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Introducing: Irwin

Up until recently it wasn't really my intention at this time, but somehow the Carlton Carnivores family keeps on expanding. Recently two more adorable reptiles were added to the group, and first up for his introduction: Irwin, the Kenyan Sand Boa!

Seen here in shed, he's not the flashiest at the moment, but a great introductory educational animal he will become. Yes, his name is in part an homage to the late, great Steve Irwin (may his legacy last forever), but also, it just seemed to perfectly fit his dorky personality. Short, sweet, and shy, Irwin is about as inoffensive as you can get, and he's already gotten several snake-shy folks to hold him.

How can one resist such an adorable snoot?

The Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx colubrinus) is a relatively small member of the boid family (the same group that houses such familiar snakes as the boa constrictor and anaconda), with males (like Irwin) topping out at rarely more than 20 inches in length. Females may exceed 3 feet in some cases, but they too more often average between 28-30 inches. The wild form is typically colored in shades of cream (on the sides and belly) to orange (along the back) overlain in mottled blotches of dark brown to black. This pattern helps camouflage them in their arid habitats, and break up their outline whenever they're on the surface. Many color morphs now exist in captivity, including axanthic, amelanistic, anerythristic, and "snow" among others. Short and stocky, they are burrowers by nature and are rarely seen on the surface in the wild or even in captivity, preferring to stay buried under the substrate or furniture within their tanks. Strong, shovel-shaped snouts help them to rapidly dig their way through loose substrate, and their side-set, somewhat close nostrils prevent dirt and sand from getting inside as well.

This stocky nature is also a defensive strategy, their tails being similarly structured to their heads and so increasing the likelihood that a predator will go for the wrong end, thus giving the snake a chance to escape. That they are burrowing animals and not climbers however does pose a unique issue when holding them: they like to burrow between fingers and do not know how to hold on, so readily fall from inattentive hands or any furniture they may be placed on, and their heavyset stature means a fall of any distance can be dangerous. With these guys, handling them with full support is always necessary.

Side view of Irwin's head, showing the overhanging, shovel-shaped nose he uses to bury himself.

Many sand boa species exist across the Asian and Middle Eastern regions, but only a few exist within Africa. The Kenyan species is found from Niger to Egypt in the north, south to Kenya and Tanzania in relatively dry, sandy or loamy habitats. Currently the taxonomy is under debate, with some authors recognizing 2-3 subspecies and others only considering it to be a single, somewhat variable taxon across its range. In the wild sand boas will prey on just about anything alive that moves across the soil surface, triggering a predatory response that results in the boa popping out of the sand and grabbing whatever has walked past, constricting to kill before swallowing whole. In captivity, young sand boas also show strong preferences for live prey, and have to be weaned off and onto frozen prey over time.

Kenyan sand boas, like other boids, are also live-bearing snakes, giving birth to fully formed offspring instead of laying eggs and able to produce up to 10-20 large (8 inch long) offspring in a litter. Acquired as a hatchling, sand boas can also be kept as a pet for up to 20, even 30 years; unofficial claims have also suggested some may exceed more than 50 years of age though this has yet to be verified. As small as they are, they are not short-term pets, and can be around for quite some time. Being typically very docile as well, this means one boa may be a great companion for many years if cared for well.

Side view showing the color gradient from orange to cream, and Irwin's smooth, silky scales that help him burrow.

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