Indian Sand Boa

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Is the Indian Sand Boa right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red Sand Boa, Two-Headed Sand Boa

Scientific name: Eryx johnii johnii

The basics:
The Indian Sand Boa is a “boa” in name only…in lifestyle and appearance it is in a class all its own. Being the largest and most docile of the world’s sand boas, this fascinating snake is much sought after by reptile enthusiasts. The Indian Sand Boa’s range has not been well-studied, but it is known to occur in India (of course!), Pakistan and Afghanistan. Another subspecies is limited to Iran, and eleven related sand boas may be found in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Arid, scrub-studded plains, semi-deserts, and rocky hillsides are its preferred habitats. Life is spent below-ground, usually just beneath the surface with the head partially exposed.

Appearance / health:
Cylindrical in shape, the Indian Sand Boa averages two feet in length, although some reach nearly twice that size. The small scales appear “polished”, and are colored reddish-brown or yellow-tinged tan. The blunt tail closely resembles the head; when threatened, the Indian Sand Boa tucks its head into a protective ball of coils and presents the tail to its attacker. As an adaptation to life spent below ground, the wedge shaped head serves as a “spade”.

Behavior / temperament:
While related species become stressed when removed from their subterranean hideaways, most Indian Sand Boas take short periods of gentle handling in stride. However, 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. Indian Sand Boas must be provided course sand and smooth gravel in which to burrow. 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. The tank’s screen lid should be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 78-85 F. Basking temperature: 90-95 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 Indian 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, Indian 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 Indian 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.

The young are born alive after a gestation period of approximately 4 months. Due to their large size – nearly 1/3 that of the mother – and unique coloration – orange with black rings, newborn Indian Sand Boas command high prices. Unlike the young of other sand boas, they are large enough to take pinkies, and rarely “demand” lizards as food. A short period of increased humidity may encourage breeding, but seems not essential.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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