In this care guide I will be going over all you need to know to keep the Kenyan Sand Boa as a pet. This Kenyan Sand Boa caresheet will include details on housing, heating, lighting, setting up a tank, humidity and water, handling, social needs, breeding and more.
Meet the Kenyan Sand Boa
The Kenyan Sand Boa (Gongylophis colubrinus, previous Eryx colubrinus) is a small species of boa from the coastal areas of Kenya in Africa. In captivity they’re easy to look after and care for, as long as you’re buying established captive bred individuals already feeding on defrost mice.
Females are significantly bigger than males, with males being approximately 1-2ft and just 100g in weight and females 2-3ft and 400g to 1kg!. They have a fairly chunky body for their size, with a pointed head and tiny eyes, designed for extensive burrowing and spending time underground. Some people find them adorable, other’s aren’t quite sold on the beauty of this face!
Kenyan Sand Boas have a long lifespan, potentially living up to thirty years and beyond in captivity.
As this is such a small species, it’s easy to house in captivity. We recommend a 24x18x18″ vivarium for housing an adult and as long as you can get your temperatures stable, you can use a glass tank of a similar size instead if preferred. Glass tanks can be harder to get higher temperatures in and this species does need quite high temperatures (see below) so if using a glass tank you may need to cover the mesh top, but this can make it difficult for your basking light to penetrate. This is why we recommend wooden vivariums as they hold heat and the electrics are easy to fit, but it’s certainly possible to obtain these temperatures in a glass tank with some experimentation.
If you have a particularly large female, you could consider upgrading to a 36x18x18″ tank, but most do not obtain large sizes that make that necessary, and males will remain very small.
Heating and Temperature
Kenyan Sand Boas live in the hot sand of Kenya and prefer daytime temperatures of 32 – 35c (90 – 95F). You still need to provide a hot side and a cold side for thermoregulation, so we recommend a ceramic heater, but you do have two options.
1. Heat Mat
A heat mat is a device that goes underneath the substrate or against the back wall of a wooden tank. Because you are likely to have quite a deep layer of sand in your tank (see substrate section) your heat mat may want to be on the back of the tank rather than the substrate. Because of the burrowing nature of the Kenyan Sand Boa, you might want to switch to a ceramic.
Your heat mat should always be controlled by a thermostat.
2. Ceramic Bulb
A ceramic bulb is an excellent option for providing heat. It has a higher output allowing you to obtain higher temperatures, ideal if your room is quite chilly. It heats the air, and this can reduce humidity, which is actually quite important for Kenyan Sand Boas. Your Ceramic Bulb should be controlled by a thermostat and must be guarded so the snake cannot burn itself as well.
Keep a thermometer in the vivarium at all times – digital ones are best – to ensure the temperature is correct.
Humidity & Water
Kenyan Sand Boas require clean fresh water available, but you need to take care not to increase the humidity, so have a small water bowl in a position it cannot be tipped or spilled into the substrate. As a heavy bodied snake, you want a low lying bowl such as the medium Exo Terra Water Bowl, and I’d recommend putting it on a piece of slate or similar so that if some is spilled, you can wipe it up easily rather than it being absorbed into the substrate.
Humidity should be around 40%. It will not hurt the snake too much to be kept at the ambient humidity in the UK, which is often 50-60%, but you should try to keep it as low as possible with minimal water spillage and a warm, dry tank. If you find that your humidity is naturally rising too high, you may find switching to a ceramic bulb over a heat mat helps dry out the air more.
Having a small daylight bulb in the tank helps provide a natural photoperiod allowing the snake to distinguish clearly between night and day. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it has plenty of benefits and is very inexpensive. You can use a low wattage LED which won’t raise the heat much at all, or you can use a low wattage basking bulb (25w-50w) if you do want to raise the heat a little in this area.
Kenyan Sand Boas have quite a drastic difference between summer light and winter light in the wild. To try and mimic a natural photoperiod, you’d want 14 hours of light in the summer and only 8 hours of light in the winter. This isn’t strictly necessary for keeping them as a pet, but would be more important of hoping to breed.
