How Desert Animals Avoid Inhaling Sand

There’s plenty of air in the tiny spaces between grains of sand; the problem for sand-burrowing animals is how to get that air into their lungs while keeping the sand out. Narrow nostrils help, but other clever adaptations are also needed.

Sandfish are so called thanks to their ability to ‘swim’ though sand
Sandfish are so called thanks to their ability to ‘swim’ though sand

The Colorado Dessert fringe-toed lizard, for instance, is equipped with a respiratory U-bend that traps sand before it can reach the lungs, while die sandfish, a burrowing skink from North Africa and the Middle East, has a particularly wide section of respiratory tract. This slows down the stream of inhaled air, allowing any sand particles to fall onto a layer of sticky mucous, which is then coughed up, keeping the lungs entirely sand-free.

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