Choosing your first snake is a big decision. You want to find a snake that is relatively easy to handle and take care of, but will also teach you skills that you can use to take care of other snakes in the future.
Kenyan sand boas are popular snakes for beginners. Their docile nature and small size make them easy to care for. These sand boas require a warm enclosure to match their East African natural habitat. You can feed your Kenyan sand boa small mice. Be sure to provide your pet with plenty of substrate to dig in, since it is a burrowing snake.
Let’s take some time to learn why Kenyan sand boas are good snakes for beginners, and also how to take care of these gentle snakes.
Should I Get a Kenyan Sand Boa?
According to the Brevard Zoo, the big draw for reptile keepers is the relatively small size of the Kenyan sand boa. They do not require much space, and this makes these snakes a popular pet.
These snakes are also known for slow movement and a generally passive personality. If you are a bit nervous around large, aggressive, or fast-moving snakes, then this sand boa is a good place for you to start taking care of snakes.
Another quality that makes Kenyan sand boas a good snake for beginners is that they do not require complicated care. A lot of the simple care techniques you learn while taking care of a Kenyan sand boa, you can later apply to looking after any snake you own in the future.
What Is A Kenyan Sand Boa?
Kenyan sand boas have the scientific name Gongylophis colubrinus. They are also often referred to as the “East African sand boa.”
When you hear the word “boa,” you probably think of a very large snake. However, Kenyan sand boas are quite small compared to other snakes in their family. Kenyan sand boas are short and a bit chubby, with their eyes on the top of their head.
- Average Weight: 2 to 4 ounces
- Average Length: 2 to 3 feet
- Maximum Length of Females: 3 feet
- Maximum Length of Males: 2.5 feet
These snakes are usually yellow or tan with brown spots all along their bodies. Breeders have created color morphs for Kenyan sand boas, creating an even wider variety of beautiful colors to choose from:
- Snow white
Kenyan sand boas come from East Africa. In the wild, you will find them in grasslands made of sandy soils.
Where Can You Buy A Kenyan Sand Boa?
Due to their popularity as pets, it is relatively easy to find a captive-bred Kenyan sand boa. Check out your local pet stores or reptile breeders to see if they have any in stock. Online reptile stores are another great resource.
When choosing a store or breeder, take some time to research their reputation. You want to support a breeder who is known for taking good care of their snakes.
How To Care for a Kenyan Sand Boa
Before you get a new snake, you should first learn some details not only about the snake itself but also how to take proper care of it. Let’s first learn about the kind of home you should provide your snake. Then we will discuss feeding, handling, and taking care of a sick Kenyan sand boa.
What Kind Of Enclosure?
When creating a home for your Kenyan sand boa, you need to keep several traits of their enclosure in mind. Let’s go over these aspects one by one.
1. How Big Should The Enclosure Be?
Due to their small size, Kenyan sand boas do not require much space. While you can’t go wrong with providing your snake with a bigger tank with more substrate to burrow around in, you do not typically need to provide much more than 20 gallons.
- Enclosure Size For Hatchling: 10 gallons
- Enclosure Size For Adult: 20 gallons
Whether you choose a glass, plastic, or wooden terrarium, make sure that it has a secure lid. Snakes are naturally curious, and a lot of the time they turn out to be quite the escape artist. Kenyan sand boas can easily push the lid off of a loose plastic container or poke their way around an unsecured screen lid. Use a lock or clamps to hold a lid in place and keep your snake from escaping. Here’s how to find a missing snake.
2. What Substrate Does The Enclosure Need?
Kenyan sand boas love to burrow and dig. Therefore, any enclosure for these snakes requires substrate. The substrate is a material that lines the bottom of a snake’s enclosure. This makes the snake’s environment more comfortable and natural than the bare glass, wood, or plastic floor of a tank or cage.
Here are some things to keep in mind while choosing a substrate for your Kenyan sand boa’s enclosure:
- Keep things dry inside the enclosure.
- Make sure your snake can dig and burrow.
- Avoid materials with extra scents or unnatural toxins, to avoid irritating your snake’s skin.
- Avoid materials that are too dusty. These can cause impaction of swallowed and respiratory infections if inhaled.
Considering these necessities, paper towel, reptile carpet, or dusty sand may not be the best options for your Kenyan sand boa. Instead find a substrate made of Aspen chips, coconut mulch, play sand, or another substrate marketed for burrowing snakes. Provide enough of a substrate layer for the snake to completely cover itself.
Don’t be too surprised if it’s hard to see your sand boa in its tank during the day. It may not have escaped. Instead, it may be burrowing. These snakes are much more comfortable under their substrate during the day. In the wild, they most often emerge from their burrows at night.
