Many people know about the Kenyan sand boa because it is a popular pet snake.
Did you know that the Kenyan is just one of 13 different types of sand boas?
Sand boas range in size from ten inches to four feet, and come in a beautiful array of oranges, yellows, creams, and reds. They are all adapted for life underground and are known for lunging out of the sand to ambush prey.
Want to learn more about these one-of-a-kind sand reptiles? Continue reading for our identification guide.
Sand Boa Snakes
Sand boas (also known as Old World sand boas) are a genus of burrowing snakes found in Africa, the Middle East, southwestern Asia and parts of Europe.
All members of this genus are adapted for burrowing under sandy soil in their native range.
They have a cylindrical body which is covered in small, hard scales that reduce friction and protect them from dust and dirt.
Their eyes and nostrils are small and set far forward on their heads, allowing them to stay almost completely buried with just the tip of their faces exposed.
Sand boas have been around for over 50 million years, though their ancestors were not specialized for digging. Their closest relatives are the North American rubber boa and rosy boa, though they are also distantly related to boa constrictors.
Today, there are 13 known species of sand boa.
Sand boas are all known for their secretive nature and small size. The Tartar, one of the largest species in the genus, grows only to a maximum length of 48 inches.
These boas typically have a mottled pattern that helps them camouflage against soil, rocks and sand. When hunting, they rely on this camouflage to remain hidden.
Depending on the species, their colors range from rusty red to brown to striped with black and orange.
Several species are bred in captivity for the pet trade, especially the Kenyan. They are considered a great pet snake for beginners because of their easy husbandry, small size and simple care.
Though several types of sand boa snakes can be kept as pets, other species, such as javelin sand boas, are found only in the wild.
|Common Name||Size||Color||Pet Species?|
|Kenyan||15 – 30”||Orange with a cream belly and brown patches.||Yes|
|Arabian||10 – 15”||Tan with either bold or faded black and orange stripes.||Yes|
|Saharan||15 – 30”||Orange or yellow with black patches and a white belly.||Yes|
|Anery||15 – 30”||White with dark brown and black patches.||Yes|
|Javelin||20 – 32”||Beige with a dark brown checkerboard pattern.||No|
|Russian||30 – 48”||Golden caramel with gray, brown and yellow bars.||No|
|Snow||15 – 30”||Pale cream with apricot and yellow patches.||Yes|
|Red||24 – 40”||Rusty red with a brown striped tail.||No|
|Albino||15 – 30”||Pinkish orange with light brown and pink patches.||Yes|
|Rough-scaled||20 – 39”||Coffee with dark brown zigzags outlined with cream.||Yes|
10 Types of Sand Boas
The Kenyan sand boa (Eryx colubrinus), also known as the Egyptian, is the most popular and well-known species. Their range runs through large sections of eastern Africa, from Egypt in the north to Tanzania in the south.
These snakes are fiery orange on the sides and back with a pale cream or white underbelly and chin.
They are randomly patterned with irregular, chocolate brown patches.
Kenyan sand boas are mid-sized members of the genus.
The average female grows to 24 inches in length, though large individuals can occasionally reach 30 inches. Males are quite a bit smaller, averaging 15-20 inches.
Herpetologists first imported wild Kenyan sand boas to the US in the 1970s from Tanzania. In the subsequent decades they became known as one of the best pet snakes for beginners.
Today, nearly all Kenyan boas sold as pets are born in captivity. Their willingness to breed has allowed breeders to develop over a dozen unique color morphs, from albino to striped.
The Arabian sand boa (Eryx jarakari) is another popular pet species, though less widespread than its Kenyan relative.
This species is one of the most colorful sand boas.
Their color varies from bright orange to dusty yellow, contrasting with a white belly.
Arabian sand boas have a back pattern that allows them to camouflage easily in their sandy habitat. Their back is covered in zigzagging brown bands that look like tiger stripes.
They are considered one of the cutest snake species, thanks to their short, stubby bodies and googly-eyed appearance.
Though they look comical, these boas are well-adapted to life in the sandy deserts they call home.
In the wild they are found in much of the Arabian Peninsula and southwestern Iran. Their populations are currently listed as stable.
Arabian boas are quite small, reaching 8-16 inches depending on gender.
Saharan sand boas (Eryx muelleri) are a beautiful species from the southern Sahara region in western Africa. They are also called the West African sand boa.
These snakes have a yellow to beige base color with dark brown, circular patches.
Overall, this species looks very similar to the Kenyan sand boa and they even share the white underbelly. The best way to identify one is by the presence of a small, hooked scale on the tip of their tail.
Saharans also have less patterning on their heads than their Kenyan relatives, though this only applies to wild-types.
Very little is known about the habitat or behavior of this species. Few have been kept as pets as they are overshadowed by more popular species.
What is known is that this species grows to a maximum length of 30 inches.
Females tend to be larger than males, but the size difference between them is not as great as it is in other types of sand boas.
Anery sand boas are not a separate species, despite their unusual name.
They are actually a color morph of the Kenyan sand boa!
‘Anery’ is short for anerythristic. Anerythristic snakes have a genetic mutation that prevents their skin from creating yellow and red pigments.
The result is the orange and yellow of a normal Kenyan sand boa being replaced with a silvery white and dusty gray. They often look as though they have been placed in a black and white filter.
