Slow-worms and the Moths of Harewood Forest

Legless lizards in your garden

David Beeson

June 2020

Life is amazing. From the Covid-19 virus (merely a stand of genetic material in a coat), through bacteria that can feed off plastic, to the tonnes of a massive whale or giant redwood, the diversity of life on our blue planet is mind-blowing. New forms of life evolve and others vanish. Some we love, others we love to hate and make every attempt to make them into an evolutionary failure – we destroy the species. Sometimes we just do not care enough and an organism, that has as much right to exits as ourselves, is lost. Museums and zoos are littered with extinct and nearly extinct organisms.

One that struggles on while remaining largely unloved is the slow-worm. Killed by golfers, who see it as a dangerous snake; eaten by the millions of imported, non-native pheasants bred merely to be shot in September for the delight of people who need a wide-blasting shotgun to kill a big, predictable flying bird; eaten by domestic chickens as an afternoon snack and eliminated by the too tidy gardener. This benign, legless lizard (not a snake and not dangerous to humans in any way) lives its life eating slugs and small invertebrates.

Forest Edge slow-worm

In my garden slow-worms dwell mainly in the longer grassy areas, for their niche is in the soil to ground vegetation zone. They are designed to wend their way between the lowest levels of the grassy sward, where they can be out-of-sight and find their invertebrate food – slugs, worms and small organisms such as spiders.

As reptiles they increase their body temperatures mainly by moving into a warmer location (or by modifying their exposure to warmth, eg, uncoiling or flattening their shape) or cool by retreating to a different possibly cooler location that may be underground. They are not cold-blooded as their temperature can be nearly as high as our own – but their body heat is mostly not generated by themselves as in mammals and birds. Reptiles are ectotherms, birds and mammals endotherms. The body temperature of reptiles varies widely during a day, their metabolism being sluggish when it is cool and speedy when it is warm.

They are vertebrates, having a backbone, have scales and generally lay eggs, although our slow-worm holds them inside the female’s body until they hatch as live young. They have eyelids (snakes do not) and can shed their tail – another feature that separates them from the snakes. With a strong outer coating of scales, to increase in size they must shed their outer skin layer periodically. This occurs in sections, whereas in snakes one can find whole (inside out) skins that have been discarded.

Exceptional slow-worms can be 50cm long and live in the wild for around 20 years, although one survived 54 years in captivity.

I encountered a pair mating recently. The male held the female by the neck and their bodies were entwined. Books suggest mating can occur over a ten hour period, yet this couple appeared to mate for over 24 hours. Before mating occurs the dominant male may need to fight off contenders.

In my garden these reptiles are most often found under sheets of iron that have been deliberately left for them adjacent to hedges or less well-tended areas. Occasionally they are encountered curled up amongst herbaceous plants. When disturbed they seldom rush off, however, if the day is warm and I wish to allow a grandchild to feel their lithe and smooth body they can be amazingly agile!

When I explore snakes I need to walk with minimal impact but can remain talking; adders, for example, feel vibrations but have no ears. Slow-worm have hearing.

Anguis fragilis is a reptile native to Eurasia and it’s English name can be spelled: slow worm, slowworm or slow-worm – I have encountered all three in UK books. Fragilis refers, presumably, to the tail-shedding as an escape technique.

Young are born late summer. Photo from Wildlife Trust.

Slow-worm are not uncommon. I have found them basking in Harewood and under decaying logs. They are not poisonous and do not bite humans. Their main problems are from being predated by pheasants, chickens and cats. If you encounter them in your garden, cry, “Welcome, lovely and helpful creature,” then just leave them alone.


This is a moth list generated by Tim Norris and Graeme Davis. I take zero credit. It represents the species found at Forest Edge on Harewood Forest’s northern boundary.

