get no longer than 30 inches.

Currently, there are two subspecies of Kenyan sand boa:

  • Eryx colubrinus colubrinus
  • Eryx colubrinus loveridgei

Whether or not Eryx c. loveridgei is a true subspecies is still debated, however they do have brighter orange tones.

Kenyan sand boas have a narrow, pointed head with small eyes and nostrils to protect them from the sand. Their bodies are smooth, robust and thick and their tails are short and stubby.

One of the most beautiful traits of this sand boa is their markings.

They have an orange, tan, or yellow base color spotted with dark brown, camouflage-like splotches. Their underbellies are typically white or cream.

There are several morphs that have been bred with different color and pattern combinations from the standard wild-type.

The Kenyan sand boa is a popular beginner pet snake because of their small size, exceptionally cute face, and calm personality.

These snakes can live in a simple 30-gallon tank with a relatively basic setup. They are a great choice for people without reptile keeping experience or for those who don’t have the means to keep a larger, more demanding species.

Popular Questions

How Big Can A Kenyan Sand Boa Get?

Kenyan sand boas are a small constrictor species that rarely grow longer than 2.5 feet. Despite coming from the same family as the heaviest snake species in the world, it is rare for a male Kenyan sand boa to exceed 20 inches.

The size of this species is heavily dependent on their gender, and there are noticeable differences between males and females.

Female boas grow to be much larger than males and are usually between 26-32 inches, and weigh up to 2 pounds. On the other hand, males have an adult size of 15-20 inches and weigh less than 0.2 pounds.

How Often Can You Hold A Kenyan Sand Boa?

Once your snake is comfortable, you can hold a Kenyan Sand Boa for as long as an hour.

When you first bring your snake home you should avoid holding or handling them for the first 2 weeks. This allows them to adjust to their new environment.

After this 2 week period, you can start handling your snake for 5-minute increments every day, 4-5 times per week.

Every sand boa is different when it comes to handling, so adapt the schedule to your pet. If your boa starts to be stressed during handling (hissing or trying to escape), return him to his tank and leave it for another day.

These constrictors are shy and more sedentary than other snakes. They are just as happy being left alone as they are being handled.

How Do You Get A Kenyan Sand Boa To Eat?

Kenyan sand boas can be picky eaters.

If your boa is refusing food, there are a few methods you can try to get your snake to eat.

First, try switching up the type of food you are feeding. For example, if you usually feed pinky mice, then try a rat pup or quail chick.

If this doesn’t work, warm up thawed rodents to 110°F and use tongs to wiggle the prey in front of your snake to tempt it to strike. The heat and movement will mimic a live animal and trick your snake into striking.

Kenyan Sand Boa Care

Eryx colubrinus

These sand boas are a great first snake for owners who want a simple, calm species.

They are very low maintenance in terms of care and don’t require a large enclosure or special setup.

If their basic husbandry needs are met, boas thrive with few health complications and can live for 20 years.

The only downside is that Kenyan sand boas will spend most of their time buried underneath the substrate in their enclosure. This means you may not see them out and about as often as other beginner species like corn snakes or hognose snakes.

Enclosure

In the wild Kenyan sand boas live in a warm, semi-arid region of sub-Saharan Africa.

Pet boas are happy to adapt to many different enclosure setups, as long as the soil is loose enough for burrowing and “sand-swimming”.

Both males and females can be kept in a 30-gallon long glass terrarium.

Substrate

Substrate is a very important part of a Kenyan sand boa enclosure.

These burrowing constrictors need a deep substrate that stays slightly moist and lets them hide their entire body.

The best substrate is a sand/soil mixture or aspen shavings that are 5-6 inches deep.

If you do decide to use sand, make sure to not use sand from your garden. This sand will be too fine and will end up getting stuck in their mouth and scales and plugging their nostrils. It is best to use reptile sand, like Desert Blend, or pool filter sand.

Also include 2-3 solid décor items like flat rocks, hollow logs, cholla wood, or bunches of plants.

Temperature

Sand boas prefer heat from above and need a temperature gradient in their tank to help them regulate body temperature.

The air temperature on the cool side of the enclosure should be 75-80°F, while the warm side can reach 80-85°F with a 95°F basking spot.

Use a ceramic heat emitter to create a basking spot and heat the tank.

Lighting should be provided with a UVB bulb set on a 12-hour timer, placed over the basking spot.

Use an accurate thermostat and thermometer to maintain the correct temperatures and prevent burns. Place the thermostat’s probe under the substrate right next to the glass. This will keep the temperature at a safe level if your boa decides to bury itself.

