If you’re thinking of buying your first ever pet snake, a Kenyan sand boa is a good choice. These snakes can give you years of fun, and they’re significantly more interesting than your average pet. But, if you’ve done any research, then you’ll know that there’s plenty that you need to consider.
Kenyan sand boas are short, docile, easy to feed, non-venomous, and easy to handle. They make easy pets to care for as a new snake owner. There aren’t many colorful snake morphs, but they are beautiful.
Keeping a Kenyan sand boa as a pet is rewarding and fun. You shouldn’t listen to anyone that tells you that they aren’t a good snake for an inexperienced owner. You just need to learn about their temperament and living requirements before getting one as a pet.
Why Kenyan Sand Boas Are Good Pets
Kenyan sand boas aren’t your average snake. Their head isn’t any different to their tail. Normal snakes have a head that stands out from their neck, because of their big jaws or venom glands.
And normal snakes have a long tail, too, which gets progressively smaller as it reaches the tip. They look like an overgrown worm. So, if you want a cute pet snake, Kenyan sand boas are a good pick.
They’re also great for amateurs for many reasons. They don’t grow very long, and they’re friendly, docile and easy to handle. They have pretty colors and a subtle pattern to their scales.
They aren’t fussy eaters. They’re happy to live on a rodent-based diet, which is perfect for a captive snake since rodents are the easiest food to buy.
Kenyan Sand Boa Color Morphs
The name of the species is Gongylophis colubrinus, but just because they’re all one species, that doesn’t mean all Kenyan sand boas look the same.
‘Morphs’ are variants in a snake species that look different to the rest, e.g., with unusual colors, patterns or features.
There aren’t that many Kenyan sand boa morphs, but here are the ones that are available:
- Albino Kenyan sand boas (pink in color)
- Anerythristic Kenyan sand boas (black or grey and white)
- Hypomelanistic Kenyan sand boas (their brown or black color becomes lighter)
- Snow Kenyan sand boas (white, unlike albinos, which are pink)
- Splash Kenyan sand boas (irregular patterns and colors; can also be in combination with other morphs, i.e. anery splash Kenyan sand boas)
- Stripe Kenyan sand boas (with a clear stripe running down their back; can also be in combination with other morphs, i.e. albino stripe Kenyan sand boas)
- Nuclear Kenyan sand boas (not a genetic mutation, but a line breed, of orange-red and black snakes)
How Big Do Kenyan Sand Boas Grow?
Kenyan sand boas only get to about two or two and a half feet long. That’s very short for a pet snake. Males (which are shorter than females in most cases) are even shorter still, only reaching twenty inches when they’re fully grown.
For a beginner, that’s a perfect size. They grow quickly over their first two years, rapidly reaching their adult size. But where a corn snake would keep growing once they reach two feet, eventually reaching six or seven feet with proper care, a Kenyan sand boa will stop growing. Since they’re docile enough as it is, that makes them perfect for a learner to handle.
Ironically, Kenyan sand boas make quite long hatchlings. They’re about seven or eight inches long, which is longer than most other common pet snake species.
How Long Do They Live?
Like most snakes, Kenyan sand boas live longer than you might expect. They can get to thirty years old, if you care for them well enough. It’s about an average lifespan for a snake.
This is one of the main reasons why you must do your research before you buy a pet snake, of any species. Can you be sure that you’ll be able to care for your pet, for the full thirty years of their life?
You might be able to imagine that you’ll be in the same city for ten years or so, so a cat would be fine. But it’s practically impossible to imagine where you’ll be in thirty years.
Your main concerns should be 1) whether you’ll have enough space to keep your pet, and 2) whether you’ll have the money to look after them for their whole life. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to do either, then a pet snake might not be for you.
Do Kenyan Sand Boas Have Fangs?
They do have fangs, but they’re nowhere near a rattlesnake’s fangs if that’s what you’re picturing.
Their fangs are about as long as a cat’s claws, and their bite hurts about as much as a cat scratch. It’s a sharp stinging feeling that only lasts a few seconds.
Does their bite hurt? Not really. What ‘hurts’ more than anything is the shock of being bitten. Once you’re used to it, it hardly hurts at all.
