Is a Slow Worm a Snake or a Lizard?

by Russ on September 7, 2013

Although they look just like snakes, the slow worm is actually a species of legless lizard.

In the North West of England, reptiles are a rarity. Shy and secretive, you will only see one if you know what you’re looking for or are very lucky. One of Britain’s reptiles which is highly sought after is the Slow Worm – a small reptile that on first appearances gives the impression it is a snake. But the Slow Worm has a far more interesting ancestry.

We now know that although this creature is covered in smooth scales and lacks legs just like a snake, it is actually a species of lizard. A legless lizard! It’s a fascinating glimpse into what the very first snakes may have looked like, as once upon a time they too had four legs.

Slow worms are very rare in the North West, but last week Ant from West Sussex got in touch about his local pair.

Ant's beautiful slow worms!

‘Hi Russ,

In the spring my compost heap was home to a pair of beautiful slow worms whom I observed over every day. Now I’ve not seen them of late. I also want to turn and use the compost without harming these fellows. Can you advise please.
Many thanks,


Thanks for getting in touch Ant, it must have been a very pleasant surprise to see these legless lizards in the garden! You’re right to be thinking about when the best time to turn the compost heap is, as turning at the wrong time of year could disturb your reptile neighbours. The best time of year is after the breeding season and after this year’s babies have ‘left the nest’. This would be May and October. Avoid turning throughout the winter, as your ‘worms’ may well be hibernating in the heap.

Good luck!

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