The Kenyan Sand Boa Care Sheet

by David Lowbridge
kenyan sand boa care

If you’re looking for an interesting starter snake, then you should consider the Kenyan Sand Boa. Their distinctive look, small size and docile temperament makes them a perfect first snake for anyone. In this article we will be looking at Kenyan Sand Boa care for those who are new to keeping snakes and experienced collectors alike.

The Kenyan Sand Boa comes from Kenya (not surprisingly) and surrounding areas. There are a few different species of sand boa, but the Kenyan Sand Boa is the most common you will find in captivity.

kenyan sand boa care influenced by natural habitat
Kenyan Sand Boa care can be influenced by their natural habitat.

They are a little smaller than the majority of other snakes kept in captivity. Males will weigh at most about 100 grams when mature and females can grow to 2 foot in length and weigh about 250 grams. They also have the eyes more on the top of their head for hunting purposes as they are a burying species.

For most of the day, and night in most cases, they will hide in substrate and not venture out. All you might see of the Kenyan Sand Boa is the head poking out of the substrate, lying in wait for prey. As a result, this species makes for a very poor display species. But they are rewarding. They are docile in nature and rarely bite. They are also very slow.

They are also fairly easily attainable in the UK and USA. They’re also known as a great beginner snake.

Kenyan Sand Boa Care Guide

Housing

What Enclosure To Use

There are four types of housing that snake keepers use for Kenyan Sand Boas. The main type is the vivarium, a wooden enclosure that has a glass front. There are also top-opening vivariums. These are easily acquired and can have lighting, heat sources and other equipment attached to the vivarium for ease. They can also be easy to clean. This makes them the standard option for Kenyan sand boa care.

However, I have often found that vivariums are also easily escapable. There is also a plastic version of vivariums, known as terrariums. While these are less costly than vivariums, and don’t require any assembly, they are harder to include lights and are easier for the snake to escape from. All snakes are escape artists, so you have to minimise the chances by using the proper enclosure.

A third option for housing a Kenyan Sand Boa is an aquarium. These are a good option for certain snake species, but they aren’t great for Sand Boas. For one, it is hard to find a tight-fitting, secure top for aquariums. Snakes are excellent climbers and can escape from the top of an average aquarium lid. Secondly, it is hard to maintain heat and humidity in aquariums to the correct levels.

All the above options also fail in allowing you to offer different sizes depending on the snake size. Viviariums are at a minimum 2 foot (with the exception of one 18 inch) and this can be too large for small snakes. And it is impractical to buy lots of expensive vivariums or aquariums to cater for one snake. If you want to offer the best sand boa care, then you need to find an option that allows you to change the size of the enclosure.

The final option is a rub set up. This is a plastic box with handles which secure the lid to the main box. There are numerous versions of this around, but the best version is the Really Useful Box (RUB). You can read how to prepare a Really Useful Box for snake habitation here.

RUB setups are great and used by breeders and keepers of large collections the world over. They allow you to adjust the humidity within the environment easily, are secure and can be cleaned with ease. In addition, you can use a RUB that is appropriately sized for your snake and then cheaply move it up when it has grown.

Keeping a snake in an enclosure that is too large for them can stress them out. Many snake species can refuse to eat if they don’t feel secure but I’ve found this less so with Kenyan Sand Boas. Many breeders keep their hatchling sand boas in 0.9 litre really useful boxes. They are then moved up as the snake gets bigger. Different owners move at different rates. However, there is a rule of thumb about the minimum size for snakes. If the length and width of the snake is shorter than the length of the snake, then the enclosure is too small. Adult Kenyan Sand Boas can be kept in 84 litre tubs.

Substrate

The substrate for Kenyan Sand Boas is up for debate. Paper towels and newspaper are not suitable as sand boas like to bury themselves, so they need a deep substrate that can fulfil this need. Not providing this can stress them out. Newspaper and paper towels are also very unattractive.

Therefore, you need to look at either sand, aspen and lignocel. All three allow for burrowing, which is what your snake will really love. While sand is in their name, there are concerns that sand can cause impaction, especially if you’re feeding inside the enclosure. However, I’ve placed a Sand Boa on sand and they seemed to enjoy it. But I have found aspen and lignocel to be much better options. They allow for tunnels to be retained and help with keeping the humidity at the right conditions.

Ensure that you are giving your Kenyan Sand Boa at least 2-3 inches of substrate to burrow in.

Heating

Heating is an essential part of kenyan sand boa care. This needs to be researched and setup before you purchase your snake.

