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Sandfish

scales desert body lower

A sandfish is a sand-dwelling lizard of the family Scincidae (a skink) found in desert regions of North Africa and southwestern Asia. It receives the name "sandfish" because it literally "swims" through the loose sand of its preferred habitat.

Six or seven species of the genus Scincus are called sandfish. They range from Algeria, in northwestern Africa, to the Sind desert region of Pakistan. The best known of these, the medicinal skink (Scincus scincus) was used in potions for "the most diverse complaints" in olden times.

These lizards are especially modified for living in sandy regions. They are 6-7 in (about 20 cm) long, with a moderately stout body and a relatively short tail. The head is conical with a shovel-shaped snout, and the lower jaws are countersunk behind the snout and upper jaws—a common adaptation in desert animals that prevents sand from getting into the mouth. The eyes are rather small and have a transparent "window" formed by several large scales in the lower lid. The body scales are smooth. The ears are completely covered by scales and hidden from view. The limbs are well-formed and the toes are flattened and have a series of elongated scales along their sides. This presumably aids them in walking over the surface of the sand at night, but they spend most of their time below the surface and move by folding their legs back and swimming with sinuous lateral movements. As expected in such a habitat, the upper part of the body is light tan (sand-colored), with some scattered, vertically elongated brown blotches on the sides. The lower surface is white.

The habits and life history of these lizards are little known. They presumably feed on insects and other desert-dwelling arthropods.

See also Skinks.

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