There’s nothing quite like the excitement of finding a new creature in your garden and if you find a slow worm, you should consider yourself quite lucky indeed. In the UK, slow worms are becoming rarer, and a vast amount of people have never even seen one. If you are lucky enough to see one, it is probably best to just leave it alone as although they resemble snakes, they are quite harmless to humans and are probably doing you a favour in keeping the slug population down. If, however, you need to get rid of them for some reason, maybe you are worried the local cats will get them or maybe you are afraid or simply don’t like them, read on to find out how to get rid of them safely and humanely.
What is a Slow Worm?
A slow worm is a type of legless lizard that is found in Europe and parts of Asia. They are so named because of their slow, steady movement. They typically grow to between 10 and 12 inches in length, though some specimens have been known to reach lengths of up to 20 inches. Slow worms are mostly active at night, and during the day they can be found hiding under rocks or in burrows. They feed on slugs, earthworms, and other small invertebrates.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, these reptiles are protected in the UK and harming a slow worm is a criminal offence.
Are Slow Worms Dangerous?
No, slow worms are not dangerous. They are harmless to humans and pets, although, like any wild lizard, they can bite when threatened. Although they have a snake-like appearance, slow worms are actually part of the lizard family and while they’re not poisonous or venomous, their bites can be painful if they manage to get hold of your skin. Like many other lizard species, the slow worm also has the ability to drop its tail and regrow a new one. Slow worms dropping their tails is a defence mechanism.
The dropped tail will continue to wiggle for a while, which makes it look like easy prey, therefore, giving the slow worm time to escape.
How to Get Rid of Slow Worms?
If anything at all, we advise that slow worms are just left alone to get on with keeping your garden clear of slugs. The best way to get rid of slow worms is to keep your garden completely clear with no hiding places. With nowhere to hide, the slow worms will go elsewhere on their own. However, if you must get rid of them quickly for whatever reason, you will need to relocate them as they are protected by law and cannot be intentionally harmed.
Note: Slow worms are social creatures so where there is 1, there is likely to be more.
How to Relocate Slow Worms
If you need to get rid of slow worms quickly, either because you are scared of them or you are trying to protect them from neighbourhood cats, this is the best way.
What You Need
- Large Box or Crate
Step 1 – Enlist Some Help
Enlisting someone to help you will make your life a lot easier, particularly if you are afraid of the slow worms. Another pair of hands is always helpful when trying to catch these little critters. Your helper may also be able to help you with finding a suitable location.
Step 2 – Find the Slow Worms a New Home
You may think that choosing a location for the slow worms’ new home is a tricky task, but it is quite simple as long as you think about a few things including where they are living now.
- Move slow worms at least 2 miles away
- Ensure you move them to a low-traffic area away from footfall and roads
- Slow worms will hide in leaf litter, log piles, compost heaps etc.
- Slow worms hibernate between October and March
- Slow worms are quite reclusive although they occasionally like to bask in the sun
Note: A friend or relative may be happy to move the slow worms to their own garden.
Step 3 – Catch the Slow Worms
Although they are named slow worms, they can move quite quickly but they are still easy to catch. If they are out in the open, it is probably best not to handle them if possible and instead use a large butterfly net (Amazon link – opens in a new tab). If, however you unearth them from their burrow, you could try and carefully lift the compost heap or log pile where they are and relocate the whole thing or at least a good portion of it. If you have unearthed one or 2 during the winter months, they will be in hibernation so you can just cover them back up and lift the area where they are without disturbing them.
Note: If you must handle them, we recommend wearing gloves in case they attempt to bite you out of fear.
Step 4 – Releasing them
If you are releasing the slow worms out into the wild, think about the area and the habitat that they will inhabit. Consider the things noted above. If you are creating a new home for them with a friend or family member, there are a few things you can do to make the area more hospitable. You should set aside a quiet corner in your garden for slow worms. You can make this corner by piling logs, pruning, leaves, and sticks. When plant matter rots down, it will attract bugs and insects that the slow worms can feed upon. Alternatively, you can create a compost pile as this makes an ideal home for slow worms. If you already have a compost heap in mind, that’s great.