If you are using a rub or terrarium setup, place a heat mat under one third of the tub. In the rub, use a thermostat to prevent the heat mat from getting too hot. The thermostat should be set between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius (90 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit). This might also work with an aquarium, but some heat mats can’t fit under aquariums.

If you’re using a vivarium, you can use a heat mat inside the vivarium, as long as you place a plastic or glass sheet with smoothed edges on the top of the heat mat. This will prevent the snake from rubbing directly against the heat mat that could cause burns.

If you prefer you could use a ceramic heat projector. However, ensure that you place a guard around the bulb to ensure the snake can’t touch it directly. Again, ensure that you use a thermostat to make sure the temperature is within the correct range. A ceramic heat projector is also a good option for aquariums.

For any heating system, you should create a temperature gradient. This is where you have one side that is warmer than the other. This can be done by placing the heat source at one end and leaving the other side free from a heat source.

This requirement is due to snakes, like all ectothermic creatures, needing the environment to control their body temperature. A snake will travel to an area to heat or cool its body as is required. Therefore, you need to create an environment that allows it to warm up or cool down.

Lighting

Most snakes do not require any special lighting. This is because most of them are crepuscular or nocturnal. Therefore, they are most likely hiding during daylight hours and would not come into direct sunlight during the day. If you do want to use lighting, then ensure that you are using your UVB lighting for only 8-10 hours a day.

Decorations

All enclosures should use decorations to create a habitat or environment the Kenyan Sand Boa would be happy with. Snakes like clutter, it makes it easier for them to hide and go about their business undetected. Lots of ‘clutter’ is great for snakes. This can be achieved by placing plastic plants around the floor of the enclosure. Plastic plants are a good choice because they can be easily cleaned.

In addition, you should have two hides. One should be placed on the cool side and one should be placed on the warm side of the enclosure. You can also add in a third hide during shedding that contains damp moss to aid in shedding. Hides can be made from coconuts, bought plastic hides, flowerpots and other items. The moist hide, designed for shedding, can be made from a Tupperware box or cricket feeder box with a hole cut in the top to allow access.

Finally, you need to add a water bowl. This should be large enough for your snake to soak in. Most snakes don’t drink a lot of water, getting most of their moisture from prey items (Dumeril’s Boas are an exception). But occasionally they will have a drink and they do like to soak, especially if they are going to shed.

You can also add in branches for climbing. This is controversial as many say sand boas don’t climb, but Wally, our Kenyan Sand Boa does love to climb.

Feeding Your Kenyan Sand Boa

Wild Diet Of Kenyan Sand Boas

The natural diet for a Kenyan Sand Boa in the wild is mainly made up of small rodents. However, they will also occasionally take lizards, amphibians and sometimes insects. The Kenyan Sand Boa is an ambush predator. It will sit and wait for food to come to it. Therefore, you won’t actively see the snake wonder around its habitat looking for food.

Kenyan Sand Boas are constrictors. This means that they attack their prey and squeeze it to death. Some say this is to asphyxiate the prey. However, some research in 2015 found that constrictors kill not by suffocation but rather by stopping the circulation of their prey. This is more effective than suffocation and reduces the risk of injury by a prey item that could take minutes to die via suffocation.

Captive Feeding

In captivity, Kenyan Sand Boas are fed mice. They are easy to obtain, store and readily accepted by most snakes. In addition, their nutritional goodness ensures good sand boa care.

In the UK it is illegal to feed live food (that are vertebrates) to another animal unless absolutely necessary. It is cruel to the prey item and mice, rats and other prey items can fight back and hurt your snake. Therefore, you use frozen-thaw prey (F/T prey). This is prey, like mice and rats, that has been pre-killed and then frozen to keep it fresh.

The prey item has to be thawed (or defrosted) and then heated up to be fed to the snake. The prey item should be that its width is no larger than 1.5 times the width of the snake. Some individual snakes will prefer smaller prey. Wally, our Kenyan Sand Boa, could eat mice fuzzies, but he refuses this size as he doesn’t like fur on his prey.

Defrost a prey item by leaving out at room temperature for a period of time. Pinkies can defrost in 30 minutes, but rats can take a couple of hours. Never use a microwave to defrost or heat a prey item as this can make your snake very ill.

Once defrosted there are several ways to offer the prey item.

