What exactly is a slow worm?

Is it a worm? Is it a snake? Nope.

Despite their name, slow worms are definitely not worms. They’re reptiles but, despite their appearance, they’re not snakes either. Slow worms are lizards and can be distinguished from the serpents by their eyelids (which snakes lack completely), the lack of narrowing behind their head and the fact that their tongue is notched rather than fully forked. They’re found across the UK and mainland Europe, grow to around 45 centimetres (17.7 inches) and eat slugs, worms, insects and spiders.

The ancestors of the slow worm had legs like other lizards but they were gradually lost over time through evolution, with a slithering motion better suiting their lifestyle. The remains of these lost limbs are still visible on the skeleton, but the slow worm is now a uniform cylinder — roughly half body, half tail. They can detach their tails if they’re startled or need to escape, although it never quite grows back fully.

Cover photo: Nick Goodrum/flickr