3. How Should You Furnish The Enclosure?
You might wonder whether your snake will get bored in a terrarium without much besides the substrate inside. However, Kenyan sand boas do not particularly care for extra furniture or enriching toys. A study by the University of Texas found that sand boas exhibited more signs of stress when there were extra toys in their cage, such as a wooden ball.
The answer is not to give your sand boa a completely empty tank, though. That same study found that these snakes exhibited much fewer signs of stress when they had enough substrate to burrow in, compared to their signs of stress when they only had a little bit of newspaper to crawl on. Give your sand boa as close an environment to what it would find in the wild, and you will have a happy, healthy snake.
That said, many sand boas still enjoy having something to hide under besides their substrate. These are known as “hides” – objects that provide spaces similar to tunnels or caves. Hides allow the snake to feel protected and hidden from threats, which is especially important when the snake is new to a strange environment.
You can purchase hides online or at your local pet store. Another option is to make your own. An old ceramic flowerpot, cardboard box, or plastic container can be quickly turned into a handy dark little hiding place for your snake by putting some holes in it. It’s a good call to provide your snake with two hides – one at the warmer end of the enclosure, and one at the cooler end.
If you do decide to add extra furniture such as rocks to the enclosure, make sure that these accessories are firmly fastened to the floor of the enclosure. If a Kenyan sand boa burrows underneath a heavy rock, it can cause a small avalanche that could injure the snake. A good substrate and a couple of hides are recommended.
4. How Warm Should The Enclosure Be?
In the wild, Kenyan sand boas are used to a very warm natural environment. It makes sense that you should provide your Kenyan sand boa with an enclosure with a high temperature. Keep in mind that your snake will on occasion want to experience a lower temperature, as it may feel during the cooler nighttime in the wild. The solution is to provide an enclosure with a warmer end on one side and a cooler end on the other.
- Warmer End Temperature: Between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cooler End Temperature: Around 80 degrees Fahrenheit
- Nighttime Temperature: Above 70 degrees Fahrenheit
The best way to keep your sand boa’s enclosure warm is with a heating pad that you can place on the underside of the tank. Heat tape can also be affixed to the side of the enclosure for similar results.
To keep track of the temperature levels in your tank, be sure to get two thermometers. Attach one thermometer to the wall of the warm side of the enclosure, and the other to the cooler side of the enclosure. Check these temperatures daily to make sure that your snake has a comfortably heated home.
5. How Should You Light The Enclosure?
Kenyan sand boas are mostly nocturnal animals. This means that these snakes usually hunt at night and sleep in their burrow during the day. However, you will also find them outside of their burrow during the day, enjoying the warmth of the sun. So, while Kenyan sand boas may enjoy moving around in the darkness, they also need a natural cycle of daytime and nighttime lighting in order to meet all of their needs.
You may have enough light provided for your snake by the normal lighting you get from the windows of your house, or the electrical lights you already have. If this light doesn’t seem to be enough, you may want to provide a basking lamp for your snake. This lamp can also help create the warmer temperatures on one side of your snake’s enclosure. Around 12 hours of light each 24-hour day is a good amount for your sand boa.
6. How Humid Should The Enclosure Be?
In addition to considering temperature and light, you should also keep the humidity of the enclosure in mind. Kenyan sand boas come from very dry parts of Africa, so you shouldn’t need to provide any special measures to add humidity to your snake’s enclosure. When they’re dry, they’re happy.
Avoid allowing the enclosure’s humidity level to rise above 30-40%. An environment that is too humid can help give your snake respiratory illnesses. You can keep track of the enclosure’s humidity by attaching a hygrometer to the enclosure.
If you find that the tank is too humid, check to make sure that the substrate has not become wet. A wet substrate can increase humidity. You also might need to switch out your Kenyan sand boa’s water source for a smaller bowl. Too much water can contribute to humidity.
Good ventilation is also a must in any Kenyan sand boa’s enclosure. Screen lids or air holes can help maintain temperatures and keep the humidity low.
What To Feed a Kenyan Sand Boa
Kenyan sand boas are carnivores. In the wild, they hunt small prey such as lizards, nestling mammals, and birds. In captivity, you can feed your Kenyan sand boa small rodents. It is easy to order frozen rodents in bulk.
Keep in mind the size of your snake while feeding it. Give your snake a rodent that is around the same width as the widest part of your snake’s body. Small mice will usually suffice given the average small size of a Kenyan sand boa. It is unlikely that your snake will be big enough to require meals made of rats.
