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Sand Boa Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

sand boa care sheet

Eryx jayakari

Overview

These attractive snakes are desirable as pets because they are readily tamed. Captive-bred sand boas are usually very docile and do not get very large, so they are generally easy to handle. In nature, they are found in deserts in the Middle East, where they bury their bodies under the sand and expose their eyes above to be able to detect prey. Burrowing under the sand also helps them keep cool during hot days in the desert. They are nocturnal (more active at night) and tend to hunt for and ambush prey in nature after dark, when temperatures in the desert cool down.

 

Typical appearance and behavior

  • Sand boas are stout-bodied snakes with eyes on the tops of their heads, rather than on the sides of their heads, like most other snakes
  • Their heads are about the same width as their bodies, making them appear more like straight tubes
  • Males and females are easily differentiated; males are much smaller than females when full grown and have a distinctly narrower tail than females, whose tails are thicker and blunter
  • Sand boas are typically brown to tan-colored with alternating patches of darker and lighter to help them camouflage themselves in the sand; as pets, they have been bred to come in a variety of colors
  • These snakes belong to the Boidae family; they wrap around, constrict and suffocate their prey before eating it
  • Because of the placement of their eyes on the top, rather than on the sides, of their heads, they typically strike at prey sideways instead of straight ahead, making them different from most other snakes
  • If you attempt to handle your sand boa and it tries to burrow and get away, wait until it has calmed down to try again
  • As your snake gets ready to shed, their eyes will turn a milky blue/grey over the course of a few days and their body color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. They may become irritable, so avoid handling if possible.

 

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span Up to 20+ years with proper care
Average Adult Size 2–3 feet long
Diet Carnivorous
Minimum Habitat Size 20L minimum for an adult

 

Habitat

Habitat size

Hatchlings may be started in 10-gallon habitats. Habitat size should increase as the snake matures. Provide an appropriately sized and shaped habitat for an adult sand boa to accommodate normal behavior and exercise, at least a 20L to 40B tank. Tanks should have a securely fitting screened lid to prevent escape and allow adequate ventilation.

These snakes reach adult size in 3–4 years under ideal conditions, depending on species.

 

Building your habitat

Substrate: Although sand boas in nature typically bury into sand, as pets, they can be successfully housed on other substrates

  • When accidentally ingested, sand can cause a potentially life-threatening obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract; if you do use sand as bedding, remove the snake from their normal habitat to a separate, empty enclosure for feeding
  • Commercially available paper-based bedding is a good substrate option, as it is digestible if accidentally ingested and allows the snake to dig and bury
  • Aspen shavings also are acceptable; pine and cedar chips should be avoided, as they have oils on them that can irritate snakes’ skin and their respiratory tracts
  • Reptile carpet is not a good substrate choice, as it does not allow sand boas to dig and bury; substrate should be deep enough for the snake to hide in

Décor: As sand boas like to bury, the amount of décor in their habitat should be minimal; avoid heavy rocks or other large décor that could fall on a snake as they bury

Humidity: To help sustain humidity levels, keep the snake hydrated and aid in shedding, provide a water dish large enough for the snake to soak in

  • Maintain the habitat between 20%–40% humidity; monitor humidity level with a humidity gauge
  • Humidity should be higher during shedding; humidity may be increased during shedding by creating a humid hideaway containing moist sphagnum moss
  • Moss should be changed frequently to prevent mold growth

Temperature: Boas are ectothermic reptiles, which means they rely on their environmental temperature to control their body temperature; to help them regulate their body temperatures, provide a temperature gradient (90–95°F for the warm end and 75–80°F for the cool end) in the tank

  • Nighttime temperatures should not fall below the 70s
  • Monitor temperature with at least two thermometers—one in the cool zone and the other in the hot (basking) zone
  • Heat may be provided by a heat bulb, ceramic heat bulb or an under-tank heating pad
  • Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures; thermostats are especially important with heating pads, which can get hot and cause burns through the tank floor if not regulated properly
  • Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles
  • Reptiles not kept at the appropriate temperature ranges are more likely to become immunosuppressed and get sick

Lighting: While sand boas do not require ultraviolet (UV) B light to survive, some studies suggest UVB light may increase snakes’ activity levels and aid in their overall health; providing snakes with a low-level UVB light helps provide a clear day/night cycle (with 10–12 hours of daylight) that boas need to perform their normal daily activities

  • UV bulbs should be replaced every 6 months, as their potency wanes
  • Provide 8–12 hours of light daily
  • Don’t leave white light on all the time; a nocturnal or infrared light should be used at night.

