The first time you see Anguis Fragilis you might think it is a snake, but isn't. It is a lizard without legs.
If you stay and watch instead of running away you soon notice the tell-tale signs that this is a perfectly harmless creature.
This is slow-moving and beautiful reptile with a metallic skin color that can go from grey to bronze and warm copper tone that shines brightly in direct sunlight.
I am peaceful
The Dutch call it Hazelworm, Swedes often call it Koppar-orm, and it is generally known as Slow-worm in English. The legless lizard is sometimes called blind-worm although where and why that is used I don't know, since it has eyes and can see just fine (but there is probably some cave species somewhere).
What everyone should know though is that these are very benign and calm creatures with fantastic, metallic skin, that do not pose any threat and actually do a lot of good in a garden!
Anguis Fragilis lizards are good for your garden!
Tiny Guardian on Patrol
I have a bunch of these slow worms living in my garden and see them about once a week which I take as a good omen! This guy is one of the braver ones and not scared of inching along in the open (where birds of prey easily take them).
I am not a snake
If you have a veggie orchard you really want these guys around because they particularly like to feast on the slugs that destroy your vegetables. The fragile lizard has many names but is also commonly referred to as “the gardener’s best friend” because slugs and snails are on the menu! I welcome these guys because they effectively guard my veggie patch against getting eaten.
They can live up to a quarter of a century and get to be just under 2 feet long in optimal conditions. These guys can move quickly in a short burst but mostly they just inch forward, even the big ones.
Being so tame works against them because they are easy to step on (no danger to you), and they get jumped on all the time by cats and birds of prey. That’s nature in the works, but if you know you have them in your garden, be nice and poke around to shoo them off before collecting heaps of leaves or mowing high grass so as not to kill them in the process. Remember, these guys are your friends because they eat garden slugs that would otherwise destroy your veggies.
If you have cats and dogs and know you also have these helpers, train your pets to leave them alone.
There are a couple of identifiers which distinguishes a slow worm from a snake and are easy to spot. As you can see, the head is smaller than the body and rounded.
I have no fangs
The mouth is not hinged like a snake and can therefore not dislocate like snakes can to engorge bugger prey than themselves. This is easy to see since the slow worm’s mount goes in a straight line from side to side, ending just behind the eyes.
From the front, the round head looks a lot like most lizards (whereas most snakes have a pointed jaw and flatter head).
The eyes are round and have lids that blink. No snake on earth can blink, so that is a 100% tell tale sign!
Snakes have split tongues where each part can be quite long and thin. Anguis fragilis has a broad tongue which extends just a bit and only has a very small split at the end.
The body form is cylindrical, whereas snakes have a more flexible build that lets them flatten their “belly” a bit to get better traction against the ground.
If a legless lizards starts to move, you will also see that the name is spot on. Even when distressed, these guys are are slow and not as agile as snakes. A slow-worm has lizard skin which is pretty smooth and lacks the type of overlapping scales that give snakes awesome traction, so these guys spin their wheels a lot instead of gaining speed.
The other problem is that their body is originally built for walking on legs and not optimized for slithering. If they need to move at speed (not often) it is easy to see how jerky and poor their slither sync is.
Slow worms are Cute, Harmless, Fragile and Endangered
I like to sleep
Slow worms live in many parts of northern Eurasia and are a protected species in many countries including UK. If you live in US you have the glass lizard.
NEVER pick one up or try to keep it as a pet as you may cause self-mutilation which is seriously traumatic and shortens their life.
Never pick one up! .. not because it might be dangerous (slow worms are not) but because you might harm it.
The Latin name for the slow worm is Anguis fragilis – as in fragile.
This is a somewhat clumsy reptile that lacks speed and which has only one predator defense: to drop its tail (that keeps on wiggling) and hope the distraction will give it time to escape. It sounds like a easy thing but we are talking about self-mutilation through breaking off of vertebrae, closing blood-flow, rupturing skin and leaving behind a functional part of the body.
A new tail will grow out, but it will be smaller and not much use since it is just gristle and contains no bones. It is less agile and slows the animal down. Growing a new tail demands a lot of energy. Contrary to popular belief, not all manage to grow a new one and some die from complications.
Growing a new tail is a once-in-a-lifetime effort and can not be repeated. A legless lizard that has dropped its tail once is therefore handicapped and has lost its only defense against predators.
This is the reason you should NEVER pick one up! Even though they are beautiful and obviously harmless, handling one may cause them to shed their tail and that will mean they have a lower chance of survival.
Connect the words fragile, slow, harmless and cute with these guys and you are on the right path. Just enjoy the sight of them and let them live peacefully in your garden.
Remember: legless lizards are NOT snakes
they have no venom, nor fangs and they eat the ugly garden slugs.
They are in effect, patrolling guardians of the garden
What do you think about my garden keepers?
images by me from my garden