Be sure to give it time to comfortably digest before you handle it. Handling a snake too soon after a meal can stress out the snake and cause it to regurgitate its food. Waiting a day before handling the snake again is a good general rule. A good time of day to feed your snake is right before bedtime. This will allow the snake to digest its food overnight.
Should You Feed a Kenyan Sand Boa Live Prey?
In the wild, Kenyan sand boas hunt live prey. Unlike other constrictors, rather than depending on coiling around their prey to suffocate it, the Kenyan sand boa will instead pull their prey under the ground to suffocate it. Knowing this, you might come to think that your sand boa will prefer a live meal instead of a frozen rodent.
However, there are hazards to feeding live prey to a captive snake. A live mouse may not seem harmful, but it can bite your snake in an attempt to defend itself. In the wild, a snake would be able to get away from aggressive prey. In a captive enclosure, it has no means of escape, and rodent bites can lead to infections.
If your Kenyan sand boa seems reluctant to eat an already dead mouse, you may need to trigger its hunting response. Use a pair of tongs to wiggle the rodent around in the tank near your snake’s head. The snake’s hunting instinct should be triggered by the moving meal, and it will grab the food. Be careful not to jerk away when the snake strikes – if you pull the mouse out of the snake’s mouth, then your snake could lose a tooth.
How Often Should You Feed a Kenyan Sand Boa?
Kenyan sand boas do not need to be fed every day. However, they will need to be fed more often when they are young than when they have matured.
- Baby Kenyan sand boas: feed once every 4-5 days
- Adult female Kenyan sand boas: feed once every week
- Adult male Kenyan sand boas: feed once every 10-14 days
Do not attempt to feed your Kenyan sand boas while they are shedding. It is normal for them to not eat during this time. They may just strike the meal and then abandon it, wasting a mouse.
What About Water?
Usually, snakes can get the moisture they need from the food they eat. However, it is still a good idea to provide your snake with a reliable source of clean, fresh water.
Get a bowl that is large enough for your snake to get its entire body into if it needs to, but not so large that the snake will have a hard time getting itself back out of the bowl. Snakes can drown, after all. Your snake may not seem to use the water bowl much, but it will be useful when the snake is a little too hot or if it is ready to shed.
Does Your Kenyan Sand Boa Need A Companion?
These snakes are not overly social. They do not require companionship, so you can keep one snake alone in its tank, especially if you are not yet sure whether you can take care of two snakes at once.
However, Kenyan sand boas can cohabit the same tank in certain combinations. Just be sure to separate them during feeding, so they do not compete over food and accidentally hurt each other.
- Two female Kenyan sand boas: can cohabit the same tank.
- One male and one female Kenyan sand boa: can cohabit the same tank, but will likely breed.
- Two male Kenyan sand boas: cannot cohabit the same tank.
In the wild, male Kenyan sand boas tend to fight over territory. It is not a good idea to house two male sand boas in the same tank.
If you are interested in breeding snakes, a male and female pair of Kenyan sand boas is a good place to start. Kenyan sand boas can have anywhere between 4 and 20 babies in one clutch.
How To Handle Your Kenyan Sand Boa
Kenyan sand boas tend to move very slowly, and they are not terribly active. This makes them relatively easy to handle. These snakes also like to burrow, which means that they may try to hide under your sleeves, under your collar, or in your pockets. Here are some tips for handling and socializing your Kenyan sand boa.
- Set up your snake’s enclosure in a room where humans frequently come and go, so the snake can get used to how you sound and smell.
- Give the snake a few days to settle into its new home before you attempt to handle it.
- While Kenyan sand boas are not known to bite, you may want to wear gloves when you first handle it.
- Pick up the sand boa from the middle of its body, rather than the front. This will help the snake tell the difference between playtime and food time. Snakes mainly bite because they mistake your hand for food.
- Support the snake with both hands and allow it to freely explore your arms.
What If Your Kenyan Sand Boa Gets Sick?
While Kenyan sand boas live around 10 years in the wild, they can live well over 15 years in captivity. There are even reports of Kenyan sand boas living for more than 30 years in a good home.
With diligent care, your snake will be a friend for a good long part of your life. Keep an eye out for these common signs of illness in snakes:
- Refusing to eat for long periods of time
- Unusual lethargy
- Frequent regurgitation
- Difficulty shedding
- Spots, bumps, or lumps on its skin
- Difficulty breathing
If something seems off about your snake’s behavior, take it to a reptile veterinarian right away. You don’t want to risk ignoring an illness. A professional can provide antibiotics if necessary and tell you how to help your snake get better.