Common sandfish (Scincus scincus)

Common sandfish walking
Loading more images and videos...

Common sandfish fact file

Common sandfish description

GenusScincus (1)

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).

Also known as
Iranian sandfish.
Length: 15 cm (2)

Common sandfish biology

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).


Common sandfish range

Species in the Scincus genus are distributed over an extensive belt of desert from the west coast of Africa, through the Sahara and into Arabia (5).


Common sandfish habitat

Found in arid environments where sand is loose and easily burrowed (4) (7).


Common sandfish status

This species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN.


Common sandfish threats

Some subspecies of the common sandfish are kept as pets in North America and Europe (4), but the impact of trade is not well documented.


Common sandfish conservation

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.

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To learn more about reptile conservation visit:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. CITES (January, 2009)
  2. Bartlett, P.P., Griswold, B. and Bartlett, R.D. (2001) Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide. Barron's Educational Series, New York.
  3. Bartlet, R.D. (2003) Spiny-Tailed Agamids (Uromastyx and Xenagama). Barron's Educational Series, New York.
  4. Bartlett, P.P. (1997) Lizard Care from A to Z. Barron's Educational Series, New York.
  5. Baumgartner, W., Fidler, F., Weth, A., Habbecke, M., Jakob, P., Butenweg, C. and Böhme, W. (2008) Investigating the Locomotion of the Sandfish in Desert Sand Using NMR-Imaging. PLoS ONE, 3(10).
  6. ScienceDaily (June, 2009)
  7. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.
  8. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Common sandfish walking  
Common sandfish walking

© Chris Mattison /

FLPA - images of nature
Pages Green House
Suffolk IP14 5QA
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1728 861 113
Fax: +44 (0) 1728 860 222


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Common sandfish (Scincus scincus) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is featured in Jewels of the UAE, which showcases biodiversity found in the United Arab Emirates in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top