Slow worms are typically grey-brown, with the females having a coppery sheen and two lateral black stripes, and the males displaying electric blue spots, particularly in the breeding season. They give birth to live young; the young are about 4 cm (1.6 in) long at birth and generally have golden stripes.
As their name indicates, slow worms are slow-moving and can be easily caught. Like many lizards, slow worms can shed their tails to distract predators. The tail regrows, but never fully. Principal predators are birds, badgers, hedgehogs, foxes and domestic cats.
The average British slow worm will grow to 45 cm when fully mature and weigh approximately 100 g, females being slightly larger than the males. The tail makes up around half of its length, but is indistinguishable from the body. They have been recorded to live for up to 30 years in wild, and the record age for a Slow worm in captivity is 54 years (Copenhagen Zoo).
The part of their scientific name 'fragilis' (fragile) comes from the tendency of this species to shed its own tail, when threatened by predators, or if handled too roughly (caudal autotomy).
Although slow worms much resemble snakes, and are often mistaken for such, they are actually lizards which have lost their limbs completely with evolution.
Slow worms can be distinguished from snakes by several features: their eyelids, which snakes lack entirely; their small ear openings, which again snakes lack; and their tongues, which are notched in the centre rather than completely forked like a snake's.
Slow worms live in any habitat that is warm and protected such as woodland, grassland and heathland; they are frequently found in garden compost heaps. They range across most of Europe, and into parts of Asia, but they are restricted to temperate and humid habitats. They hibernate from October to February/March, both communally and solitarily, and sometimes share hibernating sites with other reptiles.
Slow worms have grooved teeth which allow them to grab and swallow whole their soft invertebrate prey, such as slugs, hairless caterpillars and other insects, spiders and earthworms. Snails are usually avoided, except when they are still very young and the shell can be broken easily.
- Genus Anguis
- "RSPB - Wildlife Garden A to Z". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- "Wild about gardens - Slow worm". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- "Wildlife Watch - Beast of the month". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- "The Wildlife Trusts - Slow worm". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- "RSPB - Ask an expert". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
- iucnredlist.org - Anguis cephalonnica
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