Species group: Boas, Anacondas and Pythons
Other common names: Desert Sand Boa, Russian Black Sand Boa
Scientific name: Eryx miliaris
The Dwarf Sand Boa is, in common with its better-known relatives, very “un-boa-like” in lifestyle and appearance. This smallest of the world’s sand boas, is not very well-known yet, but especially dark or strikingly-patterned individuals are much sought after by sand boa enthusiasts. The Dwarf Sand Boa’s range has not been well-studied, but it is known to occur from southern Russia south to northern Iran and Afghanistan and east to Mongolia and northern China. Arid, scrub-studded plains, semi-deserts, and rocky hillsides are its preferred habitats. Life is spent largely below-ground, often just beneath the surface with the head partially exposed.
Appearance / health:
Cylindrical in shape, the Dwarf Sand Boa averages 18 inches, with the largest females barely topping 2 feet in length. Two subspecies are known. E. m. miliaris, the form most often seen in the pet trade, is tan in color with irregular brown markings dorsally and cram-colored below. E. m. nogaiorum, known as the Russian Black Sand Boa, is dark gray to near-black above with black blotches along the sides and on the white underside of the body. As an adaptation to life spent below ground, the wedge shaped head serves as a “spade”.
Behavior / temperament:
Most sand boas become stressed when removed from their subterranean hideaways, and the smooth, glossy scales may render them difficult to control. All sand boas have an ingrained feeding response that often causes them to strike if touched while buried, so take care when approaching your pet.
A single adult may be housed in a 20 to 30 gallon aquarium. Dwarf Sand Boas should be provided course sand, aspen and smooth gravel in which to burrow; success has also been had with aspen alone. These secretive snakes will not thrive if forced to shelter in caves; body contact with sand is essential. However, some will remain beneath a piece of glass laid atop the sand, and so may be easily observed. Driftwood and rocks, if used, should be placed directly on the terrarium’s floor, lest the snakes burrow below and become injured. The tank’s screen lid should be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 75-85 F. Basking temperature: 90 F. As Sand Boas rarely bask on the surface, a heat pad should be placed below the aquarium. An incandescent bulb may be used to warm the air further if necessary.
In common with other snakes hailing from arid habitats, the Dwarf Sand Boa produces dry, compact waste products. If droppings are removed regularly, there is usually little need to break down and clean the entire terrarium. Sand Boas must be kept dry, as skin and respiratory disorders develop rapidly in damp surroundings. Always use heavy water bowls that cannot be tipped over by burrowing snakes. As other snakes are included in their diet, Dwarf Sand Boas are best housed alone, and should be watched carefully when paired for breeding.
Sand Boas are highly-specialized ambush predators that wait below the sand for passing rodents, lizards and smaller snakes. To assist in this hunting strategy, the eyes and nostrils are placed high on the head, which is left partially exposed. Captives will literally explode from the sand to snatch mice moved about with a feeding tong…very impressive, and always a shock to the uninitiated! The jaws of the Dwarf Sand Boa are not well-suited to swallowing large meals. Except for extra-large individuals, young mice are preferable to adult mice as a food source. Youngsters should be fed once weekly, while adults do fine with a meal each 10-14 days.
Captive breeding is, at present, uncommon. The young are born alive after a gestation period of approximately 4 months. A short period of hibernation may encourage breeding, but seems not essential.
Written by Frank Indiviglio