Slow worm

Whilst they are snake-like in appearance Slow Worms are actually legless lizards. Several physical characteristics can be used to separate them from Snakes, and if you are lucky enough to get a close up view you can use these pointers to make a positive identification: 

Lizards have evolved limbless forms on a numbe...

Image via Wikipedia

Identification

  • The slow worms head is narrow, no wider than its body; whilst a snakes head is broad.
  • Their eyes are small and they can blink, something snakes do not do.
  • They are covered in scales which do not overlap; their bodies look shiny and feel smooth.
  • They shed layers of their skin in patches rather than in one go.
  • They have small but visible ears, a feature common among lizards.

 

Adult Slow Worms range from reddish brown to gray, the two genders can be distinguished by different coloured markings. Females have dark sides plus a dark stripe along the centre of their back, known as a dorsal stripe. The males lack the dark sides and stripe but may have faint blue spots instead. When they are young both genders are golden in colour with a dark underside and thick dorsal stripe.

The Slow Worm has a black forked tongue which can lead to cases of mistaken identity as some people confuse it with the Adder. They are in fact completely harmless, using there tongues for sensing smells and detecting prey.

Overview

Slow Worms are shy and vulnerable creatures spending most of their time undetected in long grass, under rocks or in holes in the ground. Although rarely seen they are widespread throughout Europe, featuring regularly in Britain’s rural and suburban gardens. As a carnivore, Slow Worms feed mainly on slugs and snails at night, making them invaluable to gardeners and farmers alike.

Their ideal habitat consists of a mosaic of long damp grass for covertly hunting prey, log piles to burrow under and warm protected areas for basking in the sun. Like other lizards the slow worm can shed its tail if caught by a hungry predator, allowing it to escape. The fortunate slow worm will grow another tail although it won’t be as long as before.

They are considered to be one of the longest living lizards, often reaching thirty in the wild. A mature Slow Worm that has been lucky enough not to have lost its tail can grow to half a metre long. They give birth to live young towards the end of the summer (August to Late September), which only measure 4-5cm long but are fully independent.

Slowworm, photo taken in Sweden

Image via Wikipedia

In the Garden

Warm sunny days are the most likely time to see a slow worm in the garden; if you are fortunate you may spot one sunbathing on a warm surface like a path or curled up under a log pile. You can promote your garden to Slow Worms by catering for a few simple habitat requirements.

Patches of long shady grass are home to slugs and snails so will create an ideal hunting ground, the bigger the patch of grass the more slow worms you can support. Because they are cold blooded they rely on heat from the sun to gain energy so after feeding they will need somewhere to rest and warm up. By laying a small piece of tin, roofing felt or black plastic in a sunny position in your garden you will create a Slow Worm sun bed which they will regularly use to bask on or under, whilst recharging their batteries. These sheets of material offer a great way to observe slow worms in the garden as they will often congregate under warm objects. 

A log pile and a compost heap are both highly prized additions to any garden, and very beneficial if you happen to be a Slow Worm. Log piles form a place of shelter from predators and may also contain a potential meal. A compost heap serves a similar role with the added bonus of generating heat from all the decomposing material.

Their greatest threat in the UK is the domestic cat as they have no natural defence other than to burrow into the soil or hide under logs and rocks. Pellets used against garden pests can also cause harm to Slow Worms and other species that predate on slugs and snails.

Did you know?

A male Slow Worm lived to the grand old age of 54 at Copenhagen Zoo from 1892 to 1946!