And besides, once your snake is used to you, they won’t need to bite you. Snakes only bite when they feel cornered or threatened, or when your fingers smell like food.
Are Kenyan Sand Boas Venomous?
Kenyan sand boas are constrictors. That means that they constrict their prey to kill it.
However, constriction isn’t what many people believe it to be. The snake only uses one or two coils. That’s enough for them to squeeze their prey and kill it.
And snakes don’t choke their prey to death by squeezing it. They squeeze hard enough to completely stop blood flow, by upping their prey’s blood pressure. After a few seconds, this can lead to the prey becoming unconscious. The snake will then eat their prey, dead or alive.
Constrictors don’t have any venom because they don’t need it. They completely lack venom glands, which are where rattlesnakes and cobras, as well as any other venomous snake, produces their venom. They also lack obvious front fangs, but have lots of short teeth at the sides of their jaws that look a little like alligator teeth.
How to Take Care of a Kenyan Sand Boa
Taking care of a Kenyan sand boa is all about creating an environment that closely mirrors their experiences in the wild.
This involves feeding them their preferred kinds of food, allowing them to ‘hunt’ for it as they wish, and keeping their enclosure at the right temperature and humidity for them.
How to Feed Kenyan Sand Boas
Kenyan sand boas are ambush hunters. This means that they stay as still as they can, waiting for prey to come to them.
They developed this behavior because a) it stops predators from seeing them when they hunt, and b) conserves energy, which is always useful in the animal kingdom.
To encourage them to eat, you should wait until they’re hidden under their substrate. When they are, hold the pinkie with tongs in front of them.
They won’t react at first, because in the wild, they stay still until their prey gets close. So, don’t worry if they don’t seem keen at first, because they’re just gearing up to strike.
They strike quickly. You might be taken aback with quite how quickly they strike, at least the first time. Once they grab onto the prey item, let go of it, and allow them to do what they want with it.
They’ll likely be still for a few seconds more, before wrapping their body around it. They’re constrictors, so your pet is squeezing its prey just as it would in the wild.
Whatever you do, don’t feed your Kenyan sand boa by hand. You shouldn’t ever feed a snake by hand, for many reasons.
It increases the chance that they’ll nip your finger. But it also makes your hands smell like prey. If the snake associates your fingers with the smell of their favorite food, they’ll bite you when you want to handle them.
Are Kenyan Sand Boas Picky Eaters?
They aren’t picky eaters. It’s just the way they eat that makes them seem that way.
Kenyan sand boas eat many different kinds of rodent in the wild, so they have no trouble eating a rodent-based diet. If you didn’t know, almost all pet snakes would eat rodents, ranging from tiny baby mice to fully-grown rats.
The size of the prey depends on how big your snake is. As a rule, your snake’s meal should be a little bigger than your snake’s middle, and leave a lump after they eat it.
Babies are pickier than adults. Babies often have trouble adjusting to a diet of pre-killed rodents. That’s because, in the wild, snakes only eat live prey.
To sense something that’s alive, with its heart beating and producing warmth, is what sharpens their appetite. As such, they might have trouble adjusting initially.
If your Kenyan sand boa is refusing to start on a pre-killed diet, try braining the rodent first. This involves cutting or poking its skull so that a small amount of brain matter is exposed. This smell can trigger your snake’s feeding response and encourage them to eat.
How Long Can Kenyan Sand Boas Go Without Eating?
These boas, like many other snakes, are set up by nature to live for long periods without food. While it’s not advised that you treat your pet that way, snakes can survive for months without eating.
Kenyan sand boas don’t brumate since they’re from a warm part of the world. The fact that it’s warm means that they can comfortably digest during the winter. But your pet can still go for weeks without eating.
As an adult, a Kenyan sand boa should be fed once every week or so. This is normal for a snake. They should eat a portion that leaves a small lump in their middle after they’ve eaten it.
That could be either one large mouse/rat, or several smaller ones. Younger snakes should eat smaller portions, but more frequently. As a rule, pick feeder mice between 1 and 1 ½ times the size of your snake’s middle. This applies both to adults and juveniles.
