Identification

Slow worms are often mistaken for snakes but they are actually more like legless lizards, as they have eyelids and notched tongues (snakes have forked tongues). Males range from grey to dark brown with a pale underside, and females are a coppery colour with dark sides and a thin dark stripe down the centre of their back.

Size

Adults are 40-45cm (16-18in) to the tip of the tail. A slow worm has the ability to shed its tail to avoid being caught, and you should take care if handling slow worms as their tails can often come off in your hand. If shed a slow worm’s trail will slowly grow back.

Distribution

Slow worms are found all across Britain, but especially in the south and east of England.

Status

Slow worms have legal protection in Great Britain as numbers have been recorded to be declining all across the UK due mainly to loss of suitable habitat. It is illegal to kill, injure, sell or trade slow worms.

Habitat preference

Slow worms can be found in a variety of habitats including grassland, woodland and scrub and are often seen in gardens and allotments, particularly where there is little disturbance by humans.

Where to find them in the garden

Slow worms are active during the day and in the summer months they can be found foraging in damp, warm places out of sight of predators such as cats. They often take refuge under corrugated metal sheeting, pieces of wood or stones that trap the heat of the sun. Slow worms will also very often be found in compost heaps where the rotting plants create warmth.

Role in the garden

It can be useful having a slow worm in the garden as it will feed on a variety of slow-moving garden pests, including slugs and snails. A range of animals prey on slow worms, including cats, badgers, hedgehogs and foxes. Young are born late August or September and are particularly prone to predation.