Kenyan Sand Boa

STATUSLeast Concern

COMMON NAME (SCIENTIFIC NAME)Eryx colubrinus

DIETSmall mammals, other small animals such as lizards and birds.

RANGENorthern and eastern Africa

HABITATRegions with loose, sandy soil. Occurs in desert margins and vegetated sand dunes

Kenyan Sand Boa

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Program and General Information

The Kenyan Sand Boa is one of the smallest boa species in the world, averaging just 15-25 inches long. A native of Eastern Africa, this boa has adapted itself to a life spent beneath the sand of the desert borders and scrublands found there. Its’ mottled yellow, orange, and brown coloration helps it to blend it its arid surroundings, while its’ wedge-shaped head allows it to glide through the sand as though it were swimming. During the day the sand provides protection from the sun, so the boa can save energy to be active at night. A hunter by nature, the boa uses the sand to hide itself from prey, ambushing them and dragging them under the sand to either crush or suffocate them. In this way it hunts other small desert natives including mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Common Physical Features

The Kenyan Sand Boa is a smaller snake, averaging 15-30 inches in length. They are often described as a stout, blunt species with a cylindrical body and a conical tail. The head is relatively small and has a distinct wedge-shape, excellent for burrowing through sand and soft soil. Their small eyes display a vertical pupil and are set high on the head to make it easier to spot prey from beneath the surface of the sand. The anterior scales are smaller to facilitate burrowing while the posterior scales are keeled to provide defense.

The body of a Kenyan Sand Boa usually ranges in color from light yellow to orange or a lighter brown, and is covered in irregular patches of darker brown. The belly is often a much lighter solid cream or yellow color. The eyes are usually mottled in color with a dark streak running through them.

Habitat and Global Range

The Kenyan Sand Boa can be found through Eastern Africa, from Egypt down to the Northern tip of Tanzania, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Chad, Niger, Yemen, and Somalia. It lives within the loose soil of arid and semi-arid regions, desert margins, vegetated sand dunes, and savannah scrublands.

Diet

Kenyan Sand Boas are strictly carnivorous, feeding on what other small animals they may come across in the desert. Their diet consists mainly of small rodents, as well as some smaller mammals, lizards, and birds. Occasionally, they have been known to hunt out the nests of small mammals and birds.

Behavior and Life Cycle

The Kenyan Sand Boa is a burrower, spending the majority of its life concealed under or moving through sand and loose soil. Hidden in the sand, they generally lie in wait to ambush small prey, either killing the animal by constriction or dragging the prey beneath the sand in order to suffocate it. Occasionally they will simply swallow their prey alive.

The Kenyan Sand Boa is largely nocturnal, active during the night or during mornings and evenings while preferring to stay hidden from the sun in the midday heat.

Kenyan Sand Boas are ovoviviparous. Eggs hatch inside the female who then gives birth to live young and reabsorbs the eggs. They reach maturity in two to three years, and mating appears to occur seasonally in the spring and summer. Young will take around four to five months to develop before the female gives birth to between four and twenty offspring, which will already be independent.

Fun Facts

  • Unusual for a snake species, the Kenyan Sand Boa displays sexual dimorphism, as small males will usually grow to around 15-20 inches long while larger females may grow as much as 30 inches.
  • Like many other boas and pythons, the Kenyan San Boa possesses vestigial hind limbs, called “spurs,” which are the non-functional remnants of what used to be more complete limbs that their earlier evolutionary ancestors possessed.
  • By tunneling through sand the Kenyan Sand Boa is able to more easily stalk prey, evade predators, and regulate body temperature.
  • The Kenyan Sand Boa’s tail is similar enough in size and shape to its head that it can confuse predators.

Conservation Messaging

The Kenyan Sand Boa is currently classified as least concern on the IUCN Mediterranean Red List, and little study has been done on possible threats the species may be facing today. However, its numbers have been reported to be declining in Egypt due to habitat destruction, a threat shared by many species across the globe.

The species also faces rick of over-collection in the pet trade, as the Kenyan Sand Boa has become the most commonly kept boa species in the United States. Fortunately, the species has seen success in captive breeding, reducing the need to remove individuals from the wild.

The Kenyan Sand Boa has become a popular pet for a reason, but research should always be done before committing to caring for one, especially in terms of where the animals has come from. Boas bred in the United States are becoming more numerous and easier to acquire, so care should be taken to ensure that one was not taken from the wild to be sold. This will not only lead to further damage of the environment, but could potentially produce a pet more dangerous than one brought up under human care.