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:: The Snake Beneath Your Feet.
:: SAND BOA's
... Eryx sp.

A much-neglected section of the snake family are the burrowing ones. I keep the Sand Boas by preference but there are also burrowers in the Python groups. This type of snake has adapted its body form to go digging through the loose particles of sandy soil that make up the preferred hunting grounds. The largest Boa group of this type is the Genus Eryx. This includes Kenyan Sand, Javalin Sand, Brown Sand, Rough-Scaled Sand, Milliaris and Tartar Sand Boas. Most of these are available if not common in the U.K. This family of snakes are small, usually not more than 60cm in captivity, but well built and robust. With a placid nature, when kept well fed, the nocturnal life style can be adjusted to include early morning and early evening activities. A small vivarium is required with a generous depth of loose large grained dry reptile sand, to allow full submersion when burrowing. A hide is required; this can be a small Glass or Perspex sheet laid flat on the substrate (you can then watch from above), also a small water bowl for drinking (kept fresh). When sloughing time is near the addition of a small cricket box, without the lid, filled with moist moss is most welcome.

Feeding is a surprising time as they have, for their size, a voracious appetite, being true constrictors they strike (usually sideways missing more often than hitting) and restrain the food item with a selection of body coils. They have a liking for one item of food locked in their coils while striking and consuming a second. The food size ranges from small “Pinkie” mice just after their first slough, to large “Fluffs” when adults. My big female Kenyan Sand Boa will consume 6 “Fluffs” in one sitting every week. She has just given me 4 babies (one was dead a birth) and 3 are feeding well. They are live bearers not egg layers and can have up to 30 young (how do they carry that many?). The females are much larger than the males up to 3 times the bulk, and are usually kept in small colonies with one male and several females all year round. Heat reduction is not normally required to stimulate breeding but the heat and food intake must be maintained until birth. The Sand Boas colours are very varied, with more colour morphs being introduced in the most common Kenyans (black/white, tangerine/yellow, black/orange, black/dark red and brown/orange).

I also have 3 Javelin Sand Boas (2 female 1 male) these are on the CITES lists and are under threat of extinction in their native homeland. This sand snake is about the same size as the Kenyan but with a much more camouflage colouring of browns, blacks, light tan and fawns. The nature of this snake is aggressive and very ill tempered, NOT a snake for children. Like the rest of the burrowing snakes they are “ambush” specialists, their form allowing just the top of their head and the eyes (on the upper portion of the head) to be almost invisible above the dusty ground. There they wait for the unsuspecting rodent, lizard, worm or large insect to come with in strike range. The small eyes, although not efficient in daylight having vertically elliptical pupils, are most effective in poor light levels, their usual active period and daylight hours safe below the ground. This also allows extra feeding time during the day for worms, mouse nests and other subterranean food sources.

I would like to see more of these enchanting and interesting little snakes being kept by young reptile enthusiasts, especially the Kenyan Sand Boas. They are a very good and safe first snake that will introduce feeding, cleaning and handling techniques with reduced risk to owner and snake. Their small scale and ease of handling together with their robustness is a good combination. The low cost housing, maintenance and running costs offset the slightly higher initial cost of the snake. As you may have guessed I like these hardy sand shovelers and their beavering about shoving every thing out of their way is a very comical sight to sit and watch.

By Barry Thomas.