Investigating the locomotion of the sandfish in desert sand using NMR-Imaging

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Abstract

The sandfish (Scincus scincus) is a lizard having the remarkable ability to move through desert sand for significant distances. It is well adapted to living in loose sand by virtue of a combination of morphological and behavioural specializations. We investigated the bodyform of the sandfish using 3D-laserscanning and explored its locomotion in loose desert sand using fast nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging. The sandfish exhibits an in-plane meandering motion with a frequency of about 3 Hz and an amplitude of about half its body length accompanied by swimming-like (or trotting) movements of its limbs. No torsion of the body was observed, a movement required for a digging-behaviour. Simple calculations based on the Janssen model for granular material related to our findings on bodyform and locomotor behaviour render a local decompaction of the sand surrounding the moving sandfish very likely. Thus the sand locally behaves as a viscous fluid and not as a solid material. In this fluidised sand the sandfish is able to "swim" using its limbs.

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Baumgartner, W., Fidler, F., Weth, A., Habbecke, M., Jakob, P., Butenweg, C., & Böhme, W. (2008). Investigating the locomotion of the sandfish in desert sand using NMR-Imaging. PLoS ONE, 3(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003309

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