Anguis fragilis is a limbless reptile native to Eurasia.
Slow-worms are semifossorial lizards spending much of the time burrowing through the soil. The skin of the varieties of slow-worm is smooth with scales that do not overlap one another. Like many other lizards, slow-worms autotomize, meaning that they have the ability to shed their tails in order to escape predators. The tail regrows, but seldom to its former length.
These reptiles are active during the day (diurnal) and occasionally bask in the sun, but are more often found hiding beneath rocks and logs. They are carnivorous and, because they feed on slugs and worms, they can often be found in long grass and other damp environments.
The females give birth to live young (viviparous birth). In the days leading up to birth the female can often be seen basking in the sun on a warm road.
They are common in gardens and can be encouraged to enter and help remove pest insects by placing black plastic or a piece of tin on the ground. On warm days one or more slow worms will often be found underneath these collectors of heat. One of the biggest causes of mortality in slow worms in suburban areas is the domestic cat, from which it has no defense.
Although these lizards are often mistaken for snakes, there are a number of features that differentiate them from snakes. The most important is they have small eyes with eyelids that blink like lizards. This is a feature that is not found in snakes. They also have visible ears like lizards do, which snakes do not have. They also have a notched tongue rather than the forked tongue of a snake. They shed their skin in patches like other lizards, rather than the whole skin as most snakes do. Also, the pattern of their ventral scales is totally different from that of snakes.
Adult slow-worms grow to be about 50 cm long and are known for their exceptionally long life; it has been said that a slow-worm is the longest living lizard, living about thirty years in the wild and up to fifty-four years in captivity (this record is held by a male slow worm that lived at the Copenhagen Zoo from 1892 to 1946) . The female often has a stripe along the spine and dark sides while the male may have blue spots. Juveniles of both sexes are gold with a dark brown belly and sides with a dark stripe along the spine.
Protected species in the UK
In the United Kingdom the slow worm has been granted protected status, alongside all other native British reptile species. The slow worm has been decreasing in numbers, and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure, sell or advertise to sell them, although there are currently no laws protecting their habitat.
Anguis fragilis Linnaeus, 1758
*Anguis fragilis fragilis Linnaeus, 1758
*Anguis fragilis colchicus
The subspecies Anguis fragilis fragilis is found all over Europe, while Anguis fragilis colchicus is found in south-eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Iran.