Anerythristic sand boas are the same as regular Kenyans in terms of size, temperament and care.
Wild anery boas were found in Kenya in the mid-1900s, but this mutation is extremely rare. Black and white boas are unable to camouflage in their natural environment and are easily spotted by predators.
Anerys are more expensive than most snakes, especially those with well-defined black and white markings. A high quality anery morph will cost around $200.
The javelin sand boa (Eryx jaculus) is a rare kind of sand boa and one of the rarest snakes in Europe.
Their range stretches from Eastern Europe, northern Africa, and parts of the Middle East, but they are secretive and hard to find in the wild. Recently, they were rediscovered in a part of Romania where they had not been seen since 1937!
Typical javelin boas are dark grayish red with dark red and brown checkerboard patterns down their backs and pale cream underbellies.
Most also have a horizontal brown stripe from the corner of each eye to the corner of their mouth.
This snake is darker and more mottled than other sand boas, though this can vary between individuals.
Javelins are one of the larger members of the genus. Adult females can grow up to 32 inches in length, while males can grow to 24 inches.
Like their relatives, they are heavy-bodied snakes with blunt tails and small, rounded heads.
Javelin sand boas are rarely found in the pet trade. Their shyness and secrecy means they are hard to breed and are not considered a pet species. Their secrecy also means not much is known about their lifestyle or behavior.
Russian sand boas (Eryx tataricus) are also often known as Tartar sand boas.
Somewhat confusingly, there is another sand boa (Eryx miliaris) that shares the common name Tartar, though its native range is much farther west.
This species is found across a wide stretch of Asia, ranging from the Caspian Sea in Iran to the Altai Mountains in Russia, northern China and the Mongolian Gobi Desert.
These snakes are very thick and stocky, with a small head and short tail.
They are generally olive or beige, and patterned with brown, yellow and black bars. Their markings are usually irregular for better camouflage.
The Russian is a large species in comparison to other sand boas; females can grow to four feet long! Even the males can reach lengths of 30 inches.
Russian sand boas are sometimes collected illegally from the wild and sold as pets. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species says that their populations may become threatened unless trade is closely controlled.
The snow sand boa is another example of a Kenyan sand boa morph.
This specialty morph is highly prized by hobbyists because of its beautiful, white and cream coloration.
These snakes have a pale, silky pink base color with light beige splotches.
Some individuals are so light that their patterns are barely visible. Snows have dark red eyes that stand out against their pale scales.
This morph is the result of breeding an albino Kenyan boa with an anery one.
The genetics and appearance make this morph ideal for crossbreeding. One of the most rare and expensive kinds of snow sand boa is the paradox snow. This snake has the basic snow coloration but is randomly spotted with black speckles.
Red sand boas (Eryx johnii) are one of the more unusual-looking snakes of their genus. To confuse predators, their tails have evolved to look like a second head – they are blunt, rounded, and colored with dark stripes.
Their real heads are small, shovel-shaped, and blunt, which help with digging.
Red sand boas are known to use their thick bodies to constrict prey and drag it underground. It is common for them to eat rats, mice, and even other snakes.
The red boa’s common names include John’s, brown and Indian sand boa.
Their scientific name (Eryx johnii) is in honor of a German naturalist, Christoph Samuel John, who documented the species when he lived in India in the late 1700s.
These snakes have a natural range throughout Iran, Pakistan and India.
Unfortunately, this species is considered to have disease-curing properties by local people.
Illegal collection from the wild for the medicine trade has resulted in a significant decline in their populations. Due to this poaching, red boas are now considered Near Threatened.
The albino is a morph of Kenyan sand boa with a genetic mutation; it is not a separate species.
Albino snakes are unable to produce melanin, the pigment responsible for black and brown colors. As a result, they are very pale and colored primarily with pinks, yellows and beiges.
This albino morph is easy to spot because of its yellow base color.
Their base color is usually spotted with pinkish-gray and lavender blotches.
Most albino sand boas are caught by predators while still very young. Their yellow base color makes them stand out in their natural habitat.
This morph is widely kept as a pet because of its beautiful pinkish-gray and lavender markings.
The size of this sand boa variety is the same as a standard. Females grow no longer than 30 inches and males grow between 15 and 20 inches.
The rough-scaled sand boa (Eryx conicus) is a species found in India, Nepal and parts of Sri Lanka. It lives in the sandy regions that stretch across these countries.
Rough-scaled boas are dusty brown or coffee-colored with a darker brown zigzag running from the back of the head to the tail.
This zigzag marking is often outlined with black and cream, which makes it pop.
Their pattern closely mimics that of the venomous Russell’s viper, which also shares its range. Predators may mistake this harmless species for a venomous viper and not attack it.
Rough-scaled boas are named for their keeled tail scales.
The scales on their heads and necks are smooth, but they become increasingly ridged the closer they get to the tail.
Large females of this species can grow to 39 inches, including the tail. Males typically stay close to 20 inches in total length.
Sand boas are a diverse genus of snakes found in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe.
There are 13 different sand boa species discovered so far.
Species like the Kenyan are widely kept as pets, while others like the Tartar are very rare and only found in the wild.
Pet sand boas are great for both experienced and beginner keepers.
Their small size, ornate colors, and simple husbandry have helped them become one of the most popular pet snakes.
What is your favorite type of sand boa? Have you ever seen one in the wild?
Leave us a comment below and let us know.