Humidity

In the wild, these boas live in semi-arid regions and only seek out more humid environments when they are about to shed.

Maintain the enclosure’s ambient humidity at 30-40% and include a humid hide box that your snake can use.

Related: 7 Tips To Make A Humid Hide

Setup

  • Tank: 30-gallon long glass terrarium.
  • Substrate: 6 inches of reptile sand.
  • Décor: Flat rocks, hollow logs or bunches of plants.
  • Lighting: 75-watt UVB bulb.
  • Temperature: Basking spot of 95°F; ambient temperature of 75-80°F.
  • Humidity: 30-40%.

Feeding Guide

Kenyan sand boas are skilled ambush predators that use their muscular bodies to constrict prey.

Their unique appearance allows them to stay camouflaged and bury themselves under the sand with just their heads exposed. When small rodents, birds, or lizards pass by, they spring from hiding to grab them.

To mimic this unique, “sand-swimming” hunting method, pet boas should be fed in their enclosure.

Some owners like to remove their snakes and use a large deli cup for feeding, but handling and moving before feeding can stress your snake and cause them to refuse to eat.

Feeding frozen-thawed or pre-killed mice smaller than the diameter of your snake’s body is recommended by veterinarians.

To feed your Kenyan sand boa frozen-thawed prey, follow this simple process:

  1. Thaw a frozen mouse in a watertight plastic bag overnight in the fridge.
  2. Once the mouse is fully thawed, place the bag in warm water to increase its temperature to roughly 100°F.
  3. Remove and gently pat the mouse dry.
  4. Use feeding tongs to wiggle the mouse a few inches from your boa’s hiding space until it strikes and wraps around the prey.

Young individuals should be fed a single mouse each week, while adults over two years only need one mouse every 10 days.

The mouse should be fed at nighttime and be no larger than your snake’s widest girth.

Most feeding problems for Kenyan sand boas come from feeding mice that are too big or, not properly warmed, or from incorrect tank setups (e.g. cold temperatures or wrong substrate).

These snakes should always have access to a shallow bowl of clean, fresh water.

Lifespan

With the right tank setup, husbandry and diet, the Kenyan sand boa has an average lifespan of 15 years. On rare occasions, they can even live for 20 years!

The lifespan of wild snakes is shorter than that of pets.

It is normal for wild Kenyan sand boas to live for closer to 10 years.

Their shorter lifespan is due to threats of predators, disease, parasites, and competition faced in their natural habitat.

Pet sand boas typically stay very healthy if cared for correctly. However, they can face some health problems if their diet or enclosure setup is not quite right, including:

  • Scale rot
  • Mites
  • Stuck Shed
  • Obesity

It can be hard to assess the health of this species because they spend most of their time buried underneath the substrate.

Health Problem Reason
Scale rot High humidity and a dirty enclosure can cause scale rot. This is a bacterial or fungal infection that affects the scales of a sand boa. Knowing the signs of scale rot is important, as this disease can be serious if untreated.
Mites Mites can be seen as tiny, moving specks on the substrate. They can be introduced by poor husbandry through substrate changes, handling mistakes or food. Snakes infected with mites should be moved to a quarantine tank and their enclosure should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly.
Stuck Shed The most common cause of stuck shed (dysecdysis) is low humidity in the enclosure. Kenyan sand boas normally shed in one piece over a 48-hour period.
Obesity Obesity can be hard to recognize because of their already stout bodies. However, this thick-bodied species is prone to obesity from overfeeding. Monitor your snake’s weight as it grows and work with your reptile veterinarian to determine a healthy weight for their age and gender.

Behavior

Sand boas are largely docile, but some adults are more bite-prone than other beginner species like ball pythons.

Kenyan sand boa bites are not painful or serious, though larger females may draw blood.

These snakes are not venomous and rely on constriction to kill prey.

Their mouths are lined with small, hooked teeth for grabbing and holding onto small mammals. This species does not have fangs because they do not need to inject venom.

Most boa bites occur for three main reasons: startled, hurt by handling or mistaking a hand for food.

Accidentally squeezing or pinching your snake while handling can cause them to bite as a defensive action. Whenever you handle your snake, be aware of where their head and tail are to prevent any accidental pinches.

Occasionally, boas will become excited during feeding and strike at a finger or hand. This can be avoided by using tongs to feed mice.

Appearance

These snakes have an unusual appearance that helps them survive in their native desert environment.

Many owners find a Kenyan sand boa face to be especially cute and charming. They have small, round eyes, a tiny, pointed snout, and a slightly curved mouth. These features give them a distinctly friendly look.

Wild sand boas are typically bright orange or yellow with a clean white underbelly.

