Slow-worm

©Bruce Shortland

Slow-worm

Scientific name: Anguis fragilis
Despite appearances, the slow-worm is actually a legless lizard, not a worm or a snake! Look out for it basking in the sun on heathlands and grasslands, or even in the garden, where it favours compost heaps.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 40-50cm
Weight: 20-100g
Average lifespan: up to 20 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

March to October

About

The slow-worm is neither a worm nor a snake, but is, in fact, a legless lizard - its identity is given away by its abilities to shed its tail and blink with its eyelids. Slow-worms can be found in heathland, tussocky grassland, woodland edges and rides where they can find invertebrates to eat and a sunny patch in which to sunbathe. They are often found in mature gardens and allotments, where they like hunting around the compost heap. However, if you have a cat, you are unlikely to find them in your garden as cats predate them. Like other reptiles, slow-worms hibernate, usually from October to March.

How to identify

The slow-worm is much smaller than a snake and has smooth, golden-grey skin. Males are paler in colour and sometimes sport blue spots, while females are larger, with dark sides and a dark stripe down the back.

Distribution

Found throughout the country, except for most Scottish islands, Northern Ireland and most of the Channel Islands.

Did you know?

The mating season for slow-worms kicks off in May and males become aggressive towards each other. During courtship, the male takes hold of the female by biting her head or neck, and they intertwine their bodies. Courtship may last for as long as 10 hours. Females incubate the eggs internally, 'giving birth' to an average of eight young in summer.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way. Encourage reptiles into your garden by leaving piles of logs for hibernating underneath. To find out more about gardening for wildlife, visit our Wild About Gardens website at www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk: a joint initiative with the RHS, there's plenty of facts and tips to get you started.