Lizard turns into snake to navigate desert sand

July 17th, 2009 - 12:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 17 (IANS) Sandfish, small lizards with smooth scales, virtually turn into snakes to navigate desert sand.
Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) researchers found that the animals place their limbs against their sides and create a wave motion with their bodies to propel themselves through sand.

“When startled above the surface, the animals dive into the sand within a half second,” said Daniel Goldman, assistant professor in GIT School of Physics, who led the study.

“Once below the surface, they no longer use their limbs for propulsion — instead, they move forward by propagating a travelling wave down their bodies like a snake,” Goldman added.

GIT researchers used high-speed x-ray imaging to visualise sandfish — formally called Scincus scincus — burrowing into and through sand. The team used that information to develop a model of the lizard’s locomotion.

The sandfish used in this study inhabits the Sahara desert in Africa and is approximately four inches long. It uses its long, wedge-shaped snout and countersunk lower jaw to rapidly bury into and swim within sand, said a GIT release.

The sandfish’s body has flattened sides and is covered with smooth shiny scales, its legs are short and sturdy with long and flattened fringed toes and its tail tapers to a fine point.

The study was published in the Friday issue of Science.

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