There are only three species of Sand Boa that are regularly bred in the United States. Those are the East African Sand Boa (E. colubrinus), the Rough-scaled Sand Boa (E. conicus) and the Indian Sand Boa (E. johnii). Other species, such as the Spotted Sand Boa (E. jaculus), the Desert Sand Boa (E. miliaris) and the Tartar Sand Boa (E. tataricus) are less frequently bred. The other species of Sand Boa have never, or only rarely, been bred in captivity.
Sexing Sand Boas
One of the first things necessary for captive breeding is an adult pair of Sand Boas. Sand Boas are relatively easy to sex as adults by the relative tail lengths and their adult size. For most species, females are much larger than males and have relatively shorter tails (see the above photo and this link to Denise Loving's page on sexing baby sand boas). Males of some species have more prominent spurs, but size and tail length are more reliable indicators in adult snakes.
Under captive conditions, Sand Boas can reach breeding size in 3-4 years. There are some instances where snake breeders have "pushed" their snakes and forced them to reach breeding size at less than 2 years. However, there is a well documented life history trade-off between age at maturity and life expectency in animals and because of this, pushing animals into accelerated growth and early reproduction may shorten life expectency and result in stunted adult size.
In general, snakes are ready to breed at around two-thirds to three-quarters of the average adult size. For female Sand Boas, the critical factor is the weight of the female rather than the length. Females of most species grow rapidly in length for the first couple of years and then begin to put on weight as they approach maturity. Therefore a two year old 17 inch Desert Sand Boa that weighs 100 grams is not sexually mature but a year later when she is 18 inches long and weighs 160 grams she may be.
The large sexual dimorphism in size of sand boas shows up early in life. The typical growth pattern is for both male and females to progress to just below adult male size and then for the females to keep growing as the male's growth rate plateaus off.
This figure shows this pattern of growth in the monthly weights of a captive born pair of Eryxmiliaris. The prominent drops in the female's weight represent months where she had just given birth.
Here are some approximate guidelines for some species: (if you have any data to add please email me)
Because of the broad distribution of Sand Boas, the environmental factors which trigger reproduction differ from species to species. Some of the more tropical species (E. colubrinus, E. conicus) may reproduce without any period of brumation (inactivity during cool weather - often incorrectly called hibernation by hobbyists) while the more temperate species, such as E. tataricus, will not reproduce unless cooled off for several weeks or months. Some breeders cool of some species and not others, while other breeders successfully produce young without any cooling off period. The best general rule is to try and copy the climate of the area the snakes originate from. I have had success by cooling off the males of some species while keeping the females at normal captive temperatures in order to feed them to prepare them for the rigors of breeding.
For some species, increases in relative humidity have been shown to stimulate reproductive activity, while other species seem to be ready to mate at any time (this does not mean they can produce young, just that the males will court the females at any time.)
Sand Boas are live bearers. The female retains the embryos in her body and gives "birth" to them as fully developed little Sand Boas encased in little membranes. Many sources I have seen give a wide range of gestation periods for Sand Boas, ranging from 2 months to 8 months or more. Obviously, temperature will affect the length of the gestation, but not to the degree observed in the above range. I believe a lot of this confusion stems from observing courtship weeks or months prior to the actual successful mating (resulting in longer perceived gestation) or from observing courtship behavior after the female is already gravid (resulting in shorter perceived gestation). In general, gestation for Sand Boas lasts around 4 months. Frequently, no mating is observed (although I have seen my Sand Boas courting many times, I have never actually witnessed mating) and the date of fertilization is unknown.
To determine when to put your snakes together, I suggest you look at the distribution of captive births for the species you are interested in and subtract four months. I usually put my snakes together several days a week for a few weeks before the expected period and continue doing this for a month or so. I have had good success doing this and have produced offspring around the expected time by this technique. Males will frequently stop feeding around this time and may be unusually active.
The Gravid Female - So if you don't observe mating, or even if you do, how do you know if your snake is gravid? (I have had a couple of Sand Boas that I believed were gravid never give birth and have had a few surprise clutches from snakes that I had no idea were gravid. It is difficult to tell with heavy bodied snakes like Sand Boas). I think the most useful indicator of a female being gravid is her behavior. Gravid females will usually spend a lot of time laying in the warmest part of the cage, often right on the heat tape. They will often refuse food or only accept small food items or even regurgitate food items that are too large (avoid this; only offer small meals). Some of my females become a little more likely to bite if disturbed late in the gestation. Often the female will become very distended along the last half of her body and this is the part of the body she will often place on the heat tape. A carefully monitored under cage heat source is crucial to proper gestation! Females will sit on a heat source that is too hot if no appropriate source is available. I make sure the surface temperature at the hot spot is between 90� and 95� F.
Birth - Toward the later stages of gestation, I have noticed that the mass of the clutch seems to move down closer to the tail of the female. Unlike in egg laying snakes, there is no predictable pre-birth shed. Usually I notice that the female is particularly active at dusk for a few days. At this time I place a container of moist sphagnum moss in the cage. Sometimes the female will give birth in it and it helps the babies get free of their embryonic membranes. I avoid keeping females on sand or other fine substrate as the newborn snakes can have trouble freeing themselves from their sand-caked membranes and even when they do, the sand often gets caked on their eyes and around their mouths. The birth invariably takes place at night (usually when you're out of town for some reason).
