Among the world’s most accomplished burrowers are a genus of desert-dwelling skinks (Scincus sp.) commonly known as the sandfish (3)(4). As the name suggests, sandfish have the remarkable ability to move with considerable speed below the surface of loose sand (5)(6). This unusual behaviour is attributable to a number of physical adaptations including a streamlined body, highly polished skin, strongly developed limbs, a chisel-shaped snout, and reduced ear openings (5)(7)(8). With several recognised subspecies, the common sandfish is quite variable in appearance, but generally has yellow to tan scales with well defined, broad, grey bands across its back (3)(7).
Contrary to what was previously thought, recent studies have shown that rather than pulling their limbs close to the body, sandfish move through sand by rotating their legs back and forth in a manner much like the crawl stroke in swimming (5)(6). However, while they are extremely efficient at moving beneath the sand, in the absence of a perceived threat, sandfish do actually prefer to travel on the surface. Although the ear openings are small, these skinks have excellent hearing, which enables them to detect insect prey moving below the surface (7).
There are no known conservation measures in place for the common sandfish but owing to its occurrence in a sparsely populated region of the world, it is probably buffered to some extent from human impacts.
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