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Eryx jaculus.jpg
Javelin sand boa, E. jaculus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Boidae
Subfamily: Erycinae
Bonaparte, 1831
  • Erycina
    Bonaparte, 1831
  • Erycidae
    Bonaparte, 1840
  • Erycina
    — Bonaparte, 1840
  • Erycides
    A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1844
  • Charinidae
    Cope, 1900
  • Erycinae
    Kuhn, 1967
  • Erycinidae
    Kuhn, 1967
Common names: Old World sand boas[1]

The Erycinae are a subfamily of nonvenomous snakes in the family Boidae. Species of the subfamily Erycinae are found in Europe, Asia Minor, Africa, Arabia, central and southwestern Asia, India, Sri Lanka, and western North America. Three genera comprising 15 species are currently recognized as being valid.[1]


Erycinae is a subfamily of stout-bodied snakes, all of which are competent burrowers. The largest, E. johnii, rarely exceeds 120 cm (47 in) in total length (including tail). Most grow to around 60 cm (24 in) in total length. They have small eyes and hard, small scales to protect their skin from the grit of sand. A great deal of sexual dimorphism exists, with females generally becoming much larger than males.

Erycines have skeletal adaptations to burrowing. The skull is more compact than in the subfamily Boinae. Also, the vertebrae of the tail are increased in size but reduced in number.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Erycines are found in south southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, north, central, west and east Africa, Arabia, central and southwestern Asia, India, Sri Lanka, southwestern Canada, the western United States, and northwestern Mexico.[3]

Fossil erycines have been found in rock strata over 50 million years old, and were once widespread in North America. Now, only two species remain in North America, as well as the sand boas in Africa, Asia, and southeastern Europe.


The majority of erycines spend much of their time basking below the surface of the sand, with only their eyes or head exposed. When potential prey approaches, they erupt out of the sand, bite, and employ constriction to subdue it.


The primary diet of erycines consists of rodents, but they have also been known to prey on lizards and birds.


Otherwise far removed from their boine relatives, erycines are generally ovoviviparous, i.e., giving birth to live young. At least three species lay eggs, however: the Calabar python, Charina reinhardtii (once regarded as a python for this reason), the Arabian sand boa, Eryx jayakari, and the West African sand boa, E. muelleri.

Smuggling and poaching in India[edit]

Poaching and smuggling of sand boas is often reported in India.[4][5][6][7] Most of the smuggled snakes go to the United States.[8][better source needed] There is a misconception about their medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties, as well as the belief that keeping this snake as a pet brings wealth and prosperity.[9]


Gongylophis colubrinus, G. conicus and E. johnii are frequently available in the exotic pet trade and are often captive bred. They breed readily, their small size making them an attractive option. They are usually not aggressive species, though they sometimes have a tendency to bite, and also spend the vast majority of their time hiding. Other species are not commonly available, but are occasionally imported.

Rough-scaled sand boa


Genus[1] Taxon author[1] Species[1] Subsp.*[1] Common name Geographic range[3]
Charina Gray, 1849 2 0 rosy boas, rubber boas North America from southwestern Canada south through the western United States into northwestern Mexico
EryxT Daudin, 1803 8 2 Old World sand boas Southeastern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and southwestern Asia
Gongylophis Wagler, 1830 3 0 sand boas Africa from Mauritania and Senegal east to Egypt and south to Tanzania, also reported from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent from eastern Pakistan, eastern India and Bangladesh south as far as northwestern Sri Lanka

* Not including the nominate subspecies.
T Type genus.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Erycinae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  2. ^ Goin CJ, Goin OB, Zug GR (1978).
  3. ^ a b c McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T (1999). Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume 1. Washington, District of Columbia: Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Bonaparte, Carlo Luciano (1831). Saggio di una distribuzione metodica degli animali vertebrati. Rome: Antonio Boulzaler. 144 pp. (Subfamily "Erycina [sic]", p. 67). (in Italian).
  • Goin CJ, Goin OB, Zug GR (1978). Introduction to Herpetology, Third Edition. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company. xi + 378 pp. ISBN 0-7167-0020-4. (Subfamily Erycinae, p. 319).

External links[edit]