Care of newborns - I move the newborn Sand Boas to a clean shoebox with moist paper towels for a few hours to allow them to get the last of the birth membrane and any other substrate off them. Then I place them in a clean shoebox with paper towels and a hide box and a shallow water bowl. They will shed within a week or ten days and then I offer them food (see the feeding page for more information on feeding baby Sand Boas).
Back to the Sand Boa Care Page
Back to the Sand Boa Page
� Chris Harrison
26 January, 2001
Kenyan sand boas (Gongylophis colubrinus) are docile species that have been rapidly growing in popularity.
Their easy care, laidback temperament, and hardiness make them popular for both new and experienced keepers.
Though ball pythons are often cited as the best snake for beginners, the sand boa has all of the same characteristics that make ball pythons desirable.
Beyond this, its size and tank requirements make it an objectively better choice for first-time reptile owners.
This guide covers all the facts you’ll need to know about Kenyan sand boas. We’ll discuss their temperament, care, breeding, and more in-depth.
Despite its name, the Kenyan sand boa (aka Eryx colubrinus) isn’t only found in Kenya!
It’s also native to Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Niger, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Chad, and Somalia.
Because of its wide geographic origin, this reptile is also sometimes referred to as the East African sand boa.
However, Kenyan sand boa is still its most common name.
Though once rare, captive-bred sand boas are now commercially available both domestically and internationally.
This is a smaller snake that has more straightforward care requirements than many others. It’s easy to keep, very hardy, and not prone to many genetic diseases.
Behavior & Temperament
These snakes are very docile and don’t mind frequent handling. They’re generally well behaved, though some may be skittish.
More active individuals may wiggle or jerk. Over time, they’ll adjust to you and being handled.
Boas also aren’t used to being outside of their burrows. This is another reason why they may move strangely in your hands or on solid ground.
The more you properly handle your boa, the tamer it will become. It’s best to regularly handle them at least a few times each week.
If your boa seems stressed, reduce how often you handle them. Stress is often indicated by a loss of appetite and hostility.
Remember that snakes are intelligent animals and have individual personalities.
Though the species shares general similarities, each boa may have personal preferences, quirks, etc.
Snake Bites and Aggression
Bites, either aggressive or defensive, are extremely rare. But keep in mind, accidental bites may happen during feeding or if a female is gravid.
If your boa bites you, don’t panic. Their bites are not venomous and generally aren’t more painful than a scratch from a cat or dog.
However, it can still be a traumatic experience for you and your snake. So in the future, make sure to avoid the circumstances that led to the accident.
To prevent this scenario, never reach for the first third of your snake’s body. Instead, aim for the middle of its body. Reach underneath it and make sure to provide support.
Snake hooks also work. You can touch your snake before you take it. This will help your snake understand that your hand (or hook) isn’t a tasty mouse.
DocSeward Snake Hook
Like many reptiles, Kenyan sand boas are a long-term commitment. They’ll be with you for well over a decade.
They can live upwards of 20 years or more. There are even reports from owners of their snakes living over 30 years!
If you want a Kenyan sand boa but aren’t prepared for such a long-term commitment, we suggest rescue and adoption. Many adult and senior reptiles need loving homes.
The Kenyan sand boa is a beautiful salmon or yellow color with dark brown or black spots.
However, morphs are also beginning to appear. These are boas with specific color patterns created by selective breeding.
Now, albinos, snows, tigers, and even anerythristic variations are available. But keep in mind, morphs are often more expensive and prone to health issues.
Kenyan sand boas have a stout, thicker body with a rounded nose and head. Though they may seem oddly shaped, their body is the result of amazing environmental adaptations.
Their nose and mouth are shaped this way to avoid ingesting substrate as their burrow. And the end of their tail is covered in keeled scales, which provides traction.
Generally, females are thicker-bodied. This helps support the gestation period and the birthing process.
Female boas can grow anywhere from 24 – 36 inches (2 – 3 feet), give or take a few inches. Males are smaller and only grow up to roughly 24 inches (2 feet).
Captive-bred boas tend to max out around 20 – 24 feet, while snakes sourced from the wild are usually bigger. If possible, always buy or adopt a captive-bred Kenyan sand boa.
This snake needs a 10-gallon enclosure minimum. However, this is more suited to juveniles.
When your boa reaches their adult stage, a 15 or 20-gallon tank is more appropriate. But if you want a bigger tank, your boa certainly won’t complain.
For one adult Kenyan sand boa we recommend 24 x 18 x 12 inches terrarium from Exo Terra.
Exo Terra Glass Terrarium Kit
If you want more than one sand boa, you’ll definitely need to upsize. Plan for at least another 10 gallons per snake.
Because they’re not climbers, horizontal tanks are preferred over vertical ones. The more square footage your tank has, the better.
Many keepers prefer a glass or acrylic tank with a mesh, secure lid. A plastic storage bin in a heated shelving unit will also work.
Since snakes are known for being escape artists, make sure to use cage clips and locks. Also, keep potential escape in mind when adding décor.
Kenyan sand boas aren’t a climbing species, but they are still capable of limited climbing movement. Because of this, they may try to use any tall tank décor as a launchpad.
