Written by Alex Green
INTRODUCTION TO KENYAN SAND BOAS
Kenyan sand boas, the weird, chubby noodles of Africa whose head and tail are hard to tell apart, and have pudgy eyes on the top of their head. I don’t know how you could resist. With only a few potential drawbacks and their easy nature, I would definitely consider these sand boas a beginner snake. You may think of very large snakes when you hear the term “boa” however, females rarely exceed 3 feet, while males are even smaller as adults, at around 2 1/2 feet. Keep in mind, they’re nocturnal and love to burrow. Although they often come out at night and may explore their enclosure, you’re going to have to dig around in the substrate during the day to find your boa. Remember, Kenyan sand boas, like many reptiles have quite long lifespans. You can expect them to live anywhere from 15 to 30 years in good care, with some individuals living a bit longer.
Kenyan sand boas certainly aren’t going to be a big issue when it comes to space. A hatchling can start out in a 10 gallon enclosure or larger, and adults don’t require anything more than 20 gallons. As you may know, GoHerping doesn’t believe you can ever have too large of an enclosure, however, your can have too bare of an enclosure. For example, a 50 gallon with plenty of places to hide, explore, and so on (if properly regulated) is much better than a 20 gallon with nothing in it.
Sand. Good option, right? It’s even in the name! Well, in my opinion, sand should always be avoided, even with Sand boas. The risk of impaction exists with all reptiles, and sand is by far the most common suspect of this deadly issue. If you’re unaware of what impaction is, it’s essentially when an animal ingests certain materials that are not digestible, most often through these indigestible materials sticking to their food (like sand on a damp mouse). Overtime, it piles up inside of them and can eventually clog their organs and has lead to the death of way too many animals. Learn more about impaction by clicking here.
Well, why not just feed the snake outside of the enclosure, in a separate cage or tub? In my opinion, this is another big no-no, which was covered in this video.
Now, let’s talk about good substrates. Remember, Kenyan sand boas love burrowing, so paper towel, reptile carpet, etc. are not options. In my opinion, the best substrate has to be aspen. I use “Lizard Litter”, which is made of aspen chips. It’s non-toxic, natural, dry, and lets your sand boa burrow with ease. Adding a few inches of this in your enclosure works great. You may be wondering, what about coconut fiber? Although this is a great option for many animals that need moderate to high humidity levels, sand boas do not (learn more in the Temperature & Humidity section). Coconut fiber can be dried out, but it’s very dusty and cause respiratory issues when inhaled.
GoHerping recommends never using sand, calci-sand, pine, cedar or walnut shell products with any reptiles or amphibians.
Even though sand boas burrow to stay safe, hides are still an important addition. A designated, dark place for your sand boa to go and hide is very beneficial. In fact, you may want two, one for the warm side of the enclosure, and one for the cool side (covered below)
Technically, snakes can get most, if not all of their moisture needed from the food you give them. You may not see them use it often, however, it’s very important to always have a constant water source available so they can always stay hydrated if needed.
A good rule of thumb is to purchase a bowl that is large enough for the snake to fit it's entire body into, and is small enough that the snake can get itself out of the bowl easily. Snakes can stay underwater for long periods of time but are able to drown. Tap water can contain harmful chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, so water from a tap should be avoided. Leaving a container of it out, without a lid will allow the chlorine to evaporate within 24 hours. Chloramine is still an issue, but all of the concerning chemicals can be removed with "ReptiSafe" water drops made by ZooMed to remove these chemicals.
If your sand boa is drinking a ton of water all the time, you may have issues with your temperatures being too hot, causing dehydration. Make sure you follow the right temperatures, which is covered next.
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TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY
Let’s cover humidity first, as it’s pretty simple. Kenyan sand boas are from the dry sections of Africa and do not need much moisture in their air at all. You really shouldn’t have to do anything special to increase this humidity, however, you should avoid letting your levels rise above 30-40%, as enclosures that are too humid for animals that don’t need it can cause not-so-fun respiratory problems.
In an effort to mimic Kenyan sand boa’s natural environments, they should have access to a warm area of approximately 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. By far, the best way to heat a sand boa’s enclosure is with an undertank heater, also known as a UTH, heat mat, or heat pad. Because these get quite hot, I suggest you purchase a thermostat to keep the temperature nicely in check. Follow the directions on the thermostat and set one side of the enclosure to 90 to 95 or so degrees, and the cool side can drop down to the 80s. I keep the hot spot temperature on 24/7, however, it’s best if the sand boa has access to temperatures at night slightly below 80s or so.
When some people hear that an animal is nocturnal, they think it’s best not to give it any light any part of the day. GoHerping definitely disagrees, as every animal should be able to follow a day/night cycle. Direct light, however, is not required. Anything as much as indirect light through a window (this window light shouldn’t hit the enclosure directly, as it will mess with the temperature), a lamp near the enclosure, or just the natural light in a room is enough. Approximately 12 hours of light per 24 hours is best.
Temperature & Humidity
Kenyan sand boas aren’t always the most easy snakes to get eating, but they’re still definitely very manageable. One of the upsides is sand boas won’t exceed adult mouse-sized food so you won’t have to ever switch to rats.
Simply hold the mouse or rat with snake tongs to avoid your hands being mistaken for food and shake the mouse around the head of your snake until it strikes and grabs the rodent. Make sure you don't jerk the food away-- pulling out the mouse could result in your snake losing a tooth. Do not handle your snake immediately after feeding. It's safest to wait 24+ hours after feeding before handling again. A stressed or scared snake may regurgitate the food (generally from handling or too much going on around their enclosure.) A good way to ensure you don't stress the snake out is by feeding the him//her before you go to bed, allowing the snake to digest overnight.
Kenyan sand boas are very slow, meaning they’re very easy to handle. They love to burrow, so they might try to hang out under your sleeves or clothing, and aren’t as active as other snakes you can handle. Juvenile sand boas are very small, and probably aren’t great for very young kids to hold.
Overall, these easygoing, docile snakes don't get too big, and don't stay too small. Care is very basic and these animals are a good beginner snake, reptile, or pet in general. They aren't very visible during the day as they stay burrowed, but can be taken out and are much more active at night. With the variety of sand boas available, you'll definitely find one that suits your fashion.