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So-called 'sandfish' could help materials handling and process technology specialists
Date:10/3/2008

It moves as quickly in sand as a fish moves through water, which is why this lizard, a species of skink (Scincus scincus) that grows to about 15 cm long and lives in the deserts of North Africa and the Near East, is commonly known by the name "sandfish."Although it looks fairly unremarkable, this desert animal has a thing or two to teach materials-handling and process-technology specialists,as it spends most of its time below the surface of the sand and moves through its element extremely efficiently,and scientists hope to apply the insights they gain from nature to improve industrial technologies for the handling of granular materials.Whether it's gravel, sand or flour, optimising the technology for handling such materials could significantly reduce energy and maintenance costs for businesses such as quarries and industrial bakeries in the future.

In a new article published in the journal PLoS ONE, Prof. Werner Baumgartner and colleagues from the Department of Cellular Neurobionics at RWTH Aachen used an MRI scanner to observe the sandfish as it "swims" through the sand.

"We took a round container that would fit snugly into the MRI and filled it with sand," says Prof. BaumgartnerBaumgartner.The project, which was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the University of Wrzburg and Museum Knig in Bonn, has provided a visual record of the animal's movements in the sand as viewed from above and from the side.

The scientists found the results highly surprising:until now, it was thought that the sandfish pulled its legs in against its body, but the experiments revealed that it actually moves its legs back and forth in a fixed pattern."This seems illogical at first, because sand provides resistance," says Baumgartner."But we found out that its leg movements are very well coordinated with the wriggling of its body."

It turns out that the sandfish moves in a way very similar to the crawl stroke in swimming.
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Contact: Professor Werner Baumgartner
werner@bio2.rwth-aachen.de
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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