Females and males may be kept communally, as can females and other females.
However, males should not be housed together.
Substrate and Décor
The Kenyan sand boa loves to burrow, so plan for a substrate to be your main feature. They love sand, aspen bedding, coconut mulch, and even newspaper.
We recommend to use natural aspen bedding from Galapagos. It’s great for Kenyan sand boas and any other burying snake. And the most important thing that it’s dust-free!
Galapagos Aspen Digs Shavings Bedding
Stay away from rough materials that could hurt your boa. Gravel, corncob bedding, and cedar shavings are all poor choices.
You’ll need a thick layer of whichever substrate you choose, at least 3 – 4 inches.
Because they’ll spend much of their time below the surface, heavy décor is not recommended. One or two hiding places and a water dish is fine.
Cork bark and half logs are commonly used. These should be large enough that your boa could curl up inside of them if they so desired. Avoid heavy stones or wood.
Spot clean your tank on a weekly basis, removing waste and other debris. Deep clean your tank monthly and examine the substrate to see if it needs to be replaced.
Cleaning also involves the equipment, hides, décor, etc. in your tank. It’s more convenient if these are made from easily sanitized materials.
Keep this in mind when you’re purchasing everything for your enclosure. Cork bark may look nicer than a plastic log, but it’s also harder to keep clean.
While you’re cleaning, this is also a great time to check your equipment and make sure it’s in tip-top shape. Properly dispose of damaged equipment and replace it as necessary.
Temperature & Lighting
Another benefit to a larger tank is that it’s easier to establish this temperature gradient. Your tank should have a warm side and a comparatively cool side.
The gradient should span roughly 95 – 80°F (35-26°C). At night, it can go down to the 70°F (21°C).
Younger snakes can benefit from warmer temperatures since they’re not as hardy as adults.
This also means that a drop in nighttime temperatures is not entirely necessary.
To make sure the temperature is right, you can use a reptile thermometer.
Some keepers use two thermometers, one on each side of the tank, to make sure the gradient is correct.
Digital laser thermometers let you take temperature readings from anywhere in the tank. These are useful for larger tanks with a heat gradient that may fluctuate more.
You’ll need an undertank (UT) heating pad on one side of the tank. It should take up roughly one-fourth to one-third of the tank bottom.
Our recommendation is VIVOSUN Reptile Heating Pad with digital thermostat. It’s controlled by a thermostat so you can control temperature in enclosure using digital thermostat.
VIVOSUN Reptile Heating Pad with Digital Thermostat
Add an insulating layer or felt reptile carpet, or similar material over the portion of the glass where the heating pad is. This will prevent your snake from burning themselves.
On top of the tank, add an overhead light fixture with a day heat bulb. At night, you can either turn the light off and use a heating mat.
Some owners claim that constant light stresses their sand boa out, while others haven’t witnessed any such side effects.
Either way, if you buy a heating bulb, make sure it’s a purple or blue light since some research suggests red light can damage your boa’s eyesight.
Also, you can choose ceramic heating lamp. It does not emit light and may be one of the heating method. Our recommendation would be Fluker’s Ceramic Heat Emitter.
Basking Lamps And Spots
You can also add a basking lamp and bulb. These differ from heat lamps and bulbs in that they’re usually higher wattage and more directed.
Stones and driftwood are the two most common types of materials used to create a basking spot. There are also commercial basking products like Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot or Fluker’s Basking Spotlight Bulbs.
Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot Lamp
If you add a basking spot, remember to check the temperature.
The basking spot should be at the upper end of the gradient and the warmest spot in the tank, but not hot enough to burn your reptile.
The closer a basking spot is to the bulb, the hotter it will get. For basking spots that involve branches or driftwood, this can quickly become a problem.
Warnings And Recommendations
Conversely, cold temperatures can be just as dangerous. A cooler environment may trigger brumation, which is essentially the reptile version of hibernation.
Brumation is not necessary for captive snakes and can cause otherwise concerning symptoms, such as lethargy and a loss of appetite.
Extremely cold or prolonged cold temperatures can cause illness and death.
All animals benefit from a regular light cycle, and the Kenyan sand boa is no different. Try to keep a regular schedule when it comes to turning the lights on and off.
For owners with unpredictable or busy schedules, light timers, like Zilla Digital Timer, automatically switch lights or turn them on/off at preset times.
Zilla Digital Timer
Regularly check your enclosure’s heating gradient and lighting. Make sure it’s not too hot (or cold) and that the light isn’t stressing out or hurting your snake.
It’s always a good idea to have backup equipment on hands, such as extra bulbs and heating mats. This way you’re prepared, even if something breaks or your bulb burns out.
If you live in an area where power outages are common, we recommend you look for battery-operated equipment for emergency use.
Unlike some other snakes, Kenyan sand boas don’t need high humidity all the time. They like a more arid enclosure that mimics the deserts they originate from.
Humidity around 30% will work most of the time.
The only time they appreciate higher humidity is during their shed cycles. You can increase the humidity throughout the enclosure or provide a temporary shed spot.
Shedding problems are rare but can happen. If your snake can’t shed, increase the humidity and monitor them.
During this period, a humidity of 60 – 65% works better.
You can use a spray bottle or misting system to control humidity. Sphagnum moss is also a great material for holding humidity.
Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss
Never directly spray your boa, especially with cold water.
A water dish can be provided at all times if your enclosure has a mesh screen top. But in a less ventilated tank, water dishes should only be offered periodically.
A hygrometer measures humidity in the tank. This equipment is just as important as the thermometer.
Zoo Med Labs Digital Hygrometer and Thermometer
It’s normal for humidity to fluctuate, but try to keep these changes to a minimum. Drastic or sudden changes in humidity can cause adverse reactions.
Keep in mind, it’ll be easier to maintain humidity in a bin than a glass or acrylic tank. It can be especially difficult if your tank has a mesh lid.
Always treat your water with a product like ReptiSafe or let it sit for at least 24 hours unsealed. This will get rid of chemicals often found in tap water, such as chlorine.
Hatchlings and young snakes should be fed pinky mice. As they mature into juveniles and young adults, fuzzies are more appropriate.
When your snake is an adult, then you can begin giving them larger hoppers and adult mice.
Appropriately sized prey should leave a bulge in your boa’s belly but not distend it too much.
Kenyan sand boas prefer live food, specifically mice. Many young snakes will refuse thawed or frozen prey until they’re older.
However, live food has its own drawbacks. The primary concern is that live food fights back and may cause injuries.
To make frozen and thawed food more appetizing, warm it to above room temperature. You can also pierce the prey’s brain to create a more enticing meal.
The best time to feed your boa is when they’re most active. For many snakes, this is in the early evening.
When it comes to thawed or frozen food, you may need to dangle and move it around to simulate live prey. This is especially common with picky eaters and shy individuals.
Boas are constrictors, meaning they’ll strike and then squeeze the mice before eating them.
If your sand boa doesn’t strike, you can lay the food in their enclosure next to a hide. But if they still don’t eat it within a few hours, remove it.
We recommend using long tweezers or tongs to feed your snakes. As mentioned earlier, this prevents accidental bites and prevents your boa from associating your hands with food.
unlumm Feeding Tongs 15″ 2 Pcs
Feeding Schedules and Recommendations
Males usually eat less often than females. But this isn’t always true, so don’t be alarmed if your snake eats every chance he gets.
Since females are larger, they’ll need to be fed more often or in larger quantities.
When shedding, boas may accept food but later discard it. For this reason, you can choose to forgot feeding during their shed cycle.
If you have sand in your enclosure, make sure to feed your snakes on a mat or similar setup to prevent ingestion and impaction.
Some owners prefer to feed their Kenyan sand boas in a completely different enclosure. If you do this, don’t handle your boa 24 hours prior to and after feeding.
A separate enclosure may be necessary if you have more than one boa in your tank. Food often causes aggression, even among mated or friendly pairs.
If your snake later regurgitates its food, this is usually a sign of stress. Remove the food if it’s safe to do so and try to pinpoint the stressor.
Potential Health Issues
As mentioned earlier, morphs are more prone to health issues. Fertility, eyesight, and coordination are the three most common areas affected.
Wobble is one of the worst health issue snakes can be afflicted by. Also known as corkscrewing, this is a neurological condition that affects coordination and is most common in spider morphs.
Kenyan sand boas are specifically at risk of inclusion body disease (IBD), which is a virus transmitted through body fluids.
Dirty tanks can cause issues like blister disease, mouth rot, respiratory infections, and fungal infections.
Kenyan sand boas can also hurt their noses trying to escape. If your snake is prone to this, examine them periodically for skin that’s been scraped or rubbed raw.
Injuries can also happen during feedings, especially if you use live prey. It’s not uncommon for boas to suffer from cut tongue sheaths and lacerations around their mouth and eyes.
In general, it’s good practice to arrange annual checkups. But if you see any concerning symptoms or are worried about a specific illness, schedule a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Since these types of reptiles spend most of their time underneath the substrate, it can be harder to spot when they’re hurt. So when you handle them, make sure to check for injuries.
Kenyan sand boas breed easily in captivity. They can be bred at any point during the year as long as specific steps are taken.
Females should be at least two years old, 20 inches, and 325 grams to breed.
Males can breed even before they hit the one-year mark.
When it comes to breeding, larger is always better. Never breed your female if she’s too young or small.
To prepare your female, you’ll need to trigger brumation. This is done by dropping the temperature to the mid-70s of Fahrenheit.
You can drop the temperature suddenly or over a two-week transition period. Both methods have produced successful results.
Prior to lowering the temperature, refrain from offering food for at least two weeks in advance. Do not feed them at all during brumation.
Always make sure fresh water is available.
After two months, begin bringing your female out of brumation. This can also be done suddenly or over a period of time.
Post-Brumation And Courting
Once a week has passed since returning to normal temperatures, begin feeding your sand boa again. Start with small mice twice weekly and work back up to her previous feeding schedule.
Two or three weeks after this point, introduce your male to your female. Usually, courtship will begin immediately or within a few hours.
Monitor them for the next four days, but otherwise, leave them alone. After this, give them both a break for the rest of the week.
Repeat this process two or three more times or until you’re relatively confident the female is pregnant.
If the pair loses interest in breeding and refuses to engage in courtship, separate them.
If one male is not showing interest, even at the start, you can introduce a second male to simulate competition.
However, be prepared for the males to fight and make sure to separate them after a few minutes.
