Kenyan Sand Boa
The Kenyan Sand Boa (Gongylophis colubrinus) is a boa species found in arid to semi-arid regions of northern and eastern Africa. Its distribution ranges from Egypt south throughout Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea into Somalia, Kenya, and Northeastern Tanzania
The species may also be found more to the west in countries such as Libya, Chad or Niger or maybe further east into Yemen. It inhabits semi-arid desert regions, vegetated sand dunes, scrub savannas, and rock outcroppings.
This type of snakes like it's common name, sand boa, implies is mostly found in areas with loose, sandy soils. They are also known by other common names including Egyptian sand boa, East African sand boa or plain simply sand boa.
Currently, there are no subspecies recognized for the Kenyan sand boa (see Taxonomy below). The Kenyan sand boa is closely related to the rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata) and rubber boa (Charina bottae) found in North America, and together they make up the group usually called the "erycine boas".
Kenyan sand boas are heavy built snakes with a thick, short body, blunt head with small eyes. Both the eyes and nostrils are placed high on the head so that they remain uncovered when the sand boa's body is hidden below the sand.
Their tail is quite short and tapers very quickly to a and it also can’t be coiled. The back is orange or yellow in color covered with dark brown splotches, while the belly has white or cream coloration.
Males reach about 15 inches in length but are smaller than females which can measure from 26 to 32 inches and weigh up to 2 pounds. Their lifespan in the wild is about 10 years but the species may live up to 20 or more years in captivity.
Kenyan sand boas are quite popular as pets, due to their ease of care, small size, and docility and are readily available in the exotic pet trade. Recently both commercial and hobby breeders made available a number of new morphs, including albino, anerythristic, snow or stripes and several others.
Subspecies / Taxonomy / Etymology
The Kenyan sand boa has no subspecies currently recognized by scientists. Even so some authorities recognize 2 subspecies, Eryx colubrinus colubrinus and Eryx colubrinus loveridgei, however this is questioned and the species is considered to be monotypic with some geographic variation.
The genus name, derives from the Latin word colubrinus, meaning "having snake-like qualities". While the species subspecific name, loveridgei, was given in honor of Arthur Loveridge a British herpetologist.
Diet / Feeding
These small non-venomous snakes are carnivorous, generally feeding on small mammals, but may eat other animals such as birds or small lizards. The Kenyan sand boa is normally an ambush predator spending most of their time in shallow burrows in the sand, leaving only their head exposed.
When a prey comes within the striking range they quickly strike and seize the animal killing it by constriction, much like their bigger cousins such as the Boa constrictor.
They sometimes drag their prey under the sand to kill it, and on occasion, these snakes may even eat their prey while still alive.
Occasionally they can be found actively hunting for bird or mammal nestlings. Young Kenyan sand snakes may also eat insects although this is a rare occurrence. If by chance food becomes scarce, these sand boas can go over a year without feeding at all.
These snakes breed readily from November through April, with the babies being born from spring through late summer. Sometimes before mating can occur the male has to dig the female out of the sand.
The Kenyan sand boa is an ovoviviparous snake species, meaning the young snakes develop inside egg sacs which incubated inside the female’s body. After a gestation period of 4 months, the female gives birth to live young, usually between 5 to 20 offspring.
At birth, the younglings are around 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) long and completely independent from birth. These sand boas reach sexual maturity at 2 or 3 years of age.
Conservation / Threats
The Kenyan sand boa has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List and is also not listed in CITES Appendix II. Little is known about them within their native range and what negative factors may be affecting their population.
Further research is needed to find out whether these snakes are capable of adapting to new human-modified habitats as human development encroaches into their natural habitat. It's probable that habitat destruction in Egypt is affecting negatively the Kenyan sand boa population in that region.
Recently they became the most popular sand boa species kept as a pet in the USA, surpassing even the locally found rubber boa (Charina bottae). But the Kenyan sand boa increasing popularity in the pet trade may also contribute to decreasing population numbers in the wild.
In the 1970s, a few specimens were imported from Kenya and from the late 1980s until 1995 many were imported from northern Tanzania to the US.But in 1995 Tanzania put a stop to the export of sand boas, and since then, wild-caught specimens are no longer available.
Fortunately, they are now being bred in large numbers in captivity, helping to reduce the threat to the wild populations.
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