Sandfish (Scincus spp.)
Published: March 8, 2019
Last Updated: February 21, 2024
Sandfish skinks are a diurnal lizard native to the sandy deserts of northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. True to their name, sandfish’s bodies are built to literally swim through sand. They prefer to hang out buried in loose dune sand, but will occasionally pop up for prey or to bask.
They are easily identified as a skink by their stout body with short legs, but they also feature a short tail, a long wedge-shaped snout with a countersunk lower jaw, feather-like toes, and tiny black eyes. They are typically 6-8” (15-20cm) long, with a 6-10 year average lifespan.
Like many other lizards, sandfish skinks are insectivores, which means that they primarily eat insects such as beetles.
Sandfish skinks are exceptionally hardy, easy to care for, and can make a great first reptile — as long as you’re content to have a pet that doesn’t like to be held and is not visible most of the time.
- Sandfish have been featured in several scientific studies analyzing their low-friction scales and the way they literally swim through loose sand. Depending on the situation, they will paddle with their feet or make a fish-like side-to-side motion. (“Sandfishes and kin: of sand-swimming, placentation, and limb and digit reduction” by Darren Naish)
- Sandfish can breathe even when completely submerged in fine sand! As they breathe the air caught in between the grains of sand, their specially-formed respiratory tract catches any sand particles and prevents them from entering the lungs. This sand is expelled via sneezing. (“Adaptation to life in aeolian sand: how the sandfish lizard, Scincus scincus, prevents sand particles from entering its lungs” by Anna T. Stadler et al.)