Kenyan sand boas are a small and attractive boid indigenous to Kenya and adjacent countries in East Africa. They are a fossorial species and spend much of their lives burrowed under the sandy soil in which they live. These snakes are ideally suited for their lifestyle, and have some truly remarkable adaptations. The shape and opening of the mouth is situated in such a way as to avoid ingesting soil while digging, and the rear portion of the tail is covered in keeled scales which provide increased traction in soft sand.
This species is continuing to gain popularity in the pet trade and as a result, they are bred in large numbers and are readily available to the interested hobbyist. In addition to the naturally occurring color varieties a number of designer morphs have been produced. Albinos, snows, and anerythristic forms are but a few of the exciting and beautiful variations that you may find.
These are among the smallest boa species in the world. Males are typically much smaller than females and seldom measure more than 2 feet when mature. Females are heavier bodied (to support gestation and live birthing) and reach a maximum size of 3 feet.
Kenyan sand boas are extremely hardy and easy to keep. With good husbandry and attention to proper care guidelines, these snakes will live well over 20 years.
Due to their small size and inactive nature, Kenyan sand boas may be housed in fairly small and convenient enclosures. Babies can be maintained in a standard 10 gallon terrarium for their first year or so. After that, single animals should be housed in a 15 to 20 gallon terrarium, or equivalent enclosure. Pairs or trios should be given proportionally more space.
These snakes do not climb, and in fact, rarely venture above the surface of the substrate. This nature allows for the use of low-profile tanks that offer more floor space but a minimum of height. All enclosures for sand boas should have secure screen lids to prevent escapes and ensure adequate ventilation.
As a desert species, Kenyan sand boas should be kept hot during the day with a slight drop in temperature at night. The warm side of the enclosure should be between 90 and 95 degrees during the day, with access to cooler areas in the low 80's. At night temperatures can safely drop to 70 degrees, although slightly warmer nighttime temps seem advantageous for younger animals.
Heat may be provided via the use of ceramic heat emitters, standard heat bulbs, and heating pads designed specifically for reptile use. Supplemental lighting is not required for this species. However, constant exposure to light can be stressful for any animal, so if heat lights are used during the day, they should be replaced by another form of heat after dark.
Being a relatively inactive species, Kenyan sand boas do not require elaborate enclosures. A few inches of substrate should be provided for burrowing. Sand can be used safely as long as your snakes are fed in an alternate container to prevent ingestion. Other suitable substrates include aspen chips (Sani-chips), shredded aspen, or any other desert-type bedding that is designed for use with snakes and is not overly dusty.
Although most sand boas will spend the majority of their time dug into burrows, a few additional hiding spots can be added. Slabs of cork bark and half-logs are both acceptable. Avoid heavy pieces of stone or wood that may settle onto a digging snake and cause crushing injuries. Further decorations such as plastic cacti can be used at the keepers discretion but will be more for aesthetics than for functionality.
Kenyan sand boas should be kept dry as to simulate the deserts from which they originate. Shedding problems are rare with this species, but if they occur temporarily offering your snakes a localized area of increased humidity should remedy the problem.
In cages with screen tops, a small water dish may be provided at all times. However, because these animals are so sensitive to high levels of humidity, water bowls should only be offered a few times a week in less ventilated enclosures or in rack systems.
As with other aspects of sand boa husbandry, feeding is fairly straight forward. Snakes of all sizes should be offered one appropriately sized prey item once a week. A suitably sized mouse for a sand boa should be just big enough to leave a noticeable bulge in the snakes belly. Newborn (pinky) mice are ideal for hatchlings, while large adults will easily consume a fully adult mouse.
Pre-killed prey (either freshly killed or frozen/thawed) are recommended to reduce the likelihood of bites to your snake during the constricting process. Additionally, feeding your snakes in a container other than their primary habitat is advised. This ensures that no substrate is ingested when you snake feeds and also seems to cut down on the overall level of aggression of the animal when it is in it’s enclosure.
Although these snakes are rarely seen exploring their enclosures, they can be removed and handled easily. They are not aggressive, and specimens that have been handled regularly will become quite tame. Keep in mind that these snakes like to burrow, so their movements on solid ground and in your hands may seem spastic and jumpy. This is normal, and they should adjust to your touch over time.
As with any snake, avoid over handling. If your snake seems stressed as indicated by lack of appetite or unusual aggression, consider reducing the frequency of handling sessions until the animal’s behavior normalizes.
© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2007