The Slow-worm


The slow worm (Anguis fragilis), is a legless lizard that can grow up to 450mm (18”) in length, common in Wycombe District and found in the gardens of a number of our members and grounds of schools in the District. Males are a coppery-brown colour, while females are darker and often have a dark stripe down the back. Slow-worms are viviparous, i.e. the eggs develop within the female’s body and the young are born alive. Although scaly they are smooth to the touch. If you pick one up do so by gently grasping the front end of the body for, like most lizards, they can shed their tail. This is a defence mechanism which leaves a predator occupied with a wriggling tail while they slide away into the undergrowth..
In urban areas cats are the most serious predators of slow-worms, but they can also fall prey to hedgehogs, rats & kestrels. Like all reptiles they have to bask in the sun the raise their body temperature and pieces of hardboard and sheets of corrugated iron in a sunny spot will attract slow-worms; as they can bask beneath these protected from predators.
If you want to know if you have slow-worms in your garden or (WWG Schools members) on your school field, just lay out a few pieces of board (300mm [12”] square or larger) in warm, sunny spots on the edge of a flowerbed or in the uncut margins of the school field where the slow-worms can hunt for food and move around safely and look under them occasionally, on warm, sunny days. If you do find slow-worms using these “basking sheets”, leave them in place, as they will be of great benefit to them.
Slow-worms also burrow into compost heaps – the heat generated by the rotting compost providing them with a lovely, warm, safe retreat - that is, of course, if the compost heap is not boxed down to the ground !
An outdoor vivarium is basically a rockery, in a sunny position, constructed so there are plenty of tunnels and crevices between and under the rocks where the reptiles can hide, plus a suitable basking area, which is boxed in so the animals can not escape. An essential addition to this is a shallow dish of water as slow-worms do drink. The one advantage of a vivarium is that it can be covered with a net to protect the occupants from cats etc. The main disadvantage is that the supply of natural food will be limited. So gardeners, you will have to go out at night with a torch to collect slugs and drop them into the vivarium for your slow-worms. The long summer holiday brings about similar problems with “captive” animals – far better to enhance the appropriate areas of the school grounds to favour the slow-worms so they can be observed in their natural habitat.
Young slow-worms are between 65mm (2½") to 100mm (4") long and are a burnished gold colour.

Maurice Young