When Are Kenyan Sand Boas Most Active?
Sand boas are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular. Nocturnal means active during the night, while crepuscular means active during dawn or dusk.
However, that being said, Kenyan sand boas are renowned for their lack of activity. They don’t actively hunt, instead choosing to lie in ambush underneath undergrowth, or captivity, their substrate. They spend the majority of their time hiding.
So, if you want an active snake, a Kenyan sand boa might not be a good choice.
Do Kenyan Sand Boas Like to Be Held?
Kenyan sand boas are exceptionally well-behaved snakes, and don’t mind being handled.
However, there’s a misconception with this kind of question. No snake really ‘likes’ to be held, they tolerate it. They won’t grow to become your friend, like you might see them, but they will come to understand that you’re not a threat. It’s when they understand that, that they won’t feel the need to bite or threaten you.
When you do handle them, take care to hold them from the underneath. Sand boas don’t live in trees like some snakes. Sand boas don’t climb anything, they spend their whole time on the ground or in the sand, so they aren’t used to gripping onto surfaces like your fingers.
They need more support than your average snake, and aren’t aggressive either.
Illness and Disease
All snakes can fall foul of a number of different health conditions. These are normally related to how well you keep the snake. In no particular order, these are:
- Respiratory infections. These are like the cold, or the flu. Snakes lack the ability to cough, so respiratory infections are more dangerous. Their nose runs and they find it difficult to breathe.
- Mouth rot. The snake’s teeth snaps, which can happen when they bite into prey. The resultant wound becomes infected, and that infection can lead to blood poisoning (sepsis).
- Scale rot. The underside of the snake develops an open wound, which then becomes infected, again leading to sepsis. It’s caused by the snake sitting in a wet substrate for too long.
- Snake anorexia. This is where your boa refuses to eat. They slowly lose weight over time, before their ribs and spine become visible.
- Mite or tick infestation. Mites and ticks feed on your snake’s blood. They’re caught from other snakes, or from you handling other snakes before handling your own pet.
Snakes keep growing throughout their whole life, which is why they need to shed their skin periodically. They have to, because it isn’t stretchy like human skin. Your pet snake is no exception.
Before they shed, your snake will enter what’s known as the ‘blue phase.’ This is where their eyes turn a shade of blue, caused by a new layer of skin growing under the old one.
During this time, your Kenyan sand boa will want to hide even more than usual, because they can’t see properly. They don’t want you to handle them, and will get defensive if you try. They also don’t want to feed. When they get back to normal, that means it’s a few days before they shed.
Ideally, your snake should shed all of its skin in one go. If it’s coming off in patches, that means it isn’t humid enough for them.
Either increase the humidity level to 50% until they shed, or offer them a water bowl that they can bathe in. Either that, or you can help them bathe by hand for fifteen minutes in a tub or the sink.
Snakes take care of shedding on their own. If you meet their requirements with regards to humidity, they’ll be able to shed their skin without any help from you.
Kenyan Sand Boa Enclosure
Because they don’t get very long, you don’t need a big enclosure for a Kenyan sand boa. They only grow to about two feet, so you can keep them in a ten-gallon tank for their whole life.
Ten-gallon tanks are very easy to source, and are a common choice for young snakes. But since Kenyan sand boas don’t grow any longer than young corn snakes or ball pythons, even when they reach adulthood, they can keep the same enclosure throughout their life.
If your snake appears stressed and unhappy in their enclosure, don’t immediately upgrade them to a twenty-gallon tank. Stress is usually the result of an error in your care, such as the temperature or the humidity being wrong.
If you do think they’d thrive in a bigger tank, twenty-gallon size is more than big enough. Make sure to provide plenty of enrichment, substrate and real or fake plant material with your snake. The bigger the tank, the less secure your snake will feel, and they’ll need lots of places to hide.
Kenyan sand boas love to dig. In the wild, they’ll bury themselves under the sand to hunt or hide from predators. Given that you want to provide an enclosure that closely mimics their natural experience, you can use sand.
