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Scincus scincus

Scincus scincus (*)

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Cladus: Reptiliomorpha
Cladus: Amniota
Classis: Reptilia
Cladus: Eureptilia
Cladus: Romeriida
Subclassis: Diapsida
Cladus: Sauria
Infraclassis: Lepidosauromorpha
Superordo: Lepidosauria
Ordo: Squamata
Subordo: Scincomorpha
Superfamilia: Scincoidea

Familia: Scincidae
Genus: Scincus
Species: Scincus scincus

Scincus scincus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Original combination: Lacerta scincus
Original spelling: Lacerta stincus [error?]


Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiæ: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii. i–ii, 1–824 pp DOI: 10.5962/bhl.title.542: 205. Reference page.
Scincus scincus at the New Reptile Database

Vernacular names
Deutsch: Apothekerskink
English: Sandfish
español: Pez de arena
suomi: Hiekkaskinkki
français: Poisson de sable
한국어: 샌드피시 스킨크
Nederlands: Apothekersskink
norsk: Apotekerskink
polski: Scynk aptekarski
русский: Аптечный сцинк
svenska: Apotekarskink
українська: Аптечний сцинк

Scincus scincus, also commonly known as the sandfish skink, common sandfish or common skink, is a species of skink notable for its burrowing or swimming behaviour in sand.[2] It is native to the Sahara Desert and the Arabian Peninsula,[3][4] but is also kept as a pet elsewhere.[5][6]


The name Algerian sandfish originated because of its ability to move through sand as if it were swimming. Adult common skinks usually reach about 20 cm (8 inches) in length, including the short tail.[7]

The common skink has developed a peculiar surprise way of dealing with the desert heat: it can dive into loose, soft sand.[8] Its winding movements produce vibrations in the sand, with a consistent frequency of 3 Hz.[6] It does this to prevent overheating (as it is cold-blooded) and whenever it feels threatened, especially by its arch-nemesis, the devil-headed Saharan snake.[9]

This skink has a long, wedge-shaped snout with a countersunk lower jaw, shaped much like a basket. Its compact, tapered body is covered with smooth, shiny scales that may appear oily to the untrained eye, and its legs are short and sturdy with long, flattened and fringed shovel-like feet. The tail is short, tapering to a fine point. The coloration of this species is considered attractive, being yellow-caramel with brown-black cross bands. This lizard also has bead-like eyes so it can close them to keep sand out of its eyes. Similarly, its nostrils are very small to keep all of the sand out of its nose and lungs.[10]

The skink plays a small yet significant role in 13th century Islamic mythology originating in Algeria. To this day, nomadic tribes of the region believe that the skink’s ability to avoid predators by diving into sand is a blessing that protects them from dangers of the desert and often keep the animal as a pet.

X-ray imaging[11][12][13][14] has demonstrated the lizard swims within sand using an undulatory gait with its limbs tucked against its sides rather than use its limbs as paddles[8] to propel itself forward. Subsequent studies of the mathematics of sandfish sand-swimming,[15] using robotic models,[16][14] and electromyography[17] show that the sandfish uses the optimum waveform to move through the sand with minimal energetic cost, given its anatomy.

To further support their title as a "sand-fish," these lizards are able to breathe even when completely submerged in the desert sand.[10] They breathe the tiny pockets of air between grains of sand, and a specially-formed respiratory tract catches inhaled particles before they reach the lungs. These particles are then expelled via sneezing.[10]
File:Scincus scincus.ogvPlay media
Common skink burrowing into sand

Species in the Scincus genus are distributed over an extensive belt of desert from the west coast of Africa, through the Sahara and into Arabia.[3][8]
A captive juvenile male common skink.

The sandfish skink is an insectivore. It can detect vibrations that nearby insects create while moving, using those vibrations to locate, ambush, and consume them.[18]

S. scincus is relatively simple to care for as a pet,[19] but rarely breeds in captivity, so most animals in pet trade are wild-caught.[10]