They are patterned with random, saddle-shaped black and brown splotches that help them stay camouflaged among rocks and shrubs.

Sand boas have a relatively short, plump body compared to their girth. Their necks and tails are particularly stubby, giving them an almost perfectly cylindrical shape.

In cross-section, these snakes are circular. This is different from many other snakes which are more triangular when viewed from the front.

Their smooth, circular bodies help them glide and burrow through loose sand without resistance.

For keepers who want a pet without the traditional “scary” look of a snake, their chubby bodies and cute faces make them perfect.

Size

Kenyan Sand Boa size

Full grown Kenyan sand boas remain small, though their overall size depends on their gender.

Males stay small at 15-20 inches, while females can reach between 24 and 30 inches.

They are 8-10 inches long at birth and reach their adult size within their first 2 years.

Male vs Female Differences

There are noticeable differences between males and females that make it easier to tell them apart.

Knowing whether a Kenyan sand boa is male or female is vital for breeders or for determining adult size.

There are three main methods for sexing Kenyan sand boas:

  1. Tail shape
  2. Spurs
  3. Size

The easiest way to tell if your boa is male or female is to look at their tail shape. Females have shorter, thicker tails with a pointed tip. Males have longer, thinner tails and a rounded tail tip.

Kenyan sand boas have tiny, sharp spurs near their cloaca. Males have longer spurs than females. These spurs are leftovers from millions of years ago when their ancestors had legs.

Females grow twice as large as males and have a stockier build. Any snakes that are over 20 inches long are guaranteed to be females.

Kenyan Sand Boa Breeding

Breeding Kenyan sand boas requires proper planning, preparation and knowledge. The breeding process is more complicated than simply pairing a male and female together, but it can be done.

To start with, you need a healthy female in good condition, eating well and at least 11.5 ounces.

Breeding actually starts months before the lock with brumation.

Brumation is a natural period of dormancy during the winter months in the wild. This increases the chances of successful breeding in the spring.

To trigger brumation, gradually lower temperatures within your snake’s tank to 72-76°F over a 2 week period. Stop offering food two weeks prior to this transition.

After two months, gradually increase enclosure temperatures on the warm side back to 80-85°F.

Once normal enclosure temperatures have been maintained for a week, begin offering food again.

Three weeks after brumation, introduce a male to your female.

Leave them alone for 3 days, but continue to monitor them closely. Give them a 3-day break, then reintroduce the male to maximize the chances of mating for another 3 days.

After this 9 day period remove the male completely.

If the female is pregnant, she will rapidly gain weight, may stop eating, and will seek out warm spots in her tank to help the embryos develop. After 4-6 months, she will give birth to up to 20 baby Kenyan sand boas.

Sand boas do not lay eggs. Instead, they give birth to live young that are ready to fend for themselves.

Separate the babies from their mother and siblings soon after they’re born. During their first week, hatchlings are still feeding from their yolk sac.

Morphs

Breeders have created Kenyan sand boa morphs with different colors and markings by selectively breeding this species. These morphs were developed by breeding together sand boas with unusual patterns or bright colors to strengthen the appearance of those traits in the offspring.

Some of the most popular morphs include:

  • Albino
  • Anerythristic
  • Snow
  • Nuclear
  • Calico

Albino sand boas are yellow, orange or cream with light lavender and gray markings. They will also have red or pink eyes, which makes them unique from other morphs. Both parents need to carry the albino gene for their offspring to be albino.

Anerythristic (also called “anery”) are pure white with dark gray and black markings.

The snow Kenyan sand boa is bred from crossing the albino and anerythristic. These snakes are very pale in color with a light rosy hue. Their markings are typically beige, gray or pinkish brown. Snows have red eyes that are typically darker than those of albino snakes.

Nuclear Kenyan sand boas have a bright, rich red-orange base color with sharp black and brown markings. The nuclear is often crossed with other morphs to enhance their color.

Calicos are one of the most highly prized Kenyan sand boa morphs. Calico snakes have an orange base color with irregular patches of white and black peppered over their bodies. No two have the same markings.

Summary

Kenyan sand boas are small, stocky snakes from northeastern Africa.

Wild individuals are bright orange or yellow with a clean white underbelly.

Full grown adults remain small and will be 1 to 2.5 feet long, depending on their gender.

The Kenyan sand boa is an excellent beginner snake.

These small constrictors captivate owners with their burrowing lifestyle, charming face, and beautiful mottled colors.

Sand boas thrive with a relatively simple, 30-gallon setup and a mice pup diet. With good care, they can live up to 20 years!

Have you fallen for this sweet sand boa? Leave us a comment!

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

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