If you use any heat-emitting bulb you will need to put a guard around it to ensure the snake does not curl around the bulb and inflict burns upon itself. Snakes do not recognise pain very quickly and a snake can have horrific burns before it registers to move away.
In the past people didn’t use UVB for nocturnal or crepuscular species of snakes such as the Kenyan Sand Boa. However, more recent research has shown that most snakes are active at dawn and dusk and will sometimes even bask in full sunlight. UVB has been shown to offer benefits to health, such as increased appetite, more activity and brighter colouration. Following recommendations from Arcadia Reptile, we would recommend having a UV Index of 2-3 in the tank. We recommend you achieve these using the Pro T5 Shadedweller Kit as the most cost effective and well designed product, however you can use a T8 6% if the basking zone is within 10-15″ of the snake, or a T5 6% if your basking zone is within 15-18″ of the snake. As with the previous lighting section, in the wild the photoperiod is 14 hours of daylight in the summer, 8 hours in winter. If following a natural period you can set a timer for this.
You should use a UVB guard to stop the snake damaging themselves or the bulb.
UVB remains optional when it comes to nocturnal snakes but we highly recommend it. You can read our entire UVB guide here.
As the name suggests, Kenyan Sand Boas live in sand. In captivity we do recommend using sand for them where possible, although some people will alternatively use aspen or lignocel which are still reasonable options, but sand is the most natural and suitable for them. Burrowing is an important part of the natural behaviour so make sure the substrate is as deep as possible, up to the plinth on the vivarium.
Even though your snake may spend a lot of time burrowed, we still recommend adding some decor into the tank. They like tight spaces, and will enjoy low hides and places to hide under such as slate, rocks, and cork bark. Ensure there are options on both sides of the tank, but keep the water bowl on the cool side to avoid any increase in humidity.
Kenyan Sand Boas are not naturally good climbers, there is little opportunity for climbing in the wild, and they have heavy bodies for their size, but that being said, I’ve seen them exploring low lying branches.
Kenyan Sand Boas do not have any social needs and are happiest living a solitary life. During mating season, males will often harass each other and fight, and even a female and male can injure each other. We recommend keeping this species solo, or if you really feel you must keep two together, sticking to two females only. If breeding, you should introduce the male supervised and then separate, and I’ve covered that more in the breeding section.
Feeding Kenyan Sand Boas
Kenyan Sand Boas in the wild are opportunistic feeders who will hide beneath the sand and then ambush prey that walks on top of their hiding place. They are efficient hunters and will eat a variety of rodents, lizards and pretty much anything of appropriate size.
In captivity Kenyan Sand Boa babies can be a little tricky to get started on defrost prey, as their instinct is to ambush live prey, but a breeder or shop should get these feeding for you before purchase. Once they are readily taking defrost mice, they are ready feeders in captivity, but still tend to prefer being strike fed from an ambush position – always use tongs to avoid any accidents!
Kenyan Sand Boas have a fairly slow digestive system, feeding weekly is adequate for hatchlings, whilst adults can be fed every other week. Males may only eat once a month, especially during breeding season.
Handling Sand Boas
Kenyan Sand Boas are easily handleable. This is a calm and placid snake that very rarely attempts to bite, unless there is a confusion over food. Youngsters may be nervous and be fast or try to escape, but once they realize you are not a threat, they’re usually happy to be handled and to explore. Since they are quite poor climbers, make sure they’re always well supported – they don’t have the grip that many snakes do to hold on to you and can easily fall.
Sexing Sand Boas
Babies hatch approximately the same size, so for a guaranteed sex at birth an experienced seller can pop or probe the snake, but even at birth, an experienced eye can tell the difference between the tail size in males and females and give a determination. As Sand Boas grow, the size and tail differences become very apparent, and sub adult to adult Kenyan Sand Boas can be very easily sexed based on their size.
