The slow worm - a band of bronze in the garden

The slow worm - a band of bronze in the garden

If you see a slow worm (Anguis fragilis) in your garden, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a snake. But it's actually a legless lizard, the only such creature native to Britain. Indeed, slow worms are probably the most frequently seen reptile in Britain, as they are less shy and slower to hide than the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) which is considered to be more prevalent in Britain.

The slow worm is found across Britain, but not in Ireland. They have a shiny appearance. Males are a greyish brown and females are brown or bronze with dark sides. Some females possess a thin line down the back. Juvenile slow-worms are very thin and are initially around 4cm long. Juveniles have black bellies and gold or silver dorsal sides. Adult slow worms grow to be about 50 cm (20") long.

Slow worms give birth to live young. Like other reptiles, slow worms hibernate, usually from October to March.

The slow worm looks like a small and rather attractive snake, but is, in fact, a legless lizard and completely harmless. A boon to the gardener, as it likes nothing better than chomping through slugs and snails, it can often be found in gardens and allotments.

They are predated upon by many animals including adders, hedgehogs, badgers, magpies and lots of other birds. They are extremely vulnerable to pet cats, as well. With a lot of luck, though, they can live up to 30 years in the wild and up to at least 54 years in captivity (the age of the slow worm upon capture was uncertain).

Slow worms generally bask under rocks rather than on the top of them. They often turn up under plastic sheets on allotments, or in the safer and warmer top part of plastic compost bins. They can be encouraged to the garden if suitable safe hiding places are available. Though they often 'freeze' when discovered, they can move very quickly. Their defences when alarmed include a foul-smelling poo, and the ability to lose their tail to escape.

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