Yippee – the first slow worm of the year

14 April 2012

We’ve had the first slow worm of the year turn up, which gives us a real feeling that Spring is underway. We keep a couple of black plastic gravel trays turned upside down at the foot of one of our hedges, where they get full sun. Slow worms are not worms at all, but legless lizards, and like all reptiles they need to gain heat by basking, so in the morning and at the end of the day they will tend to appear under the plastic trays, which hold the heat well; we also noticed last year that one individual, who looked quite old, tended to stay all day – presumably, like humans, older slow worms feel the cold more. I usually put some dried grass under the trays to help keep the warmth even better, and this seems to be much appreciated. I’m trying dried moss under one of the trays this year, so I’ll let you know how it compares.

Left: plastic tray left upside-down in the sun. Right: first slow worm of 2013 taking advantage of the facilities.

Left: plastic tray left upside-down in the sun. Right: first slow worm of 2013 taking advantage of the facilities.

Slow worms are quite common, but even when they are present in some numbers you may not see them unless you create a habitat for them like the tray we use, or some people use corrugated iron. We very occasionally dig one up when we’re gardening, and we will find them in the compost heaps from time to time, but not frequently. They are totally harmless, and if you pick them up, are dry, not slimy, and they are surprisingly muscular. They eat slugs and snails as well as spiders, earthworms and various insects, and do no damage, so they are the gardener’s friend (and they are protected by law, so it is an offence to harm one).

It’s not just slow worms that appreciate the warmth and safety of the trays. We quite often see signs of a vole or mouse having been using the dried grass – at the moment there are several holes in the grass where something has obviously been coming and going. At one time we even had a vole who would curl up and sleep in the grass during the day – if we were very careful, we could lift the lid and see him snoozing. The feeling of anticipation when we lift the lid never goes away, but never keep it up long – a quick look and we put it down again: it’s their home, we’re the intruders.

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