Professional Herpetoculture for the Pet Trade

How To Breed Kenyan Sand Boas

Breeding Sand Boas

One of the questions we get asked quite often is "How can I breed my Kenyan Sand Boas, I can't find any articles or books on how to do this". This article will explain how we do it, using methods we've developed at VMS over the last twenty-plus years. Some articles may differ from the methodology presented here, and some may view it as overly simplified. Remember, Sand Boas have been breeding in the wild for thousands of years without our help - they'll do it just fine in our cages, no need to make it harder than it is!

Do you really want to breed your Sand Boa?

This seemingly simple question is often never considered by the novice. There are several reasons to consider NOT breeding your Sand Boa!

First, do you have a market for the offspring once they have been produced? Sand Boas can be very prolific. Litters usually range from eight to fifteen. If you don't have a place to sell them, you can quickly tire of feeding all those little mouths and then cleaning up after all those little...well you get the idea.

Second, do you have adequate food supplies and caging for the offspring? A Sand Boa litter of fifteen babies will consume around sixty newborn mice per month. That's a lot of mice. So many in fact, that local pet shops frequently begin experiencing mouse 'shortages' caused by the increased demand during peak months.

Third, are you willing to risk the life of your Sand Boa? Breeding Sand Boas is not without risks. On very rare occasions, one snake may actually simply eat the other on introduction. Dystocia (commonly known as egg-binding) is fairly common and poses serious health risks that may require expensive veterinary services. More common is the incredible drain on body resources that egg production places on the female. If not in perfect health, a female can become severely weakened and may succumb to renal failure or disease. Speaking of disease, the simple act of introducing the two snakes together opens the door for pathogen transfer. It is not uncommon for snakes to carry substantial parasite and bacteria loads and appear perfectly healthy, even for years. Introducing such a snake to another may transfer pathogens the second snake is unable to combat; it may then sicken and die.

I'm not trying to tell you not to breed your Sand Boas, just making sure you are aware of a few of the problems associated with it. If you still want to breed them, read on!

The Calender of Events

I'll try to present all of this information in the order it occurs, following the calendar, to enable the reader to grasp the entire cycle of events. Breeding Sand Boas is not simply something you just do one day, it is an event which consumes an entire year. Sand Boas spend their entire lives in the wild preparing for this one annual event - you should spend just as much time on it as they do! Please remember that these dates are not set in stone, variations in cage temperatures and other conditions may cause your results to vary. However, the overall sequence of events will remain unaltered.

January

Our Sand Boas are enjoying a cool period right now, having been placed there at the beginning of December, in preparation for next summer's breeding season. While it seems that very little is actually happening at this time, the careful observer will note that the snakes are still active, and will feed readily. Due to the cooler temperatures, and therefore reduced digestive efficiency, we offer very small meals approximately every ten days during this period.

Pay careful attention to them during this time. Most areas have much drier climates during the winter months and dehydration can be a problem. We make sure they have clean drinking water available at all times and check for 'dry shed' often.

We maintain our colonies at a temperature of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the winter cooling period. No hot-spots are provided during this time, just ambient room temperature. No fancy system or exact degree of temperature monitoring is necessary, we simply move them all to a rack located in an unheated room. Temperatures are checked daily and no real effort is required to stay within the desired temperature range. This served us well for many years!

We also greatly reduce the amount of light available to them by reducing the photoperiod. This is actually done all year long, with automatic timers providing longer daylight periods in summer and shorter in winter, set to match the photoperiod here in Colorado.

February

Still chillin'. While this cool period seems boring, it provides a bit of rest to the breeder, and more importantly to the snakes. Remember that egg follicles are developing and spermatogenesis is occurring in the males as well. It's important to maintain good conditions during this time so that all goes smoothly or infertile eggs will surely be the result.

March

Oh boy, now the work starts! We usually warm our snakes back up at the beginning of March. While many breeders advocate doing this by gradually warming them over a period of a couple weeks, we now know this is unnecessary. Instead we simply move all our Sand Boas back into heated rooms and turn back on the belly-heat. We try to provide a thermal gradient for these snakes, ranging from 78-80 on the cool side to 90-92 degrees Fahrenheit at the hot zone. Usually it takes a day or two to get all warmed back up.

We immediately check each specimen for any signs of disease and verify that they are strong enough and well-conditioned for breeding. We also use this time to select which males will be placed with which females to produce the desired offspring. We begin to feed heavily during this time. We find it best to feed small meals at first, gradually increasing to full-sized meals by the end of March.

Usually, the males will all shed their skins around the first week of April, although this varies a bit. Make a note of this, as it serves to signify he is ready for breeding.