A depth of four inches is a good guideline, which is more than an average burrowing snake should have. Don’t use builders’ sand. Use soft sand that they can comfortably burrow in.
However, you don’t have to house them in the sand in their enclosure. Sand can hurt a snake, because it can get caught under their scales and cause an impaction. It’s also difficult to keep clean, and is entirely non-absorbent.
That’s why owners don’t keep ball pythons in sand, even though they burrow too. If you don’t want to use sand, you can pick an alternative, such as:
- A loamy soil mix, which offers the same burrow-ability, but without the possibility of it getting stuck under the snake’s scales
- Aspen or another mulch. Mulched beddings are essentially shredded tree, coconut bark or similar material. They hold their shape when a snake burrows into them, but are also far more absorbent and easy to clean.
While a Kenyan sand boa could no doubt live in other substrates, like shredded newspaper or paper towels, these three choices are the best.
Spot clean the enclosure once a day, to ensure that any poo or urates your pet leaves behind don’t leak through to the bottom of the substrate.
Once a month, change the entirety of the substrate. In the case of sand, you could wash it in a cleaning solution.
When you change the substrate, take the time to clean the entire tank with antibacterial fluid. Spray or wipe on and allow it to dry before replacing the substrate. Needless to say, but the snake shouldn’t be in there when you spray.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements
Pet snakes have strict temperature requirements. They’re cold-blooded, which means that they can’t regulate their body temperature like humans.
Instead, they use the environment around them. They’ll sit on a warm rock in the sun, for example, if they want to warm up. Or if they want to cool down, they’ll find shade under a tree, or better yet a burrow to hide in. A Kenyan sand boa will burrow into the sand to cool down in the desert sun.
Their enclosure has to reflect this. They need to have a basking spot, i.e., a warm spot in their enclosure, and a cooler ambient temperature at the other end of their cage.
Because a Kenyan sand boa is from a warm part of the world, their requirements are:
- Their basking spot has to be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit
- The ambient temperature of their cage has to be about 80 degrees
- The humidity should only be between 10 and 20%, which is low for a snake
Between the warm and cool spots, the temperature will be a gradient, and that’s fine so long as they have access to each of these extremes. This is quite a lot hotter than other snakes’ enclosures.
That’s because Kenyan sand boas are from such a warm part of the world. In the wild, they live in deserts and savannas, and your pet’s enclosure should reflect that.
To make their enclosure warm, you could use a heat mat, a heat lamp, or a regular lamp. Most people opt for heat mats. Snakes don’t need additional lighting, provided they’re in a regular enclosure in a room with a window and a light.
Can Kenyan Sand Boas Live Together?
It’s inadvisable to house snakes together. In the wild, snakes don’t live together. In fact, they don’t even socialize. They also don’t pair off, picking a partner and living with them, like some animals do.
If you were to house two or more snakes together, all you would do is stress them out. Yes, snakes can get stressed.
The snakes would fight over basking spots, hides and food, and would get no benefit from each other’s company. If you do plan on owning more than one Kenyan sand boa, you should have more than one enclosure, too.
Do Kenyan Sand Boas Smell?
Kenyan sand boas don’t smell bad. Snakes generally don’t smell bad, so long as they’re well cared for. The only things that smell when it comes to keeping a snake are the substrate (bedding) that the snake sits on or burrows in, and their feces/urates.
But you can keep on top of anything smelly by regularly cleaning the enclosure. Daily spot cleaning stops bacteria and poo from building up.
And changing their substrate every month prevents their enclosure from getting moldy, smelly or grimy. This applies to all snakes, though, not just Kenyan sand boas.
Kenyan Sand Boa Breeding
Breeding snakes is unsuitable for novices. Doing it correctly requires specialist equipment, and you have to know what you’re doing if you hope to be successful.
Male vs. Female Kenyan Sand Boa
Before we talk about how to get two Kenyan sand boas to breed, let’s briefly cover the differences between the sexes. While Kenyan sand boas are sexually dimorphic, they look essentially the same. The main difference is size. Males are a few inches shorter than females.
