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Quick facts

Common name: slow worm

Scientific name: Anguis fragilis

Family: Anguidae

Habitat: grassland, woodland edges, gardens, meadows

Diet: slugs, worms, snails and spiders

Predators: adders, birds, domestic cats

Origin: native

What do slow worms look like?

While slow worms may look like snakes, they are actually legless lizards. They have a smooth, glossy, grey or brown cylindrical body and, unlike snakes, a flat forked tongue, eyelids and a tail which sheds when under attack. The tail will carry on moving even when it has been shed in order to distract the predator.

Slow worm close-up

Credit: Amy Lewis / WTML

What do slow worms eat?

Slow worms eat a diet made up of invertebrates, including slugs, worms, snails and spiders. Their backward curving teeth are perfect for securing slippery or wriggly meals.

How do slow worms breed?

The breeding season, which can be quite a hostile time for slow worms, takes place from May to June. Males become aggressive during this time, competing with each other for a mate. As part of the mating process, the male slow worm takes hold of the female by biting her neck or head. Mating can then go on for as long as 10 hours.

Slow worms are ovoviviparous, which means that they lay eggs internally. The eggs hatch inside the female slow worm’s body, and the young stay there for a while, living off the yolk of the egg. The female will then go on to give birth to live young.

Slow worm on grass

Credit: David Chapman / Alamy Stock Photo

How do slow worms hibernate?

Slow worms burrow underground or find a crevice in a rotting tree stump to hibernate in over the winter, usually from October to March.

Where do slow worms live?

Slow worms are widespread throughout Britain, although they are absent from Ireland. They favour humid conditions and shaded areas, such as rough grassland, woodland edges, gardens, meadows and heathland.

Slow worm in grass

Credit: Ann Jacobs / WTML

Signs and spotting tips

Keep an eye out for these legless lizards basking in the sun on warm days, in the woods or even in your own garden. They favour compost heaps, using the warmth to heat up their bodies.

Threats and conservation

Slow worms are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, meaning it is an offence to kill, injure or sell them. Like much of the UK’s wildlife, they are threatened by habitat loss.