Kenyan sand boa (Gongylophis colubrinus)

Kenyan sand boa

Top facts

  • The Kenyan sand boa typically hunts by lying in wait under sand and ambushing passing prey.
  • The Kenyan sand boa has been known to kill small prey by dragging it under the sand to suffocate it.
  • The male Kenyan sand boa may have to dig the female out of the sand before mating can occur.
  • The female Kenyan sand boa gives birth to live young.
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Kenyan sand boa fact file

Kenyan sand boa description

GenusGongylophis  (1)

The Kenyan sand boa (Gongylophis colubrinus) is a rather stout snake with a long, cylindrical body and a short, conical, more or less pointed tail (2) (5) (6). Like other sand boas, it is a burrowing species that lies in wait under sand, ready to ambush prey from its concealed position (7).

This snake species has a relatively small, wedge-shaped head, and small eyes with vertical pupils (2) (5) (6) (7). The Kenyan sand boa’s head is covered in small scales (5) (7), and the scales on the rear of the body and on the tail are strongly keeled (2) (5).

The body of the Kenyan sand boa is generally light yellow to orange or brown above, with large, dark, irregular brown patches. The belly is cream to yellowish or white (2) (5) (7), sometimes with a few grey to light brown spots or bars, and there is usually a dark streak running through each eye (5). The colouration of the Kenyan sand boa is lighter in juveniles and intensifies with age (8).

The male Kenyan sand boa is significantly smaller than the female, with a more slender body and a relatively longer tail. Like many boas, this species possesses vestigial hind legs, known as spurs, which are longer and more conspicuous in the male than in the female (5).

Also known as
East African sand boa, Egyptian sand boa, sand boa.
Anguis colubrina, Eryx colubrinus, Eryx jaculus, Eryx loveridgei, Eryx rufescens, Eryx scutata, Eryx thebaicus, Gongylophis thebaicus.
Total length: 50 - 90 cm (2)

Kenyan sand boa biology

Like other sand boas, the Kenyan sand boa feeds mainly on small mammals, but also eats lizards and birds (2) (5) (10). Sand boas catch their prey by burrowing in loose soil or sand or using the burrows of other small animals to conceal themselves (5) (11). They then ambush passing prey, using constriction to kill it or sometimes swallowing it alive. The Kenyan sand boa is also likely to actively search for nestling mammals and birds. As well as killing prey by constriction, this species has been reported to dispatch small prey by pulling it under the sand to suffocate it (5).

A burrowing species, the Kenyan sand boa usually hides in a hole or buried beneath sand during the day, emerging to hunt at night. However, it may also hunt or bask during the day (5).

The Kenyan sand boa reaches maturity within two to three years (5) and gives birth to live young (2) (5). Mating is thought to be seasonal, generally occurring in spring and early summer (5) (8), with the male often having to dig the female out of the sand before mating can occur (5). The female Kenyan sand boa gives birth to between 4 and 20 young around 4 to 5 months after mating. The young measure around 17 to 20 centimetres in length and average about 8 grams in weight (5).

This species has been recorded living up to ten years in captivity (5).


Kenyan sand boa range

The Kenyan sand boa occurs across northern and eastern Africa, from Libya and Niger east to Egypt, and south to north-eastern Tanzania. Its range includes Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya (5) (8), and it may also occur in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen (2) (8).


Kenyan sand boa habitat

The Kenyan sand boa generally inhabits loose sandy soil, desert margins and vegetated sand dunes in arid and semi-arid areas (5) (7). It has been recorded from sea level to elevations of about 1,500 metres (5).


Kenyan sand boa status

The Kenyan sand boa has yet to be globally assessed, but is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Mediterranean Red List (3) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).


Kenyan sand boa threats

Little information is available on the threats to the Kenyan sand boa. However, in Egypt it is reported to be uncommon and localised, and is declining due to habitat destruction. It is not yet known how well this species can adapt to new habitats (7).

Another potential threat to the Kenyan sand boa is over-collection for the pet trade, because of its popularity as a pet overseas (7). This snake is the most commonly kept sand boa species in the United States, although large numbers are now bred in captivity (8).


Kenyan sand boa conservation

The Kenyan sand boa is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (4).

There are not known to be any other specific conservation measures currently in place for this attractive snake.


Find out more

Find out more about the Kenyan sand boa and other reptiles:

More information on reptile conservation:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


A projecting ridge along a flat or curved surface, particularly down the middle.


  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (July, 2012)
  2. O’Shea, M. and Halliday, T. (2010) Reptiles and Amphibians. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  4. CITES (July, 2012)
  5. Lanza, B. and Nistri, A. (2005) Somali Boidae (genus Eryx Daudin 1803) and Pythonidae (genus Python Daudin 1803) (Reptilia Serpentes). Tropical Zoology, 18: 67-136.
  6. Chippaux, J-P. (2006) Les Serpents d’Afrique Occidentale et Centrale. IRD Éditions, Montpellier.
  7. Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  8. - The East African Sand Boa (February, 2011)
  9. The Reptile Database - Eryx colubrinus (July, 2012)
  10. Rodríguez-Robles, J.A., Bell, C.J. and Greene, H.W. (1999) Gape size and evolution of diet in snakes: feeding ecology of erycine boas. Journal of Zoology, 248: 49-58.
  11. Bartlett, R.D. (2005) Rosy, Rubber, and Sand Boas. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.

Image credit

Kenyan sand boa  
Kenyan sand boa

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