Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus)
Kenyan sand boas are a 12-24”/30-60cm long (up to ~36″/90cm in the case of some exceptional females) species of snake with a thick, wormlike body, small head, small upward-angled eyes, vertical pupils, and an enlarged rostral scale. They are covered in extremely smooth scales, except for the tail, which has larger, rougher scales. Coloring is generally gray, yellow, or orange with darker blotches and a pale white, cream, or pinkish belly. However, a patternless form is known to exist.
Kenyan sand boas are native to arid and semi-arid environments in east Africa. They are most active at night, but they are irregularly active throughout the day to bask and hunt. Although categorized as fossorial, they are also known to occasionally climb trees.
These snakes make good pets due to their docile temperaments, manageable size, and relatively simple care requirements. If you pay attention to providing excellent Kenyan sand boa care, you pet can live up to 30 years.
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional Kenyan sand boa enclosure. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
- 24”L x 18”W x 18”H reptile enclosure (preferably front-opening)
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture
- 50w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp, x2
- Lutron Credenza plug-in lamp dimmer, x2
- Etekcity 774 infrared thermometer
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge
- Arcadia ShadeDweller kit
- Exo Terra Mister
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- Zoo Med ReptiSand, 30+ lbs
- Plastic hideout/cave (small enough to provide a tight squeeze)
- Environmental enrichment items
- Small water bowl
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- 12″ feeding tongs
A basic formula for calculating a terrestrial snake’s minimum space needs is snake length x half snake length x half snake length = length x width x height. According to this formula, the minimum acceptable enclosure size for an average Kenyan sand boa is 24”L x 12”W x 12”H / 60 x 30 x 30 cm. Slightly taller is recommended in the shopping list to provide more climbing space and a safer distance for UVB installation.
Here are some terrariums I recommend for use with Kenyan sand boas:
- Exo Terra Natural Glass Terrarium Medium Wide (24 x 18 x 18)
- Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, 24Lx18Dx18H
- Zen Habitats 2′ x 2′ x 2′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Exo Terra Natural Glass Terrarium Large Wide (36 x 18 x 18)
- Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, 36Lx18Dx24H
- Maximum Reptile Essential 3 PVC Enclosure – 36L x 24W x 18H
Of course, using a larger enclosure than the minimum is strongly recommended, and in fact required for females larger than the average. Bigger is always better!
Not sure how big your female sand boa might grow? If you purchased your snake from a breeder, you can predict adult length by asking them about the length of your snake’s mother. It’s likely that your pet will grow to a similar size.
Can multiple Kenyan sand boas be housed together?
Kenyan sand boas are not known to be significantly social animals, so it’s best to house only one per enclosure.
Lighting & UVB
Kenyan sand boas are technically crepuscular, which means that they are most active around nighttime, including dawn and dusk. They are capable of surviving without UVB light, but it’s important to remember that they can’t thrive without it. This helps regulate their day/night cycle and associated hormonal rhythms, as well as provides all of the vitamin D3 they can possibly need, supporting all associated physiological processes.
According to their natural range, lights should be scheduled to be on for 12 hours/day year-round.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB, you will need a high-quality, low-intensity UVB bulb, roughly 1/2 the length of the enclosure, placed on the warm side of the setup. The highest branch should be positioned so the snake is no closer than the following distances from the UVB lamp:
- Arcadia ShadeDweller kit: 7-9” (mesh), 10-12” (no mesh)
- Arcadia T5 HO 6% / Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0: 10-12” (mesh), 13-15” (no mesh)
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 2.0-3.0 in the basking area.)
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Kenyan sand boas, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures in order to regulate their body temperature. In captivity, using halogen flood heat bulbs is the best way to replicate the type of warmth provided by sunlight.
- Basking surface: 93-95°F (34-35°C)
- Cool zone: 78-83°F (26-28°C)
Heating should be turned off at night.
Generally speaking, 50w halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve your target basking surface temperature. The basking rock should be placed on top of the black plastic hide box, which will act as your warm hide. If you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. If your basking surface is too cool, you need higher wattage bulbs.