It’s also possible for the breeding process to take place naturally, without any human intervention. If you keep males and females together, they may produce a litter on their own.
Pregnancy And Birth
The gestation period for sand boas is 4 – 6 months. Females often seek out heat during this period, so make sure ample basking spaces and heat sources are available.
One of the Kenyan boa’s amazing and unique traits is that they give birth to live young, not eggs! Females can produce as many as 20 young per litter.
The babies will come out in individual membranes. The mother will consume any unfertilized ova post-delivery.
Once born, the babies should be separated from the mother. They should be provided with the same amenities but in a smaller container or tank.
Hatchlings typically have their first shed a week after birth. Once this happens, you can begin feeding them pinkies.
The Kenyan sand boa is an excellent choice for both new and veteran reptile keepers. This snake is easy to care for, hardy, and beautiful.
Its long lifespan means that you’ll have years (even decades) of joy. And since it’s prone to very few diseases, your snake will live its fullest and longest life with proper care.
Our Breeders - Sand Boas
Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
The 'Standard' of Sand Boas! Attractively patterned in dark brown circles on a pale orange ground color. Easy to keep and make great pets. Kenyan Sand Boas are very gentle and small, maturing at less than two feet for males, slightly more for females. Most of ours will be heterozygous for other traits and may be priced higher accordingly.
Anerythristic Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Anerythrism, a recessive trait. Really cute and fat little black and white snakes. Anerythrism removes the yellows and oranges, leaving these guys patterned in blackish circles on white. They are so adorable, we hate to sell any - but we can't keep them all!
Albino Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
aka Bell Albino. Homozygous for Amelanism, a recessive trait. Really cute and fat little tan and orange snakes. Commonly being referred to as "Bell Albino" (after Mark Bell, the originator) to eliminate confusion with the Paradox Albino. Like other Kenyan Sand Boas, they are very gentle and small, but remember they have difficulty seeing well if kept in very bright light. Use these to breed with anerythristic specimens to produce snows!
Snow Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Amelanism and Anerythrism. Amelanism removes the darker pigments, while Anerythrism removes yellows and oranges, leaving only the very lightest colors behind. Patterned in almost clear tan blotches on a white background at birth, these are really interesting looking little snakes.
Albino Paradox Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Albino Paradox, a recessive trait. Albino Paradox is different from normal albino and the two are not genetically compatible (eg breeding one of each together results in normal looking double hets). Really cute and fat little tan and orange snakes, with unexpected random black spots. How this is possible on an albino animal is a paradox, hence the name. Like other Kenyan Sand Boas, they are very gentle and small, but remember they have difficulty seeing well if kept in very bright light. Use these to breed with anerythristic specimens to produce snows!
Snow Paradox Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Anerythrism and Albino Paradox, two recessive traits. Albino Paradox removes the darker pigments (except in random places), while Anerythrism removes yellows and oranges, leaving only the very lightest colors behind. Patterned in almost clear tan blotches on a white background at birth, with large irregular black blotches from the Paradox trait, these are really interesting looking little snakes.
Ghost Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Anerythrism and an undetermined trait resembling hypomelanism. A new project here, just in it's infancy.
Striped Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
In 1933 the subspecies E. c. rufescens was described to science but later invalidated. Only a handful of these were ever imported, but all had a unique almost patternless look to them. Crossing these "rufescens" into typical Kenyan Sand Boas produces the unique striped looking snakes offered here.
Striped Anerythristic Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus loveridgei)
Homozygous for Anerythrism. Crossing "rufescens" into typical Kenyan Sand Boas produces unique striped looking snakes. Adding Anerythrism to the Striped pattern variant creates a unique look!
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Breeding Kenyan sand boas is a complicated process, requiring a lot of planning and knowledge. It’s not as simple as putting two snakes together and hoping for a positive outcome.
To breed Kenyan sand boas, lower the temperature during winter. This encourages them to brumate, ready for breeding in the Spring. Introduce the male to the female once the temperature is back up. When you notice signs that the female is gravid, you can remove the male. She will give birth to live young 4-5 months later.
There’s less involved in breeding Kenyan sand boas than many other types of snakes. They’re live-bearing, so you won’t need an incubator, or to monitor the eggs as they develop. But there’s still a lot you can do to help the process go smoothly.
Kenyan Sand Boa Genetics
One of the most exciting parts of breeding Kenyan sand boas is producing morphs. A morph is a snake that looks different to the standard wild-type Kenyan sand boa. It may have a different color, a different pattern, or both.
Kenyan sand boa morphs are determined by DNA: they are the result of genetic mutations. If you know which genes your Kenyan sand boas carry, you can predict what their offspring will look like.
Some morphs are dominant (heterozygous). This means that only one copy of the mutated allele is needed for the baby to express the morph.
Recessive (homozygous) morphs are only visible when the baby inherits 2 copies of the allele. Both the mother and father would need to be carrying it to produce babies that display that morph.
Kenyan Sand Boa Morphs
A snake can be a carrier of a recessive gene without expressing it. When this happens, the snake is “heterozygous for” or “het for” that trait.
For example, take a Kenyan sand boa that carries one copy of the albino gene. This snake would look normal, but be “het for albino”. If you bred it to an albino Kenyan sand boa (or another het albino), some of the babies would be albinos.