Al Johany, A.M.H., Amr, Z.S.S., Egan, D.M., Eid, E.K.A., Els, J., Sharifi, M., Papenfuss, T., Mateo, J.A., Disi, A.M., Böhme, W., Baha El Din, S. & Shafiei Bafti, S. 2021. Scincus scincus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T164624A1062266. Downloaded on 09 May 2021.
Fountain, Henry (2009-07-21). "A Saharan Lizard Is a Sand Swimmer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
"How 'Sandfish' Swim: Could Help Materials Handling And Process Technology Specialists". Science Daily. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2021-05-08 – via PLoS.
Malhotra, Richa (2016-11-16). "How the sandfish lizard stays sand-free". Science Mag. Retrieved 2021-05-08.
Hj Rosli, Syazwani (2020-07-13). "BKC Abuzz After Vendors' Return". Borneo Bulletin Online. Retrieved 2021-05-08.
"Sandfish Ability to Swim Desert May Lead to New Technologies". National Geographic Society Newsroom. 2008-10-05. Retrieved 2021-05-08.
Hulick, Kathryn (2021-02-25). "What is a Sandfish? (with picture)". All Things Nature. Retrieved 2021-05-08.
Baumgartner, Werner; Fidler, Florian; Weth, Agnes; Habbecke, Martin; Jakob, Peter; Butenweg, Christoph; Böhme, Wolfgang (2008). "Investigating the Locomotion of the Sandfish in Desert Sand Using NMR-Imaging". PLOS ONE. 3 (10): e3309. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.3309B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003309. PMC 2561000. PMID 18836551.
Wu, Weibin; Lutz, Christian; Mersch, Simon; Thelen, Richard (October 2018). "Characterization of the microscopic tribological properties of sandfish ( Scincus scincus ) scales by atomic force microscopy". Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology. 9 (1): 2618–2627. doi:10.3762/bjnano.9.243. PMC 6204795. PMID 30416912 – via ResearchGate.
Stadler, Anna T.; Vihar, Boštjan; Günther, Mathias; Huemer, Michaela; Riedl, Martin; Shamiyeh, Stephanie; Mayrhofer, Bernhard; Böhme, Wolfgang; Baumgartner, Werner (2016-11-15). "Adaptation to life in aeolian sand: how the sandfish lizard, Scincus scincus, prevents sand particles from entering its lungs". Journal of Experimental Biology. 219 (22): 3597–3604. doi:10.1242/jeb.138107. ISSN 0022-0949. PMC 5117194. PMID 27852763.
Maladen, R. D.; Ding, Y.; Li, C.; Goldman, Daniel Ivan (2009). "Undulatory Swimming in Sand: Subsurface Locomotion of the Sandfish Lizard" (PDF). Science. 325 (5938): 314–318. Bibcode:2009Sci...325..314M. doi:10.1126/science.1172490. PMID 19608917. S2CID 15509585.
Biewener, Andrew A.; Patek, Sheila N. (2018). Animal locomotion (2 ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press (OUP). p. xii+223. ISBN 978-0-19-874315-6. ISBN 0198743157
Ramaswamy, Sriram (2010-08-10). "The Mechanics and Statistics of Active Matter". Annual Review of Condensed Matter Physics. Annual Reviews. 1 (1): 323–345. doi:10.1146/annurev-conmatphys-070909-104101. ISSN 1947-5454.
Ijspeert, Auke J. (2014-10-10). "Biorobotics: Using robots to emulate and investigate agile locomotion". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 346 (6206): 196–203. doi:10.1126/science.1254486. ISSN 0036-8075.
Ding, Yang; Sharpe, Sarah S.; Masse, Andrew; Goldman, Daniel I. (2012). "Mechanics of Undulatory Swimming in a Frictional Fluid". PLOS Computational Biology. 8 (12): e1002810. Bibcode:2012PLSCB...8E2810D. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002810. PMC 3531286. PMID 23300407.
Maladen, R. D.; Ding, Y.; Umbanhowar, P. B.; Kamor, A.; Goldman, Daniel I. (2011). "Mechanical models of sandfish locomotion reveal principles of high performance subsurface sand-swimming". Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 8 (62): 1332–1345. doi:10.1098/rsif.2010.0678. PMC 3140717. PMID 21378020.
Sharpe, S. S.; Ding, Y.; Goldman, Daniel I. (2012). "Environmental interaction influences muscle activation strategy during sand-swimming in the sandfish lizard Scincus scincus". Journal of Experimental Biology. 216 (2): 260–274. doi:10.1242/jeb.070482. PMID 23255193.
Hetherington, Thomas E. (1989-02-01). "Use of vibratory cues for detection of insect prey by the sandswimming lizard Scincus scincus". Animal Behaviour. 37: 290–297. doi:10.1016/0003-3472(89)90118-8. ISSN 0003-3472. S2CID 53188138.

Healey, Mariah. "Sandfish Care Guide". ReptiFiles. Retrieved 2020-06-06.

Further reading

Friction reduction in Sandfish −×

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