There are a variety of snakes in the genus Eryx that go by the name sand boa. One is Eryx muelleri, which is the West African sand boa, also called Mueller's or the Saharan sand boa. Little is known about this tiny snake, which features an orange background with dark blotches. Eryx miliaris is the desert sand boa from central Asia. It is gray with black splotches and is also called the black sand boa.
Eryx johnii is the Indian sand boa, which is golden or brown in color and the largest of the sand boas. It can get as long as four feet. These are very docile and becoming more available in pet stores. Another variety available in pet stores is the rough-scaled sand boa, or Eryx whitakeri, which reaches lengths of 2 to 3 feet.
The most common sand boa in captivity in the U.S. is the East African sand boa, or Eryx colubrinus. Like many of the sand boas, they are stocky in build. Coloration varies with blotches on orange to tan being common. They are docile snakes that make good pets, but may bite when young.
The enclosure for a sand boa can be a ten gallon aquarium or a plastic sweater box of a similar size. Ventilation holes should be made if you use a sweater box. A good way to make holes in plastic containers is to use a soldering iron. This keeps the holes from having rough edges which can harm the snake.
While they are called "sand" boas, some keepers feel sand is not a good substrate to use in the cages. These snakes burrow, though, and need something more than just newspaper. Aspen shavings are a good choice. They should be at least twice as deep as the diameter of the snake's body.
Sand boas need a wider temperature gradient in their enclosure than many other snakes. A temperature gradient means that one end of the enclosure is kept warmer than the other so the snake can choose the temperature it wants to hang out in. One way to make a temperature gradient is to use an undertank heating pad or heat tapes, available at pet stores, and use it under only one fourth of the cage. There are also ceramic heat bulbs available for warming reptile cages. Hot rocks, a pet store product, are discouraged because they heat unevenly and can burn snakes.
The cool end of the enclosure should be at 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 26 degrees Celsius), while the warm end should be from 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius). You can adjust the temperature to suit your particular snake by watching its behavior. If it hugs the glass on the cool end, you need to lower the heat in the warm end. But if it can't seem to get enough heat, raise it a degree or two. Especially those with a meal digesting or females expecting young will probably like a little more heat, but 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) should be the maximum.
However you choose to heat your snake enclosure, use thermometers to help you keep track of the temperature. It is not good enough just to put your hand in and guess at the temperature. Use the thermometers at the level of the substrate, because the temperature in the bottom is different than the temperature at the top.
It is always wise to provide clean drinking water even though the sand boa rarely drinks.
Sand boas like smaller prey animals for food. They usually take pre-killed pinkies, fuzzies, and crawlers. If you are using frozen mice, you might need to warm up the thawed mouse for the snake to want to eat. Another simple way to encourage them to eat is to put the food under a small cup with an entry hole, so that the snake feels like it is finding a mouse nest. Sometimes young ones don't eat until after they have been through a brumation (cool weather inactivity similar to hibernation.) It is a good idea to use feeding tongs for presenting the snake with a mouse, because they tend to strike sideways and may get you.
Since there are several different sand boas, the best way to encourage breeding is to try to approximate the climate and conditions of the snakes' native habitat. Find out what time of year babies are usually born, and subtract four months for an approximate time to put the males and females together. Put them together every week for a few days, continuing the process for a month.
Sand boas are live bearers. They will tend to lie around where it is warm while they are pregnant, and may bite late in the pregnancy. Keep the hot spot less than 95 degrees for the safety of the snake. A box of moist sphagnum moss makes a good place for her to give birth. You can provide it for her to choose or not. She will probably be active around dusk several days before the birth.
The babies should be moved into containers lined with moist paper towels. After they have gotten out of the membrane they are born in, they can be moved to a plastic container lined with dry paper towels but provided with water. After their first shed, which should be within 10 days, they can be offered a pinky mouse.
There is some variation in temperament among the available sand boas. Most are generally docile, but the Eryx miliaris and a few others have a strong feeding response. The Eryx colubrinus, which is the sand boa most widely available in pet stores, can be a little snappy. It tends to be available at a fairly low cost. All in all, the sand boa makes a good beginner snake that is easy to feed and care for.