To predict what morphs your Kenyan sand boas might produce, you’ll need to know what genes they carry. If you don’t, the babies will be a surprise.
|Albino||Recessive (2 copies of albino gene)||Yellow to orange markings on a pinkish-white background color|
|Hypomelanistic||Recessive (2 copies of hypomelanistic gene)||Light brown markings on a cream background|
|Anerythristic||Recessive (2 copies of anerythristic gene)||Black markings on a white background|
|Splash||Recessive (2 copies of splash gene)||These snakes have a reduced pattern, typically towards the tail end|
|Albino Paradox||Recessive (2 copies of albino paradox gene)||Albino in appearance, but with small randomly-scattered black spots|
|Stripe||Dominant (1 copy of stripe gene)||A pattern morph creating a vertical stripe running along the top of the body|
|Snow||Double Recessive (2 copies each of albino and anerythristic genes)||White markings on a pinkish white background|
|Ghost||Double Recessive (2 copies each of anerythristic and hypomelanistic genes)||Light grey markings on a white background|
You can also create “designer morphs” (snakes expressing multiple traits) by combining certain genes. For example, it’s possible to make a snow stripe Kenyan sand boa. This would require 2 copies each of albino and anerythristic genes, plus one copy of the stripe gene.
Kenyan Sand Boa Breeding Guide
When you’ve chosen which snakes you’d like to pair, check that they’re ready to breed. Males and females reach sexual maturity at different points.
A male Kenyan sand boa must be over 1 year old, and at least 75 grams in weight. The female must be at least 2 years old, and should weigh 300 grams or more. If your snakes are the right age, but too light, wait until they’ve gained weight before pairing them. To breed Kenyan sand boas, you will need:
- A male and female, each of breeding size and age
- Two enclosures (one for each of the parents), each containing a thermostat
- Several small lidded tubs for the babies to live in. Each should contain some substrate, a hide, and a water dish
- A snake hook, for moving the snakes around. This is optional, if you’re comfortable using your hands
- A large supply of frozen-thawed rodents for feeding, including pinky mice for the babies
Unlike when breeding ball pythons and other oviparous snakes, you won’t need an egg incubator. Kenyan sand boas are live-bearing: they give birth to babies, instead of laying eggs.
According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, boas and other live-bearing snakes transport vital nutrients to their offspring during development. They’re better able to protect their babies than egg-laying snakes.
1) Prepare Kenyan Sand Boas for Breeding
Kenyan sand boa breeding season is during the spring. Most snakes will mate between March and May, and give birth in the summer or early fall. This breeding pattern is common among many species of snakes.
According toILAR Journal, mating behavior is triggered by an increase in sex hormones and sex steroids. This change happens automatically when snakes come out of brumation (the reptilian equivalent of hibernation).
As pet Kenyan sand boas live indoors, their enclosures are usually maintained at the same temperature year-round. So, to trigger mating behavior, it’s essential to induce a ‘cool period’ which will encourage brumation.
Starting in December, lower the temperature of your Kenyan sand boas’ enclosures to 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be done all at once, or gradually over a couple of weeks.
During the cool period, your snakes will become less active. They’ll spend most of the time in their hides. You can still continue to offer food during this time, though they may not take it. This is normal.
At the end of February, gradually increase the temperature each day until it’s back to its normal level. Start feeding your snakes regularly, to help them gather their strength for breeding.
2) Check for Signs of Ovulation
In the spring, you may notice signs of ovulation in your female Kenyan sand boa. Ovulation refers to the time when her eggs have ripened, and are ready to be fertilized. Although Kenyan sand boas are live-bearing, they still develop eggs inside them. But these aren’t laid: instead, they develop into live young.
If your Kenyan sand boa is ovulating, her abdomen may take on a swollen appearance. It almost looks as if she’s suddenly swallowed a large meal. To the touch, it will feel firm and muscular. Ovulating Kenyan sand boas may also act more aggressive, and will often refuse food.
Around this time, you may also notice a change in your male Kenyan sand boa. If his enclosure is near the female’s, he will pick up the scent of her pheromones. This will cause him to roam around inside his enclosure, looking for her. He may also refuse food.
You won’t always see signs of ovulation. If you don’t, you can still pair the male with the female. Often, a female won’t ovulate until after she’s already mated. According to the Journal of Experimental Zoology, female reptiles can retain sperm in the oviduct until it’s needed.
3) Introduce the Male to the Female
During April, your female Kenyan sand boa will shed her skin. This is a sign that she’s ready to be introduced to the male. It’s up to you whether you put the male into the female’s enclosure, or the other way around.
For the first couple of hours, monitor your snakes carefully. Although it’s uncommon, male and female Kenyan sand boas can sometimes fight. In rare cases, the female may attempt to eat the male.
If you notice your snakes hissing, rearing up, or striking at each other, separate them. It’s not known exactly why this happens, but it’s a sign that they aren’t ready to mate.
If all is well, you can leave your snakes alone. When they’re ready to mate, the male will stimulate the female. He’ll climb on top of her, and start rubbing his chin along her back and sides.
During copulation they will ‘lock’ together, with the male’s hemipenis inside the female’s cloaca. They will lie still together, with their tails wrapped around each other.
