I watched this video. A network of pipes blows air at the bottom of a bathtub filled with sand. The sand behaves just like water. Objects can float or sink in it. Children can play in it.

So, my creature is worm-like. It has a snorkel which it holds above the sand to suck air. The creature has many vents which blow the air in the sand, both around and in front. The sand around the creature becomes fluid-like (quicksand) and the creature can swim in it.

Is that a feasible way to swim in sand? Can larger creatures like the worm from Dune series swim this way? I still think the creatures must find a way to keep their snorkel above the sand at all times, or else they risk inhaling sand into their lungs.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Is that a feasible way to swim in sand?" In reality, no, because you need a lot of air to make sand fluidic. "or else they risk inhaling sand into their lungs" We blithely ignore that part... :) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Mar 13, 2018 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Besides, worms don't have lungs. learner.org/jnorth/tm/worm/WormLife.html $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Mar 13, 2018 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe his outer "shell" could vibrate, moving the sand away? $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2018 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ The video you link to has a geek factor of approximately 9.9886. Now I want to find an old hot tub and make one. Parental supervision required, BTW. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 13, 2018 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Awesome video. And a some what related question that may help you worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/88816/… (disclaimer, the accepted answer is mine) $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2018 at 23:09

2 Answers 2


So no, the air pipe idea is probably not feasible for swimming through sand.

But a worm shape probably is.

MIT scientists have been studying vertebrates to find out how they move through sand. Basically, the smoother your creature's outer surface, to reduce drag from friction against the sand, and the more vertebra it has, to enable curving motions, the more likely it is to be able to "swim" through sand.

To scale it up from worms, snakes, and lizards to something like Shai-Hulud, I'd consider how the interior organs would adapt. If it moves from deep within the sand to the surface regularly, then it's going to experience increasing and decreasing pressure changes from the weight of the sand on top of it. How will it do that without getting its version of the bends?

The MIT Review blurb is here:


Wired Magazine's story on the study is here:


...and since Wired's video is down, you can watch New Scientist summarizing the lizard study here:


...and the NYT summarizing the snake study here:



No, it really isn't possible (without magic) to have a worm-like creature move through substrata at the rate they portray, even if you were somehow able to figure out how to apply enough air with enough consistency to give sand a liquid effect, because at that point, it'd basically be swimming/flying. That being said, worms travel through the dirt below our feet every day, as do a myriad of other invertebrates and vertebrates, so the process isn't entirely alien.


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