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Kenyan Sand Boa Care and Bioactive Maintenance

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Kenyan Sand Boa Care and Bioactive Maintenance

Kenyan Sand Boa (Heterodon nasicus.)

Difficulty: Easy

Kenyan sand boas are small fossorial snakes native to northern and eastern Africa. Their preferred habitat is areas of loose, sandy soil with low vegetation and rock cover. As a fossorial species, Kenyan sand boas spend most of their time underground, and their nocturnal nature makes them even more elusive. However, they can still be occasionally found above ground.

Kenyan sand boas are generally between 18-36” long, with females being significantly larger than males. They have an oval, streamlined head, silky-smooth scales, upturned eyes, and a set of highly textured scales on the tip of their tail. Coloring is generally orange with dark blotches and a pale belly, although some other colors and patterns are available in captivity.

Kenyan sand boas make minimally-demanding pet reptiles. With good care, they are known to live 15-30 years in captivity.

What You Need for a Bioactive Kenyan Sand Boa Enclosure

Terrarium Size

The minimum enclosure size recommended for housing a single Kenyan sand boa is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H. However, when it comes to choosing a terrarium for pet reptiles, keep in mind that larger is always better — especially for females.

Multiple sand boas should not be housed together in the same enclosure.

Lighting

Although technically sand boas can survive without UVB lighting, it’s best practice to provide UVB to them. UVB provides benefits beyond just vitamin D3 synthesis, such as: preventing illness, improving nervous and digestive function, and improving mental health.

In other words, we recommend installing appropriate UVB lighting as part of your snake’s setup. The 22” Arcadia 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 is likely to work the best for a sand boa in a 40 gallon enclosure. The snake should be able to get no closer than 6” below the UVB lamp.

Your UVB bulb must be replaced every 12 months to maintain its output. Resist the temptation to use other, cheaper brands — when it comes to UVB, brand matters!

Because this is a bioactive setup, you will also need a plant light to encourage healthy plant growth. We recommend the 24” Bio Dude Solar Grow T5 HO Single Bulb Light Strip for this purpose.

Both lighting and heating should be on for 12 hours/day.

Heating

Like other reptiles, Kenyan sand boas are poikilothermic, which means that they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed. Areas of heat speed up their metabolism and promote activities like digestion and healing. Cool areas slow the metabolism and promote activities like rest and energy conservation.

Kenyan sand boa temperature gradient:

  • Basking surface temperature: 95°F
  • Cool zone temperature: 75-80°F

To create a basking area for your sand boa, you will need a halogen heat bulb like the 50w Exo Terra Sun Glo Halogen Lamp (optimum wattage may vary) and a fixture like small Exo Terra Reptile Glow Light. If the basking area gets too warm, you can plug the lamp into a lamp dimmer like the Lutron Credenza and reduce the heat that way. If the basking area is too cool, you will need a higher-wattage bulb.

The most accurate way to keep track of your terrarium’s temperature gradient is to use a temperature gun like the Etekcity 774.

Humidity

Kenyan sand boas need a moderate humidity environment, with most of the moisture being underground rather than in the air. To be specific, they need an average of 50-60% humidity. Keep track of your humidity levels with a digital hygrometer like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.

To raise the humidity in your snake’s enclosure and moisten the substrate, use an Exo Terra 2qt Mister to wet things down once a week or as needed. Don’t forget to water your plants!

Substrate

A thick layer of bioactive-compatible substrate is essential to creating a bioactive sand boa enclosure. Aside from providing plenty of soil for the plants’ roots, your sand boa also needs a thick substrate layer to burrow around in!

Because this is an arid setup, no drainage layer is needed. Instead, you can jump right into the dirt. You will need a soil-like mix that mimics the sandy soil of prairie grassland and will nurture drought-tolerant plants. If you want to make your own, you will need a mixture of 40% organic topsoil, 40% fine sand, and 20% Zoo Med Excavator Clay. Mix that with leaf litter, sphagnum moss, and 1 doses of 36qt Bio Shot to inoculate your soil with beneficial microfauna. This layer of soil should be at least 4” deep, preferably more.

Alternatively, you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with The Bio Dude’s Terra Sahara 40 Breeder bioactive substrate kit.

To make the substrate functional, make sure to add drought-tolerant CUC organisms like powder blue/orange isopods and arid springtails. You can also add other species like mealworms, superworms, and buffalo beetles!

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look good. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your snake, which enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors. Although Kenyan sand boas are fossorial, it’s still important to give them things to slither around on and explore. Use things like sturdy branches, cork flats/hollows, caves, and plants to fulfill that need. Don’t be afraid to clutter it up!

Live plants in particular are critical to helping your mini-ecosystem function properly. Make sure the plants that you choose are drought-tolerant and won’t be too bothered if their roots get disturbed. Succulents, cacti, and grasses can be great choices!

Feeding Your Kenyan Sand Boa

Like other snakes, sand boas are carnivorous. Here is a quick feeding schedule you can reference:

  • Babies — 1 pinky mouse every 5-7 days
  • Juveniles — 1 fuzzy mouse every 1-2 weeks
  • Adult males — 1 hopper mouse every 2-4 weeks
  • Adult females — 1 small adult mouse every 2-4 weeks
  • Large adult females — 1 medium adult mouse every 2-4 weeks

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for any reptile is VARIETY! Appropriate options include young mice, young rats, quail eggs, and Reptilinks.

To reduce the risk of accidentally getting bitten by your snake, offer prey with a soft-tipped pair of feeding tongs. Although using frozen-thawed prey is generally best practice, particularly young sand boas may need to be enticed to eat with live prey.

Water

Keep a large, shallow bowl of fresh water in the enclosure at all times. The water should be changed whenever it gets soiled. Scrub the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant at least once a week.

Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eating regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your sand boa, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible. If your hands smell anything like food, you may get bitten.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Scoop up the snake from below, one hand behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death. Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, which makes them jumpy and defensive.

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.

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  • Josh Halter

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