  1. Feed straight to the snake without heating: some snakes will take food like this and prefer it this way.
  2. Heat the prey item in hot water (about 35 degrees Celsius) for about 6 minutes.
  3. Heat the prey item on a heat mat for about 30 minutes.
  4. Warm the prey using a hair dryer.

Once you’ve heated the item (or not), you can offer the prey item to your snakes. Use tongs to hold the prey item by the tail or back leg and move the prey item in front of the snake or by the entrance to the hide, or area of the ground, where the snake is. The snake may take time to strike, but most will do.

If this is unsuccessful, you can try to leave the prey item nearby for a few hours. Gerald our Dumeril’s boa prefers this method of feeding.

Sometimes, a snake will not feed. As long as they aren’t young, this shouldn’t be a problem as some snakes can go months without food. If your snake refuses food, never offer another meal the next day. Instead wait until the next scheduled feeding time.

Never move a snake to a different enclosure for feeding. When moving a snake back to its main enclosure you risk it regurgitating its food. This can cause serious damage to the snake.

How Often To Feed Your Kenyan Sand Boa

You should feed your Kenyan Sand Boa about once a week. Some larger specimens, might need to be fed once every 10 days to stop them becoming overweight. Younger snakes might need to be fed every five days.

Sometimes, male Kenyan Sand Boas will go off their food. As long as they aren’t losing weight you shouldn’t be too concerned. However, don’t try to feed too often when this happens. Stick to your normal routine. Sometimes you might need to change tactics to get your sand boa to feed. We’ve had a snake switch between strike feeding and leaving prey in the cage on an almost monthly basis. Some snakes just like to keep you on your toes.

Handling

Handing sand boa care
Handing your Kenyan Sand boa can be really good fun

As most snake owners do, you probably will wish to handle your snake from time to time. Snakes are very nervous creatures, so it is best to minimise handling. I recommend restricting handling to just three, 15 minute sessions per week. This is long enough for the snake without stressing it out and a good amount of time for you, the owner, to enjoy the snake.

You should not handle a snake if it has eaten in the past 48 hours or is in shed. This can stress the snake out. And if it has recently eaten it can regurgitate its food. Due to the strength of the stomach acids in the snake, this will burn the esophagus. If this happens, you should not feed or handle your snake for two weeks to allow it to heal properly.

Handling is easy, the first thing you do is locate the snake and then place one hand underneath the belly of the snake and lift it. Never squeeze the snake, there is no need to. Once in the hand, you will naturally find that you can hold and control the snake. Just let it explore in your hands. Kenyan Sand Boas will often be calm while being handled, although they may try to nuzzle your hand, this is their attempt to hide by burying themselves. They aren’t the most intelligent species on the planet.

Shedding

A snake will regularly go into shed. This is when it removes the outer layer of its skin and replaces it with a new layer. This allows the snake to grow and for it to replace dead cells on the top layer of skin. All animals do this in some respects, humans regularly shed their skin. We do it all the time in tiny particles that it’s hardly noticeable. Snakes do it all at once.

The first sign of a snake going into shed is its eyes going cloudy. This will last for about two or three days. Then that will clear up and their skin will look duller. A few days later they will then shed their skin.

You can help shedding by using a moist hide in the enclosure and something rough for them to rub up against. If the snake is having trouble with its shed, you can bath the snake to help it remove any skin that hasn’t come off in the first go. However, look at the humidity and temperatures in the enclosure. A snake with stuck shed demonstrates that something is wrong and you need to correct this for better sand boa care.

Regular Maintenance For Best Kenyan Sand Boa Care

To keep your snake healthy you need to regularly maintain its enclosure. Every day (or at least every 2nd day) you should replace the water in the water bowl. Be sure to check that your Sand Boa isn’t hiding underneath the water bowl. Both times I’ve been bitten by a Kenyan Sand Boa is when I’ve forgotten to do this and they were hiding there. This bite isn’t an aggressive movement, it is defensive. I alarmed the snake both times and it wanted to be safe.

You should also spot check for waste. Small waste can be cleaned up quickly. Leaving waste can increase the amount of harmful bacteria in the enclosure and can cause infection. Therefore, always maintain the enclosure for the best Kenyan sand boa care.

Every month you should clean out your snake and disinfect your snake’s enclosure. There are specially created reptile disinfectants you can use. Don’t use commercial or home disinfectants.

More Information For Kenyan Sand Boa Care

If you would like to know more about the Kenyan Sand Boas in our collection, you can view their pages here. If you have a question about the Kenyan Sand Boa care, please feel free to contact us.

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