If the male doesn’t seem interested in mating, it can help to introduce him to another male. They will naturally want to fight, and this can help them realise it’s breeding season. Separate them when they start fighting, and place the male that you want to breed back in with the female.
4) Look for Signs the Female is Gravid
If your Kenyan sand boas have successfully mated, the female will become gravid (pregnant). This is what it’s called when the eggs inside her have been fertilized, and are starting to develop. Signs that your Kenyan sand boa is gravid include:
- Swelling in the abdomen. This can look similar to ovulation. However, it’s much more obvious. Her skin will look extremely stretched, as if she may burst at any minute.
- Heat-seeking. Your Kenyan sand boa will search for the warmest spots in the enclosure, and bask there.
- Lying inverted. Gravid Kenyan sand boas may sometimes lie on their backs, with their belly up in the air. This is more likely to happen if her enclosure has an overhead heat source, such as a lamp.
- Changes in appetite. She may seem hungrier as she’s nourishing not only herself, but her growing offspring. However, some gravid Kenyan sand boas may go off food altogether.
- Roaming around the enclosure. This is a sign that a Kenyan sand boa is almost ready to give birth. She’s looking for somewhere safe and secluded to have her babies.
You may also notice a change in her personality. Some gravid Kenyan sand boas can be more snippy and defensive than usual. This is most likely because they’re uncomfortable.
5) Separate the Male and the Female
Once you’re sure that the female is gravid, the male’s work is done. You can now remove him from the female’s enclosure (or vice versa).
If he wasn’t interested in feeding before, he will be now. You can put your male back onto his normal schedule.
At this point, all you have to do is keep your female Kenyan sand boa happy until she gives birth. Try not to disturb her too much, and keep handling to a minimum. Ensure that she always has a supply of fresh water.
Kenyan sand boas are usually extremely hungry while they’re gravid. They’re nourishing not only themselves, but their growing offspring. So, don’t hesitate to feed her more often than you usually would.
However, it’s a good idea to feed her smaller prey than usual. Very large meals could damage the developing young.
6) Remove the Babies Soon After Birth
In August or September, your Kenyan sand boa will shed her skin again. This is a sign that she’s about to give birth. This almost always happens during the night.
You’ll most likely wake up to a new litter of baby Kenyan sand boas exploring their mother’s enclosure. These snakes are precocial, so they are alert and mobile from birth. Each baby is around 8 inches long.
Kenyan sand boas are born inside a thin membrane. Most of the babies will pierce the sac and escape on their own. Underdeveloped or weak babies will struggle, and you may find that some of them don’t make it. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable part of snake breeding.
Remove all the babies straight away, and house them each in their own separate container. Be aware that some may be hiding amongst substrate or underneath vivarium accessories.
7) Feed Your Baby Kenyan Sand Boas
Some newborn Kenyan sand boas will be ready to eat immediately. But most newborns will wait until their first shed before they show interest in food. This will usually happen 1-2 weeks after birth.
Feed your newborn Kenyan sand boa a rodent that is the same width as the widest part of the snake. This will usually be a pinky mouse, but some larger babies can manage fuzzies.
Once your baby Kenyan sand boas have successfully taken two meals, they’re ready to be rehomed. Kenyan sand boas should always be housed individually.
How Long Are Kenyan Sand Boas Gravid?
Once your Kenyan sand boas have locked up, it’s a matter of time before the female gives birth. However, the exact length of time can appear to vary quite dramatically.
This is because it’s difficult to tell when a Kenyan sand boa is ovulating. She may ovulate before pairing with the male, or after (storing the sperm until it’s needed). And once she’s gravid, she may not show signs straight away.
On average, Kenyan sand boa pregnancies last between 4-5 months. But to be on the safe side, ensure you have the babies’ food and enclosures ready long before this time. You don’t want to be scrambling to acquire supplies if your snake gives birth earlier than anticipated.
If more than 6 months have passed, and your female has not given birth, she’s probably not gravid. Try again next year and see if you have better luck.
How Many Babies Do Kenyan Sand Boas Have?
Snakes can have a surprisingly large number of babies per litter. This is because in the wild, tiny snakes are often picked off by predators. There’s safety in numbers – having more babies increases the chance that some will survive to adulthood.
The average litter size for a Kenyan sand boa is 10-20. However, some Kenyan sand boas can have over 30 babies at once. The record is around 32.
Young Kenyan sand boas, that have never given birth before, tend to have fewer babies. Your snake’s very first litter will probably be on the smaller side (5-12). But larger, older and more experienced females may have 18-25 babies per season.
Why Did My Kenyan Sand Boa Pass Slugs?
Slugs are unfertilized eggs. They are yellow to orange, and may be round or ovoid in shape. It’s normal for a Kenyan sand boa to pass a few slugs while giving birth to a litter. Not all of the eggs will be fertilized when a snake ovulates.
You’ll probably find that your Kenyan sand boa eats the slugs after passing them. This is completely normal. She knows that they aren’t going to develop, so she consumes them to regain lost nutrients.
It’s also possible for a Kenyan sand boa to pass an entire clutch of slugs, containing no healthy babies. This happens when the snake ovulates, but no sperm come into contact with the eggs.
If this happens to you, it may be because the male wasn’t mature enough to breed. Next year, when both snakes are bigger, you’ll likely have more success.
