Slowworm: Not to be Confused with a Snake

GardenBy Jul 09, 2024

The slowworm, also known as the Anguis fragilis, is a fascinating reptile that is often mistaken for a snake. However, it is in fact a legless lizard. Despite its snake-like appearance, the slowworm is harmless and has many unique characteristics that set it apart from snakes. In this article, we will explore the distinguishing features of the slowworm and shed light on the misconceptions surrounding this incredible creature.

Physical Characteristics

The slowworm is a squamate reptile that measures between 40 cm to 50 cm in length, with males being slightly shorter than females. Its body is snake-like and covered in smooth scales, which give it a shiny appearance. The color of the slowworm varies depending on its sex and age, ranging from light brown to dark brown, with hints of yellow, gray, or copper. Some slowworms may also have a black spinal line or blue/black spots. Its flanks are darker, while its belly is lighter in color.

Unlike snakes, slowworms have a short head with a slightly conical and rounded snout. They possess two small eyes with mobile eyelids, a characteristic that distinguishes them from snakes, which have fixed translucent eyelids.

Slowworms are legless lizards, meaning they lack limbs, but they are also non-venomous and completely harmless to humans and other animals.

Distinguishing a Slowworm from a Snake

One common misconception about slowworms is that they are often mistaken for snakes. However, there is a simple way to distinguish them. Unlike snakes, slowworms have mobile eyelids that allow them to blink, while snakes have fixed translucent eyelids. Observing the blinking of the eyes can help differentiate a slowworm from a snake.

Habitat and Behavior

Slowworms are found throughout Europe, except in the southern part of Spain, Ireland, and the far north. They thrive in various habitats, such as vegetation-rich areas like hedges, forests, grasslands, and gardens. Slowworms prefer environments that offer shelter and moisture, such as rocks, old stumps, and compost piles. They are semi-fossorial, spending a significant amount of their time underground in self-dug or borrowed burrows.

As cold-blooded animals, slowworms rely on the environmental temperature to regulate their body heat. They are active from late winter, around February to March, until October or November when they begin hibernation. Slowworms are usually most active during the morning and late afternoon, and they are adept at finding hiding spots to remain hidden in their surroundings.


Slowworms are efficient carnivorous predators. They feed on a diverse range of prey, including slugs, woodlice, insects, spiders, worms, and snails. Due to their diet, slowworms are extremely beneficial to gardens and can help control populations of pests that damage plants.


Slowworms reproduce in the spring, typically between April and June, shortly after emerging from hibernation. During mating, males grasp the female’s head with their jaws. Slowworms are ovoviviparous, meaning the female retains the eggs internally until they hatch. After approximately three months of development, the female gives birth to 5 to 20 live young in late August or September. The newborn slowworms measure only 4cm to 7cm and take several years to reach sexual maturity.

Conservation and Importance

Despite their ecological importance and harmless nature, slowworm populations are declining due to factors such as intensive agriculture and mistaken identity with snakes. As protected species in many countries, it is illegal to harm or destroy slowworms or their nests. It is crucial to raise awareness about the slowworm’s value as an important garden ally and protect their habitats to ensure their survival.

In conclusion, the slowworm is a unique and valuable reptile that deserves recognition and protection. By understanding the differences between slowworms and snakes, we can appreciate their ecological role and encourage their presence in our gardens. So, the next time you encounter a legless reptile, remember, it might just be a slowworm, not a snake.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.