Controlled preparation of wet granular media reveals limits to lizard burial ability

Phys Biol. 2015 Jun 25;12(4):046009. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/12/4/046009.


Many animals move within ground composed of granular media (GM); the resistive properties of such substrates can depend on water content and compaction, but little is known about how such parameters affect locomotion or the physics of drag and penetration. Using apparatus to control compaction of GM, our recent studies of movement in dry GM have revealed locomotion strategies of specialized dry-sand-swimming reptiles. However, these animals represent a small fraction of the diversity and presumed burial strategies of fossorial reptilian fauna. Here we develop a system to create states of wet GM of varying moisture content and compaction in quantities sufficient to study the burial and subsurface locomotion of the Ocellated skink (C. ocellatus), a generalist lizard. X-ray imaging revealed that in wet and dry GM the lizard slowly buried (≈30 s) propagating a wave from head to tail, while moving in a start-stop motion. During forward movement, the head oscillated, and the forelimb on the convex side of the body propelled the animal. Although body kinematics and 'slip' were similar in both substrates, the burial depth was smaller in wet GM. Penetration and drag force experiments on smooth cylinders revealed that wet GM was ≈4× more resistive than dry GM. In total, our measurements indicate that while the rheology of the dry and wet GM differ substantially, the lizard's burial motor pattern is conserved across substrates, while its burial depth is largely constrained by environmental resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Environment*
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Locomotion*
  • Models, Biological
  • Rheology
  • Silicon Dioxide / analysis


  • Silicon Dioxide