You will need multiple heat bulbs to create a large enough basking area to evenly heat your snake’s coiled body. Two bulbs should be enough for an average Kenyan sand boa.
To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). The Etekcity 774 is a good one.
Kenyan sand boas are considered an arid species, and they’re very tolerant of hot, dry conditions. In captivity, humidity is generally not something you need to worry about too much, but it is important that the snake has access to a to a humid hide for use as desired. This should be a hide box on the cool half of the enclosure with lightly moistened substrate or sphagnum moss inside. It’s also beneficial to occasionally mist the enclosure with a water sprayer. However, the enclosure should be kept mostly dry.
To track your Kenyan sand boa’s ambient humidity levels, use a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Kenyan sand boas are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat and facilitates appropriate humidity levels. Sand or sandy soil is generally best for meeting a sand boa’s needs.
Zoo Med ReptiSand and Exo Terra Desert Sand are the best commercial substrates for a Kenyan sand boa’s needs, although 1/20 to 1/30 sandblasting media is a good dust-free alternative. Another option is to use a DIY mix of 60% organic, additive-free topsoil + 40% play sand. Whatever you use, the substrate layer should be at least 3-4” deep, although deeper is likely to be used.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Decorations play an important role in your Kenyan sand boa’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Décor ideas: flats, cork hollows, cork flats, cholla wood, sturdy branches, ledges, artificial plants, drought-tolerant live plants
Kenyan sand boas are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Juveniles should be fed every 1-2 weeks, and adults should be fed every 2-4 weeks. At each feeding, provide a prey item or two roughly the same width as the snake’s widest point.
Although mice are the most common feeders, the key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet snake is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier, less picky snake.
Prey item ideas: mice, young rats, young hamsters, young gerbils, young quail, chicks, feeder lizards, Reptilinks
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to your pet snake. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to around 90°F/32°C before offering. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes.
If the snake doesn’t take food from tongs, place the prey on a small plate or bowl to avoid excessive substrate contamination. Note that adult males are known to fast for months during breeding season, which is normal and healthy.
Rosy boas can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but using them occasionally is a good way to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Every once in a while, lightly dust the prey item with a 50/50 mix of calcium and multivitamin before thawing.
Your Kenyan sand boa should have free access to a small bowl of fresh, clean water daily. This bowl should be scrubbed out with veterinary disinfectant such as Rescue or F10SC weekly for good hygiene.
You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling until it’s eating regularly.
Once your Kenyan sand boa is ready for handling, take it slow at first — just like any relationship. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using rudimentary positive reinforcement. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to longer sessions. Handling should occur at least weekly, but no more than once daily.
While handling your snake, be gentle. Rather than grabbing it, let it crawl onto your hand. Lift it from below rather than above, and support as much of its body as possible. Use slow movements and don’t walk around too much.
Kenyan sand boas usually tolerate handling well and very rarely bite. However, they are ambush predators, and instinctively lunge at prey-like objects when they are hidden under the substrate. To get around this, tap the snake with a paper towel roll before picking up.
- Catena, A., & Hembreee, D. (2014). Swimming through the substrate: the neoichnology of Chalcides ocellatus and biogenic structures of sand-swimming vertebrates. Palaeontologia Electronica. https://doi.org/10.26879/463
- Climate & Weather Averages in Arusha, Tanzania. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/tanzania/arusha/climate
- Climate & Weather Averages in Mombasa, Kenya. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/kenya/mombasa/climate
- Climate & Weather Averages in Nairobi, Kenya. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/kenya/nairobi/climate
- Climate & Weather Averages in Nakuru, Kenya. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/kenya/nakuru/climate
- East African Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus). (n.d.). INaturalist. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?taxon_id=32208
- Low UV Species. (n.d.). Arcadia Reptile. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/low-uv-species/
- Spawls, S., Howell, K., Hinkel, H., & Menegon, M. (2018). Field Guide to East African Reptiles (Second Edition, pp. 375–377). Bloomsbury Natural History.
- Sunrise and sunset times in Nairobi. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/kenya/nairobi
- Treacher, W. H. (2014). The Sandboa Book. Treat Publishing.
The ReptiFiles Kenyan Sand Boa Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.