Both snakes have a vent (scientifically termed a cloaca) which is where the sexual organs are located. The male’s tail will also be ever so slightly longer and thicker because he has two hemipenes inside his cloaca.
According to the journal Sexual Development, these are the snake’s equivalent of genitals. When it’s time for two snakes to mate, the male will ‘evert’ his hemipenes, which push them out of the cloaca.
The female has a cloaca too, but no hemipenes. Instead, she has an opening and a uterus.
Breeding snakes is easy enough, but doing it right takes knowledge and experience.
Females are sexually mature at about 2 years old, and males at 1.
You have to prepare the snakes for breeding. You do that by temperature cycling them (brumation). This term means putting them through a period of cool weather, to simulate the winter.
Since snakes breed in the spring, this encourages them to breed when you raise the temperature again. Lower the temperatures by ten degrees, over the course of a week. Leave them low for two months before upping the temps, again over a week.
Once you up the temperature, introduce your male snake to another male snake of the same species. Yes, another male. You have to make the male compete against another male, as they do in the wild.
Immediately after the two males start fighting, introduce your male to your female. They may show interest in one another straight away; they may not.
You’ll know that they’re mating because the male will lie on top of the female and wrap his tail around hers. They’ll be remarkably still throughout the whole process.
Whatever happens, keep introducing them every day, every time after introducing the two males to one another. When the female loses interest in the male, she’s likely pregnant (the proper term for snakes is gravid).
At this point, you may choose to continue introducing the male to the female if you wish. Alternatively, you could try introducing a different male to the female to ensure she’s truly gravid. She will give birth about five months after breeding.
Since Kenyan sand boas don’t lay eggs, you don’t have to own an incubator or an egg box. However, you should have many separate enclosures ready for each snake after it’s born. They give birth to between ten and twenty young each time, and can breed twice in a year.
Do Kenyan Sand Boas Give Live Birth?
Kenyan sand boas don’t lay eggs like other snakes. Instead, they give birth to live young. But why and how do they birth live young, when other snakes and reptiles lay eggs?
They’re what’s known as a ‘viviparous’ snake, which means that they birth live young. According to the International Journal of Developmental Biology, the first viviparous reptiles originated more than a hundred and fifty million years ago. Kenyan sand boas are the genetic descendants of these original species.
Viviparous snakes developed from regular egg-laying snakes because keeping their young inside them gave them an advantage, since nothing could eat their eggs.
They would develop their eggs internally, and hatch them internally, and the young would crawl out ‘alive.’ Snakes that do this are termed ‘ovoviviparous,’ and many snakes still do exactly that.
Over time, the Kenyan sand boa’s eggshells got thinner and thinner. Today, they’re practically non-existent, which is why they’re classed as viviparous.
Kenyan Sand Boas Pros and Cons
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you should and shouldn’t buy a Kenyan sand boa.
What Are the Advantages?
Kenyan sand boas are great fun. Some owners even call them a ‘gateway snake,’ because they’ll encourage you to buy more, start breeding, and buy snakes of other species too. But what makes them the ideal beginner snake?
They’re small, docile and easy to handle. Ball pythons are renowned as one of the best beginner snakes for the same reasons.
Their requirements might be different to most snakes (like the higher temperature they require), but that doesn’t make them any harder to care for.
There’s something to be said for owning a species that’s not as popular as the others. Doing something different is always fun. If you do breed beautiful Kenyan sand boa specimens, and perhaps make your unique line with a special quality, you can charge more for them.
What Are the Disadvantages?
Kenyan sand boas are rarer than other snake species. You might find it hard to find advice on their care from forums, pet store owners and breeders.
It’ll be harder than if you owned a ball python, anyway. Compared to other snakes, Kenyan sand boas aren’t very active. Truth be told, no snake is ‘active’ compared to a cat or a dog. They won’t play with toys, for example. These snakes are even less active than most.
But don’t just take our word for it. If you think you might want a Kenyan sand boa, head to a pet store or local breeder and see if you can spend some time with one.
Learn more about their care and what makes them such a unique pet. If you can, handle one and see if you like them. That’s when you’ll know whether you should get one or not. Here is some information on the most popular pet snakes in America.