Latin name

Ammodytes americanus, Ammodytes dubius, Ammodytes hexapterus

Other names

Sand launce, sand eel, launce-fish, sandlance; French: lançon


It is a small, slender, elongated and round-bodied fish without teeth, usually without pelvic fins, without fin spines and with a forked tail. It has a long, soft dorsal fin, with no first dorsal fin. The body has sloping fleshy folds, and a distinct fleshy ridge runs along the underside. The straight lateral line runs close to the base of the dorsal fin. The number of fin rays and vertebrae distinguishes the American Sand Lance from the northern Sand Lance. The American has 51-62 dorsal fin rays, 23-33 anal fin rays, and 61-73 vertebrae, while the northern has 56-68 dorsal fin rays, 27-35 anal fin rays, and 65-78 vertebrae. The body of the Pacific sand lance is strongly elongated. The abdomen is covered between the skin folds with non-overlapping, skin-immersed scales, which are separated along the midline of the abdomen by a low ventral skin fold. Skin-immersed scales on the back in front of the dorsal fin are arranged in a narrow strip on each side above the lateral line, leaving a bare band along the midline of the back. The back is gray, the sides, and belly are silvery.


Occurs in temperate and colder parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On the west coast of the Atlantic Ocean, it is found from northern Quebec to North Carolina. Northern sand lance are thought to inhabit deeper waters, while American sand lance inhabit coastal areas. Pacific sand lance inhabits from the Sea of Japan to Arctic Alaska, the Bering Sea, and Balboa Island in Southern California. Arctic and Pacific sand lance may be separate species. Pacific sand lance is common off the coast of the North Pacific as far north as the Bering Strait and northward. Found off the Asian shores of the Chukchi Sea (Klyuchinskaya Bay). One larva 1 mm long was found near the mouth of the Kolyma River in the East Siberian Sea. In Pacific waters it is common in the Bering, Sea of Okhotsk, and Sea of Japan. A closely related form is distributed along American shores as far south as California. Known from the Yellow Sea. In Japan, it is found everywhere.


Flocks of American sand lance are often found in shallow water along sandy shores when the water is 26 to 32 percent saline. The fish quickly burrow into the sand, snout first, to a depth of about 6 inches for protection. People looking for clams often dig up large numbers of sand lance in the intertidal zone. Pacific sand lance is a marine, gregarious fish. It lives at depths of 30-90 m. The summer months are its feeding period. Distribution is related to temperature. It prefers water temperatures of 5-13 °C. When the temperature drops, it moves to places with a more favorable temperature regime.


The sand lance grows to a length of about 6 inches. The lifespan of a Pacific sand lance is up to 7 years. The shortest length of sexually mature individuals is 13-14 cm, the maximum length is up to 27 cm.

Life history and Behavior

It performs vertical food migrations, rising to the upper water layers after dark, where it feeds on plankton.

Food and feeding habits

No information


No information

Phylum Chordata
Class Actinopterygii
Squad Trachiniformes
Family Ammodytidae
Conservation status Least Concern
Habitat Pelagic
Life span, years 7
Maximum body weight, kg No information
Maximum length, cm 27
Sailing speed, m/s No information
Threat to people Edible
Way of eating Planktonophage

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Tags: Sand Lance