Friday, 24 May 2019

Not a Snake

On our 17 May walking club outing we encountered a bit of a treat, something not seen very often.

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In the middle of a dirt track along the side of the Eperon de Murat, enjoying a bit of sun and snacking on ants was a large adult Slow-worm Anguis fragilis (Fr. Orvet fragile). Everyone stopped for several minutes to admire her. Pierre took a photo and will input the sighting on the local herpetology society's biodiversity recording system.

Several people thought she was a snake and it took quite a bit of convincing them that she was a legless lizard. She certainly lived up to her name, simply staying where she was, until eventually she very slowly moved off the track into the grass. A snake would have vanished in the twinkling of an eye before we had even spotted it and would never have hung around to be surrounded by walkers. It is easy to tell she is a female, as she is bicoloured, with a dark belly. Males are the silvery beige colour all over. 

Photograph Susan Walter.

In this area you might encounter this species in your garden, where they like to hang out in the compost heap. That is, unless there are cats, which will kill slow-worms and lizards.

Like all wild native reptiles and amphibians in France they are a protected species. They are widely distributed throughout Europe (everywhere in France except islands, such as Corsica, and much of the south-west), and can grow to about 50 cm long and live 20 years in the wild. In the winter they hibernate, digging themselves into the soil, a muck pile or your compost heap. They give birth to live young in the spring (and I suspect this one was pregnant).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Cold blooded creatures tend to be susceptible to insecticides and certain fungicides and herbicides, and slow worms are no exception. The population has plummeted due to the loss of natural unimproved grasslands and bocage style pasture, and the increase in intensive agriculture. The one we saw is lucky, living as she does on or near a nature reserve that now includes some prairie, as well as woodland edges and hedges.


For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

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Katie Zeller said...

I've never seen one.... would love to have one living near me and feasting on my ants.

Susan said...

I think you may live in the strange gap in their distribution in south-west France.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I've seen these in our yard and garden. Unfortunately I ran over one with the rototiller and killed it, but that was a decade ago or more.

Susan said...

They are so slow moving it would be easy to do.

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