Which animal has 11 legs?

Lizard without legs

The slow worm in portrait

The first impression is deceptive: with its long, legless body, the blindworm looks like a snake, but actually it is a lizard. The name is also deceptive. Because blindworms are not blind either.

  • Slow Worm - Photo: Frank Derer

  • Slow worm - Photo: NABU / Krzysztof Wesolowski

Slow worms are easily fragile creatures. A careless grip and the effortlessly caught animals break in two. While the longer end snakes away hastily, the shorter remains in the closed hand, wriggling violently. With this trick, blindworms in danger often succeed in confusing their enemies and escaping them. This is made possible by several predetermined breaking points that allow the animals to shed their tails. This soon grows back again; but only as a shortened, spherical stump.

The fragility of the slow worm is already indicated in its scientific generic name: Anguis fragilis means "fragile snake". The second part of the name is misleading. Because with its legless, elongated body, the blindworm looks deceptively like a snake, but in reality it is one of the lizards.

Stiff snaking
The differences only become apparent on closer inspection. Unlike snakes, blindworms have movable, lockable eyelids. They move slower than snakes, and their meandering feels stiff and less agile. They have to open their mouths slightly to tongue because, unlike snakes, they have no gap in their upper lip. The fact that the ancestors of the slow worm were four-legged can be determined from the rudimentary pelvic and shoulder bones on the spine.

Slow Worm - Photo: Frank Derer

The head of the slow worm merges seamlessly into the circular, mostly shiny trunk, which ends in a tail with a horny tip. Adult animals reach a total length of up to 50 centimeters and are colored brown, gray or yellowish on the upper side; some also shine in bronze or copper tones. The flanks are mostly dark. The belief that blindworms are blind is widespread, but wrong, because their name is derived from the Old High German "Plintslicho", which means something like dazzling stalker and refers to the shiny, winding body of the animals.

Earthworms at night
The slow worm is frugal and can find its way in almost all types of landscape. She prefers heathland areas, partially drained raised bogs and deciduous deciduous forests; but she also feels at home in meadows and fallow land, in parks and near-natural gardens. You can find them on roadsides and embankments, under hedges and stones, in leaves and even in compost heaps.

Slow worm - Photo: Marco Sommerfeld

The slowworm's social behavior and use of space are still largely in the dark. This is also due to their secret way of life. Because the harmless lizard has little to oppose its enemies - it doesn't even bite properly. Instead, she relies on camouflage and a life in secret. During the day she usually hides. She hunts at dusk and early in the morning. The slow worm's favorite foods are earthworms, slugs and hairless caterpillars. With a lick of a lick, she picks up the scent, stalks her victim, grabs it with the bent back teeth and swallows it whole. For a large earthworm, this can take up to half an hour.

Wrestling match for the females
Blindworms spend the winter in frost-proof holes in the ground, where groups of 5 to 30 frozen animals wait for spring. They don't venture outside again until the beginning of April. In ritualized fights the males wrestle over the females, try to push the opponent to the ground, to embrace him tightly and to bite. Once the male has conquered a female, it bites its neck and mates with him in an act of copulation lasting several hours. The female carries the fertilized eggs for around 14 weeks; As soon as the eight to twelve young animals are fully developed, the egg shell bursts and they are born in a transparent membrane that they immediately pierce.

  • Blind worms mating - Photo: NABU / Rolf-Dieter Schüller

  • Slow worm in children's hands - Photo: NABU / Britta Raabe

The number of their predators is great. Slow worms are on the menu of numerous bird species and are hunted by mammals such as hedgehogs, badgers, foxes and martens. Dogs, cats and even chickens chase them in settlement areas.

The biggest enemy of the slow worm, however, is humans, who destroy their habitat with intensive agriculture and forestry, decimate their populations by applying pesticides and slug pellets and often simply crush them out of disgust. In several federal states, the sneak is now on the warning list or is considered to be endangered.

Hartmut Netz

Reptile of the year 2017

Other reptile species



Subscribe to Newsletter


Do you have questions?