Males have a longer and rounder tail, whilst females have fatter but shorter and stubbier tails. Males have larger anal spurs in comparison to females, although it’s worth noting that Sand Boas do have smaller spurs than many other species, so you need to compare Sand Boa to Sand Boa. Finally, an adult Kenyan Sand Boa is often as little as 1-2 ft in length and only 100g in weight, whereas a female grows up to three foot, and can weigh anywhere from 400g up to 1kg! As she is generally at least 4 times his weight, this makes comparison very easy.
Sand Boa Morphs
There are a variety of Sand Boa morphs. These are not as popular in the UK as some other countries, but still available. The most popular here are Albino, Anerythistic, Snow and Ghost. This affects their colours but not their care.
Breeding Kenyan Sand Boas
Before you breed, please consider whether your adults are healthy and genetically free of any problems that might be passed down. The female in particular should be fully mature, breeding any snake too early can cause serious health problems. Even the most healthy snake can still have problems during breeding which will need a veterinarian to help with, so make sure you know who your local exotics veterinarian is, and have the funds to take care of any medical needs that might arise from breeding.
You also need to be sure that you can house all your hatchlings separate, get them feeding, and find new homes for them.
Brumation happens naturally in the wild. In captivity it’s optional, but if you’re looking to breed then it helps the snake as they would naturally breed in the spring when the weather begins to improve as these are the conditions they need to breed successfully.
Around December you should lower the enclosure over a week or so to 65F (18C) – 70F (21C). This is a lot warmer than most colubrids will brumate at and this is usually quite easy to do even a central heated room – you’ll need to make sure you keep your room temperature lower than this, and then have a thermostat set to 65F to cover any cold nights. It’s important to keep this temperature constant. If you think your room temperature is going to rise above this, you may need to find a cooler place to brumate them. Because this temperature isn’t that low, they can still digest their food, so you can continue to offer small meals less often. Some simply won’t take it though.
Three months later, bring the temperatures back up to normal and a week later resume a normal feeding regime. If females will take more than usual at this time, then you can let them eat what they want, as this is a good indication that they’re getting ready for breeding.
Kenyan Sand Boas will ovulate, which gives the abdomen a bulging, swollen appearance that feels firm if you touch it. She may not eat whilst ovulating, and she may suddenly be more defensive or aggressive towards you. If the males enclosure is in the same room, he can almost certainly tell she is ovulating, and he may start being hyper active, roaming the tank in search of the female he can smell. He too, may go off his food at this point.
You may not notice the ovulation if it passes quickly, or some females don’t ovulate until mated, so you can’t use it as a guaranteed sign she’s ready. The best guaranteed sign is about 4-6 weeks after coming out of brumation she will shed. At this point you can introduce the two and monitor them carefully. In some cases they can get injured during mating, and a female Kenyan Sand Boa who is not ready to mate has been known to rear, gape, threaten, hiss, bite and even kill a male. If you see any serious signs of aggression, she’s not ready, so remove him.
Once she accepts him, he’ll slide on top of her and wrap his tail around hers until they wrap tails and copulate.
Kenyan Sand Boas are live bearing. You’ll have no need of an egg laying box or an incubator. A gravid female may lie on her back and try to sun her underside. She’ll seek out the warmest parts of the enclosure and bask, and she’ll swell and start to look gravid. When she’s gravid she may eat more than usual, or she may refuse food, it really depends on the female.
She will have a pre-lay shed around 4-5 months later, at which time it should be obvious that she is larger than normal and her abdomen is swollen. Within a week of shedding she is likely to give birth. The babies are born in a thin membrane egg sac which they will break out of immediately. Some will be stillborn, and some of them will be “slugs” – undeveloped eggs. But you should have a litter of up around 10-20 – but could be more! – baby Kenyan Sand Boas.
Separate these boas out into their own enclosure. They will shed within a week, and then you can start trying to get them to feed. Kenyan Sand Boa babies can be quite tricky to get feeding, but it’s important you establish them on defrost rodents for a month or two before trying to find them new homes.
I hope that this Milk Snake Caresheet has provided all the information you need to know, but if there’s anything you have a question about just drop it in the comments, leave us an email or contact us on Facebook! We provide free advice on all species of reptiles.
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