Kenyan Sand Boa Care (Eryx colubrinus)
By Stephen Richardson
Kenyan sand boas, or East African sand boas, are easy to keep in captivity. They are typically short and stout as adults with males being significantly smaller than the females. My males range from about 18 to 24 inches in length with my females much longer and girthed; my females range from 28 inches to 35 inches. Great care should be taken when handling sand boas. While burrowed in substrate some sand boas react to movement above them with a strike; Kenyan sand boas are ambush hunters where they lay hiding and waiting for an un-expecting small rodent to pass by. I always locate the head of my boa and them scoop up their tail with my hand and pick them up by the rear third of their body. I have not had any bites occur using the previous method of handling. Sand boas are not good climbers so they should not be left on table tops or high ledges; always keep hold of your boas with two hands or cradle it with your hand and arm.
Caging and Substrate
I keep all of my sand boas in a rack system that includes under-belly heat. I have a proportional controller that keeps the temperatures just right for my boas. On a small scale I recommend that sand boas be kept in cages made for snakes that have locking doors or lids. Snakes are escape artists so be sure to keep your sand boa in a good cage that is escape proof; especially for a small boa that can wiggle through small holes or gaps. I use aspen bedding for my sand boas; you can find aspen shavings at any reptile shop, pet supper store, or even at Target. I have shifted all of my colubrids, rosy boas and sand boas to aspen chips that are a much finer product than the shavings found in the previously mentioned locations. I do not recommend any other type of bedding for sand boas; aspen is the best substrate for most snakes that do not require high humidity. Do not use cedar or any other wood chips, cedar and other wood chips are harmful to reptiles.
Sand boas in captivity need under the belly heat; use a heat pad made for reptiles and adhere it under and to one side of the enclosure. It is important that sand boas have the ability to thermal regulate; they need a cool side and a warm side in their enclosure. Always provide a water dish on the cool side; although your sand boa will rarely drink from the dish. The water dish is a precaution; some sand boa keepers do not use a water dish at all. Most sand boas get all the hydration they need from their food item. It is important that the water dish be cleaned and disinfected at least once a week. I have seen sand boas drink from their water dish on rare occasions. Additionally, spot clean the cage often to remove any sand boa defecations, they are often found under the substrate.
I feed my sand boas roughly once a week. A varied feeding schedule is not a bad idea for captive snakes. All of my adult boas eat frozen-thawed mice or hopper rats. I recommend using frozen thawed food for all captive snakes whenever possible. For all my newborn sand boas I provide frozen-thawed or live pinkies for their first meal. I have found that about two thirds of my baby Kenyans will accept frozen-thawed pinkies for their first meal, the rest take a little time to convert to frozen thawed food. Be sure to heat up a frozen mouse before feeding it to your boa. A cup of hot water will thaw and heat up a pinky nicely. As the size of the food increases for your snake you will have to increase the size of the container of hot water. Be careful not to feed your sand boa food that is too large. Generally, the mouse should have a girth equal to, or a little less than, that of your sand boa. Be sure to provide under belly heat so your sand boa can digest its food.
Some Health Issues
I have never had a sand boa regurgitate its food. If regurgitation occurs, then it should be looked at as a serious problem, especially if it happens more than once and consecutively. All snake owners should have on hand a probiotic to be given to their snake about once a month. I use a product called NutriBac which is a probiotic designed to promote healthy digestion. I dip the rear end of the mouse or pinky in the NutriBac and feed the sand boa as usual. If your Kenyan repeatedly regurgitates, then you may need to consult a breeder or see a vet experience with snakes.
Young Kenyan sand boas often have trouble shedding. You should soak your snake in warm water if it has retained shed. Make sure you do not place a sand boa in water that is too deep, they can easily drown; they are not good swimmers. After soaking you should be able to carefully remove retained shed gently by rubbing your finger on the snake. The retained shed should come off the snake. Look carefully at the eyes of your boa, be sure to carefully remove retained shed from the eyes. If your snake repeatedly has trouble shedding you may need to seek the advice of an experienced reptile vet or breeder.
Do not keep your sand boa in wet or humid conditions. Kenyan sand boas are from dry desert climates. Keeping your boa’s cage excessively wet or humid can make your snake sick. Be proactive and keep your snake healthy by keeping you snake’s cage dry and clean, chance water often, disinfect the water dish, and pay close attention to the appearance and behavior of your sand boa. Remember that you are responsible for the health and well being of your boa; do not neglect your responsibility. If you follow the guidelines included in this care sheet, then your sand boa will live a very long healthy life.