 

Cleaning your habitat

Spot-clean the habitat daily to remove droppings and thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week

  • Place snake in a secure habitat
  • Remove all substrate and habitat décor
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse tank and furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings completely
  • Add clean substrate and put furnishings back into the tank
  • Put snake back into their clean, dry habitat

 

Feeding

  • A well-balanced sand boa diet consists of appropriately sized frozen rodents, properly thawed and warmed
  • Small mice may be fed to juveniles; rats are typically fed to adults
  • Live rodents should not be fed, as live rodents may bite snakes who are not hungry and can cause life-threatening injuries; if, under any circumstances, you must offer live rodents to a snake, never leave them unattended in the tank with the snake because of the potential risk for injury to the snake

 

Things to remember when feeding your sand boa

  • Do not use a microwave to defrost frozen rodents, as microwaved rodents can have hot spots that can burn snakes’ mouths when they eat them
  • Do not prepare frozen rodents for feeding in the same area that you prepare human food. If it is unavoidable, be sure to thoroughly disinfect the area; see the Feeding Frozen/Thawed Foods Care Sheet for more information
  • Feed juveniles once a week and adults every one to two weeks
  • Offer food at night, when sand boas are more likely to eat
  • Feed in an empty tank, separate from the habitat, so that the snake doesn’t associate your hand or the habitat lid opening with feeding and doesn’t accidentally ingest bedding off the habitat floor when eating
  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times in an untippable bowl large enough for the snake to soak in; the bowl should be placed in the cool end of the habitat so that the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly
  • As snakes will not typically eat while shedding, avoid feeding when snakes are in shed

 

Care

  • Snakes will regularly shed their skin and the covering over their eyes (called the “eye cap” or spectacle); ensure habitat humidity is at appropriate level to allow the snake to shed properly. Skin should be shed in a single long piece
  • Never try to remove retained eye caps by yourself, as you can easily cause damage. Seek veterinary care if eye caps are retained

 

Where to buy

Boas are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

 

Supplies

 

Habitat mates

  • Sand boas are best housed singly.
  • Do not house different snake species together.

 

Health

Signs of a healthy snake:

  • Active and alert
  • Clear eyes (except when shedding)
  • No discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Supple skin without lesions, swellings, scabs, parasites (mites, ticks) or discoloration
  • Regularly sheds skin in one complete piece

 

Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or reluctance to eat
  • Abnormal feces or lack of feces
  • Lesions, swellings, scabs, discoloration or parasites (mites, ticks) on skin
  • Labored breathing or breathing with open mouth
  • Difficulty shedding, shedding in numerous pieces or retained skin after shed
  • White, cheesy discharge or redness or scabs in mouth
  • Laying on back, unable to turn right side up, or prolonged staring (“star-gazing”)

 

Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueDermatitis Symptoms or CausesBlisters, rapid shedding caused by skin infections from viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites, or an unclean habitat or one that has inappropriate temperature or humidity Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian; clean the habitat and ensure proper temperature and humidity
Health IssueRespiratory disease Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing/open-mouth breathing, stretching neck out, mucus or bubbles in mouth, eyes, or nostrils; can be caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, or a habitat that has inappropriate temperature or humidity Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity
Health IssueStomatitis Symptoms or CausesRed, swollen or scabbed gums and/or white, cheesy discharge in the mouth, loss of teeth, decreased appetite, weight loss; may be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections or inappropriate temperature or humidity; if untreated, may be fatal Suggested ActionImmediately consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity
Health IssueTicks and mites Symptoms or CausesParasites on skin can cause itchiness and hyperactivity and can transmit disease Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian; empty and thoroughly disinfect the habitat

 

FAQs

  • How big do sand boas get? Sand boas can grow up to 3 feet long
  • What do sand boas eat? Sand boas should be offered appropriately sized frozen rodents that have been properly thawed and warmed.
  • How long do sand boas live? Sand boas can live 20+ years with proper care.
  • How big does a sand boa get? Sand boas can grow up to 2–3 feet long.
  • How long can sand boas go without eating? Reptiles such as sand boas can go months without eating but typically will get sick when they do not eat for such long periods; ideally, sand boas should not go longer than 2 weeks without eating
  • Are sand boas poisonous? No, sand boas are not poisonous or venomous
  • What do baby sand boas eat? Baby sand boas should be offered appropriately sized frozen rodents (usually pinkies or fuzzies) that have been properly thawed and warmed; hoppers or small mice may be fed to juveniles

 

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

 

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is ill or you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.