Breeders sand boa
While Kenyan sand boas (Eryx colubrinus) have yet to achieve the popularity of corn snakes or ball pythons, they are still kept and bred in significant numbers, and are considered by many to be among the best choices for a pet snake. They reproduce readily in captivity, so obtaining a captive-bred specimen is never a problem.
Courtesy Jennifer Huntley Photography. Snakes courtesy sandboamorphs.com.
Kenyan sand boas come in a variety of morphs, as can be seen here.
My Kenyans usually start courting behavior when introduced in May through July. This time frame varies, depending on a number of aspects, including the amount of food the female has taken (she needs to have adequate body weight for breeding) and the weather. I have had baby Kenyan's born in every month from October through April.
A two-month period of cooling is a good way to get your Kenyans in the mood for romance. This needs only to be a slight drop in temperature to have the desired effect. Simply shutting off the heat source to the enclosure and leaving them at room temperature will do the trick. An overall habitat temperature in the mid-70s is acceptable for Kenyan sand boa brumation. If the room is drafty, or there is a risk of the temperature dropping below 70 degrees, a lower-wattage heat source will keep it out of the danger zone.
I usually shut the heat source off for my sand boas around Christmas, and start warming them up around the end of February. Some keepers prefer to gradually lower the temperature over a period or two weeks or so, some just drop the temperatures suddenly. I have done it both ways, with no negative results. I do, however, stop offering food at least two weeks prior to shutting off the heat source.
Some years I have simply been too busy to focus on their cycling, and they still end up reproducing just fine. In other words, cooling them does help, but it is not necessary to breed this species successfully.
If you do cool your sand boas, be sure they have sufficient body weight, and do not feed them two weeks prior to, and during, the cooling period. They will not be able to digest their food properly without their regular heat source. Always ensure that fresh water is available to the snakes, even during brumation. Females should be at least 2 years old to breed, but males are occasionally to be reproductive at less than one year. A length of no less than 21 inches, and a weight of 325 grams, is required for breeding females. Larger is better. If an extra year is needed for a female to obtain the desired size, it will be worth the wait. The litter size is almost always larger in larger females, and the reproductive process will be far less stressful for the animal.
A week after cage temperatures return to normal (95 degrees Fahrenheit for the hotspot and 80 degrees for the cooler side), start offering small prey items, twice weekly. After a couple of weeks, I introduce my males into the females' cages. More often than not, courtship occurs immediately, or within a few hours. I leave them together for three or four days, then put the male back in his own enclosure for the rest of the week, offering food to both snakes. I follow the same method for all of my Kenyan sand boas for a month or so, until there is no more interest in breeding or I am convinced that they got the job done.
In the rare event that desired a male is not showing any interest in breeding, I will introduce a second male to the enclosure. This will often heat things up instantly, and combat between the two males will transpire. I have never seen any actual damage done, but I have heard about males inflicting nasty bites on one another, so I never leave them unattended. Five minutes of combat is usually long enough to rouse the leisurely male into waking up and smelling the pheromones!
A gravid female sand boa will seek out belly heat to help with the development of her babies. Be sure to provide this via a heat cable with a thermostat or an undertank heating pad. The gestation period is about four to six months, with the temperature having some influence on the birth date.
My females will usually continue feeding throughout most of their term, but I offer them smaller meals to allow room for the developing babies. Usually, as the due date approaches, females will refuse food altogether.
Kenyan sand boa does not lay eggs. They give birth to live young. No incubator needed. The female boa retains the embryos inside her, and she delivers the fully formed babies encased in individual membranes. Often she consumes unfertilized ova (slugs) at the time of delivery.
Out of all the sand boa litters I've had born, delivery has always taken place overnight. Litter sizes have ranged from six to 18, but I have heard of large females having more than 20 babies.
When the babies arrive, separate them from the mother and set them up in a plastic shoebox-sized container with small air holes, a heat source, paper lining, hiding places and a small water bowl. The mother can be offered small prey items again immediately, but she may enter a shed cycle first before accepting food. The babies should be offered their first meals after they complete their first shed, which is in about a week from the birth date.
I keep the entire litter together in the same container to start. I offer one pinky mouse, dead or alive, and wait to see which baby takes it. I remove this snake to its own container, and repeat the process until they have all taken their first meal. This may be done over the period of several days. This method has worked incredibly well for me, and I use it for many of my other types of snakes with excellent results. This type of group feeding may inspire predation through a sense of competition, or simply get them into a natural feeding mode because of the motion and excitement. It's a good idea to keep an eye on the progress, to ensure that two snakes don't go after the same pinky, which can result in one snake being accidentally swallowed by another.
I believe the Kenyan sand boa is in a good place right now, in terms of a moderately low-investment breeding animal. There is a devoted and growing following for the species, and with new morphs emerging, the demand is increasing and the value is holding firm. Because there are not huge numbers being produced, the market is not flooded, so breeders are not stuck with excess offspring. These factors, combined with the snake's willingness to readily reproduce in captivity, make it an excellent choice for an entry-level or intermediate breeding project.
Darren Boyd is a professional musician, herpetoculturist and all-around troublemaker. His founded his reptile breeding and education-based business, The Reptile Rainforest, in 1995. Visit him on the Web at reptilerainforest.com and darrenboyd.com.
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