April

We are now feeding very heavily, and our work load is becoming tremendous, with hundreds of hungry mouths to feed and even more cage cleaning to do. Averaging a bit later than the males, most of the females will now shed their skins for the first time of the year, although some may delay this until May. Occasional females will have shed almost immediately after warming up and will now shed again during this period, making it their second shed. It's not really important whether it's the first or second, the point is that it happens around this time - and this is the indicator that the female is ready for introductions to the male.

Many males will be seen to be restless, wandering around the cages endlessly - they can smell all those females nearby! Some males may refuse food during this period. Not to worry, they'll start feeding again once all the females have become gravid.

Whether the female has shed or not, we begin introducing her to the males' cage in early April. You can do it the other way around, doesn't seem to matter, we just like to place the female in with the male. If all is well, the male will show interest immediately, often pausing to smell the female as she glides by. Once he has determined that she is full of developing ova, his interest will quickly grow and he will begin to attempt to crawl on top of the female. The male may spend a lot of time trying to align himself on top of the female as shown here. Male Sand Boas can breed at ridiculously young ages and small sizes, and it can be pretty comical to see a tiny young male delicately perched atop a three foot long and very heavy female!

The male will stimulate the female by rubbing his chin along her back and sides, or maybe it stimulates him - nobody knows for sure!

If all goes well with this attempt, another look in a few minutes will reveal a successful copulation in progress. We'll continue introducing the pair together for periods of a day or two about twice per week, for the next couple of months, or until the female becomes visibly gravid. Many keepers simply keep their pairs together, separating them only to feed.

May

Virtually all our pairs are being introduced now, and many females are starting to show signs of ovulation at this time. Determining whether a female is ovulating can be difficult, but here's a few hints:

The first clue is a general heaviness throughout the lower half of the snake. Many keepers describe this as the snake looking like it just took a heavy meal, yet none has been given! Often, females will become aggressive at this time. Others may refuse food. (Yes, we feed throughout the breeding season if the snakes will accept it). Ovulating snakes will feel oddly firm at this time, almost as if they've suddenly grown muscular in the midsection. The main distinction is that this happens fast, with the snake appearing as usual one day and suddenly very firm and heavy the next. So paying constant attention to the females is required to recognize ovulation easily.

June - July

While a few of our Sand Boas are still being introduced for mating, the majority of females are obviously carrying young now. They can be seen seeking out the warm spots on the floor of the cage, and most feed ravenously! Gravid females can achieve astonishing dimensions, often appearing so fat and round that they seem ready to split open! This heavy body weight makes motion difficult for them, and disturbances should be held to a minimum. Once we see the snake is obviously gravid, we cease introducing the male to her.

August - September

A second (or sometimes it's the third) shed of the year can be an indicator that the female is near to giving birth. Often, she will become restless, as if searching for a place to have her babies. Well, she is - so be sure to check the cage daily! Usually ours give birth in the very early morning hours, and the whole process takes about an hour. Following birthing, females will often eat any unfertilized ova which are produced.

Baby Sand Boas are born inside a thin membranous sack, and strong healthy babies will have no trouble piercing and escaping from the sack. In fact, most of the babies you will find will have already done so and quickly hidden underneath decorations or cage bedding. Babies which fail to emerge are usually premature, deformed or very weak. While it can pay to mess with these specimens to see if they'll get going, we usually just euthanize them to keep our lines strong and free of potential defects.

Usually the female will shed again within a week or two of giving birth and this is the real beginning of what I call 'the fattening'. Following this shed, until ready to enter the winter cooling period, female Sand Boas will consume an astonishing amount of food. While our males will be on a maintenance diet of perhaps one feeding every other week, the females will be getting a small meal every five to seven days! They've earned it, as many have produced large healthy babies for for us.

If your snake has birthed earlier in the year, by all means start fattening her up earlier - don't wait!

October

Many females will have already regained a nice plump appearance during October. Those that are not regaining weight well, are marked and carefully observed for any problems which may require veterinary attention. Such snakes are marked and unless a sudden change for the better occurs, will not be bred the following season.

November

Now we are preparing for the upcoming return to winter cooling - and looking forward to a little rest! I'm sure the snakes are looking forward to it too!

December

All of our Sand Boas are returned to winter cooling conditions sometime during the first week of December. Pay careful attention to them during the first few weeks. It often takes a day or two for the room to cool, and prowling specimens may tip over water bowls. Snakes which are kept damp at this time have an increased potential for health problems. We usually remove the water dish and provide a very secure hiding place for such snakes. Once they've found the hiding place to their liking, the water dish may be returned to the cage.

Now that the snakes are all cooled down, we can take a break, look around at the scenery, and maybe even get caught up on all those unfinished projects around the house. Now that I stop to listen, Christmas songs are playing on the radio! I better get out and get some presents for friends and family - I know my Sand Boas will give me more presents next summer!