Note: It would be best to not use pesticides when you have slow worms because pesticides can deprive your garden of slow worm prey.
Can You Keep Slow Worms as Pets?
Although they are protected, legally, slow worms can be caught and kept as pets although you really wouldn’t want to have one, they are best left outside. Slow worms will burrow underground and hibernate for 6 months of the year and even when they are active, they are burrowing animals which means that they will spend a great deal of time hidden, and you will almost never see them. A slow worm diet is made up of regular slugs and bugs from your garden in the UK which are not readily available in commercial pet shops. Feeding slow worms anything but their natural diet would not be beneficial to them as their gut flora and fauna may struggle to adapt.
Finally, slow worms do not like to be handled and in fear, they may bite or pinch or even drop their tail – not to mention, when scared they actually poo too!
A slow worm is a sleek, shiny, and small reptile with a legless body similar to a snake. They love to inhabit rotting wood, compost, meadows, gardens, and grasslands. As slow worms are small reptiles, they become a quick snack for many predators. If humans encounter them in the wild, leaving them alone is the best option but if you have them in your garden and you want to get rid of them, you will need to relocate them as they are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Move slow worms a minimum of 2 miles away!”
“Create a compost pile in your garden to attract slow worms!”
“The easiest time to move slow worms is between October and March when they are hibernating!”
“Be careful when trying to catch the slow worms, you don’t want them to drop their tail as they may need that defence when they face an actual predator!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How to keep slow worms out of the garden?
If you don’t want slow worms in your garden or backyard, keep it tidy, and remove any compost heap, leaf litter or log piling that can become a home for these worms.
Where do you Find Slow Worms?
Although they are found in many parts of Britain, the exact population of slow worms is not known. They prefer living in several places but can usually be found in grasslands, gardens, heathlands, meadows, and edges of woodlands. They thrive in rough grassland-like conditions where they hide under compost heaps or earth. Slow worms are predominantly found in England, but they are occasionally found in Ireland and the Scottish Islands.
How to attract slow worms?
If you know you have slow worms in the area, you can set up a compost heap and let it rot down for several months. The warmth from the composting process provides a beautiful nesting site for slow worms. It also gives them an insulated, safe space for winters. When you are using or turning your garden compost, try to avoid unearthing the creatures sheltering underneath.
Are slow worms the same as snakes?
Slow worms have a similar appearance to snakes, with shiny, smooth, and long silver brown bodies, but you will be surprised to know that slow worms are not worms, nor are they snakes; they are lizards without legs.
What are the differences between slow worms and snakes?
- Slow worms are legless lizards
- Slow worms cannot dislocate their jaw or expand their body when eating
- Slow worms have eyelids, and they blink
- Slow worms can drop their tail and regenerate a new one
- Slow worms have a notched tongue rather than forked
- Slow worms need to open their mouth ajar to poke their tongue out whereas snakes can keep their mouth almost fully shut
Do slow worms make good pets?
Although they are not a threat to humans, slow worms do not make good pets. Slow worms are burrowing animals that are quite reclusive and they hibernate for 6 months of the year. They also do not like to be handled by humans.
What eats slow worms?
Predators of slow worms include cats, badgers, adders, pheasants and birds of prey such as owls.
What do slow worms eat?
Despite their resemblance to snakes, they cannot create room for a larger prayer by expanding their body, so they eat invertebrates found in dark habitats such as spiders, snails, slugs, and worms.
Are slow worms dangerous to cats?
No, slow worms are not dangerous to cats, in fact, it is quite the opposite. If a cat comes across a slow worm, it is very likely that the cat will injure or kill the slow worm.
Are slow worms dangerous to dogs?
No, slow worms are not dangerous to dogs. Slow worms are non-venomous legless lizards that will not cause any problems for your dog. The slow worm will be more scared of your dog and be in more danger.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.