Slow Worm and Smooth Snake

A real snake and a false one

Author: Axel M. Schulte
Author: Axel M. Schulte

The Slow Worm is a common species but the Smooth Snake is rare

The Slow Worm or Blindworm belongs to the lizard family "Anguidae" and is one of the commonest species of reptiles in Central Europe. The animals are not worms and also not blind, as the alternative name suggests, even if their eyes are very small. The name actually relates to the shimmering and dazzling ("blinding") colouration of the animals. Although the elongated and legless form of the Slow Worm often leads to an understandable misidentification, it is not a snake.

Slow Worms are to be found in a variety of different habitats and are therefore not rare. The animals are diurnal and frequently seen in sunny places, but they avoid the midday heat in summer. Slow Worms primarily hunt slugs, earthworms and hairless caterpillars and are therefore a useful guest in every garden.

The Smooth Snake belongs to the family "Colubridae". It has a slim body and a length of 60-70 centimetres, which is only about half the size of a grass snake. It is thus our smallest native species of snake.

The colour pattern of the non-venomous animals consists of a brown-grey ground colour with a variable pattern – usually a double row – of dark patches. In males, tan to reddish hues often dominate, while the females are usually greyer. The head and neck marking of a large, dark, crown-shaped or almost heart-shaped spot is characteristic. Thanks to its colouring, the snake is well camouflaged. When it is moving, the pattern of patches may resemble the zigzag dorsal line of the venomous Adder.

The Smooth Snake is critically endangered in North Rhine-Westphalia and is mainly found in the mountains. It feeds on smaller animals, especially other reptiles. It subdues larger prey by constriction, although unlike true constrictors it does not actually kill by this method.

The Smooth Snake lives in diversely structured habitats with a mosaic of individual trees, loose groups of trees, grassy vegetation and open, unvegetated areas. Preference is given to sandy soils or sunlit slopes with stone rubble and rock outcrops. Smooth Snakes are diurnal, but have a very secretive way of life. The best chance to see them is when they are basking in the morning sun.