Acleris ferrugana/notanaa moth
Acronicta tridens/psiDark Dagger / Grey Dagger
Mesapamea secalis agg.Common Rustic agg.
Oligia strigilis agg.Marbled Minor agg.
Triodia sylvinaOrange Swift
Caloptilia alchimiellaa moth
Aspilapteryx tringipennellaa moth
Parornix anglicellaa moth
Phyllonorycter harrisellaa moth
Cameraria ohridellaa moth
Swammerdamia pyrellaa moth
Paraswammerdamia nebulellaa moth
Ypsolopha parenthesellaa moth
Plutella xylostellaDiamond-back Moth
Plutella porrectellaa moth
Argyresthia goedartellaa moth
Argyresthia bonnetellaa moth
Crassa unitellaa moth
Diurnea fagellaa moth
Carcina quercanaa moth
Hypatima rhomboidellaa moth
Brachmia blandellaa moth
Helcystogramma rufescensa moth
Metzneria metzneriellaa moth
Athrips mouffetellaa moth
Coleophora trifoliia moth
Blastobasis adustellaa moth
Amblyptilia acanthadactylaBeautiful Plume
Adaina microdactylaHemp Agrimony Plume
Ditula angustioranaRed-barred Tortrix
Epagoge grotianaa moth
Archips podanaLarge Fruit-tree Tortrix
Archips xylosteanaVariegated Golden Tortrix
Ptycholomoides aeriferanaa moth
Pandemis corylanaChequered Fruit-tree Tortrix
Pandemis cerasanaBarred Fruit-tree Tortrix
Pandemis heparanaDark Fruit-tree Tortrix
Cnephasia stephensianaGrey Tortrix
Tortrix viridanaGreen Oak Tortrix
Aleimma loeflingianaa moth
Acleris forsskaleanaa moth
Acleris varieganaGarden Rose Tortrix
Acleris aspersanaa moth
Agapeta hamanaa moth
Agapeta zoeganaa moth
Cochylis atricapitanaa moth
Eudemis profundanaa moth
Apotomis betuletanaa moth
Hedya nubiferanaMarbled Orchard Tortrix
Hedya prunianaPlum Tortrix
Celypha strianaa moth
Celypha lacunanaa moth
Ancylis badianaa moth
Epinotia brunnichanaa moth
Epinotia solandrianaa moth
Epinotia immundanaa moth
Zeiraphera isertanaa moth
Eucosma canaa moth
Gypsonoma dealbanaa moth
Gypsonoma socianaa moth
Epiblema foenellaa moth
Cydia pomonellaCodling Moth
Cydia splendanaa moth
Lathronympha striganaa moth
Zygaena filipendulaeSix-spot Burnet
Galleria mellonellaWax Moth
Dioryctria abietellaa moth
Phycita roborellaa moth
Acrobasis repandanaa moth
Euzophera pinguisa moth
Endotricha flammealisa moth
Pyrausta aurataa moth
Pyrausta purpuralisa moth
Anania lancealisa moth
Anania hortulataSmall Magpie
Udea prunalisa moth
Udea olivalisa moth
Patania ruralisMother of Pearl
Nomophila noctuellaRush Veneer
Evergestis forficalisGarden Pebble
Scoparia pyralellaa moth
Eudonia lacustrataa moth
Eudonia mercurellaa moth
Chrysoteuchia culmellaGarden Grass-veneer
Crambus perlellaa moth
Agriphila tristellaa moth
Agriphila inquinatellaa moth
Agriphila straminellaa moth
Agriphila geniculeaa moth
Catoptria pinellaa moth
Catoptria falsellaa moth
Falcaria lacertinariaScalloped Hook-tip
Watsonalla binariaOak Hook-tip
Drepana falcatariaPebble Hook-tip
Cilix glaucataChinese Character
Habrosyne pyritoidesBuff Arches
Polyploca ridensFrosted Green
Achlya flavicornisYellow Horned
Euthrix potatoriaDrinker
Laothoe populiPoplar Hawk-moth
Sphinx ligustriPrivet Hawk-moth
Deilephila elpenorElephant Hawk-moth
Idaea rusticataLeast Carpet
Idaea dimidiataSingle-dotted Wave
Idaea biselataSmall Fan-footed Wave
Idaea aversataRiband Wave
Cyclophora annulariaMocha
Cyclophora punctariaMaiden’s Blush
Scotopteryx chenopodiataShaded Broad-bar
Xanthorhoe spadiceariaRed Twin-spot Carpet
Xanthorhoe ferrugataDark-barred Twin-spot Carpet
Epirrhoe alternataCommon Carpet
Hydriomena furcataJuly Highflyer
Eulithis prunataPhoenix
Ecliptopera silaceataSmall Phoenix
Colostygia pectinatariaGreen Carpet
Philereme vetulataBrown Scallop
Horisme vitalbataSmall Waved Umber
Perizoma alchemillataSmall Rivulet
Gymnoscelis rufifasciataDouble-striped Pug
Chloroclystis v-ataV-Pug
Eupithecia abbreviataBrindled Pug
Eupithecia centaureataLime-speck Pug
Acasis viretataYellow-barred Brindle
Abraxas grossulariataMagpie Moth
Lomaspilis marginataClouded Border
Ligdia adustataScorched Carpet
Macaria notataPeacock Moth
Macaria liturataTawny-barred Angle
Opisthograptis luteolataBrimstone Moth
Ennomos quercinariaAugust Thorn
Ennomos fuscantariaDusky Thorn
Ennomos erosariaSeptember Thorn
Selenia dentariaEarly Thorn
Selenia tetralunariaPurple Thorn
Crocallis elinguariaScalloped Oak
Ourapteryx sambucariaSwallow-tailed Moth
Biston stratariaOak Beauty
Biston betulariaPeppered Moth
Peribatodes rhomboidariaWillow Beauty
Deileptenia ribeataSatin Beauty
Alcis repandataMottled Beauty
Ectropis bistortataEngrailed
Cabera exanthemataCommon Wave
Lomographa temerataClouded Silver
Campaea margaritariaLight Emerald
Geometra papilionariaLarge Emerald
Hemistola chrysoprasariaSmall Emerald
Hemithea aestivariaCommon Emerald
Furcula furculaSallow Kitten
Stauropus fagiLobster Moth
Notodonta dromedariusIron Prominent
Notodonta ziczacPebble Prominent
Pheosia tremulaSwallow Prominent
Pheosia gnomaLesser Swallow Prominent
Ptilodon capucinaCoxcomb Prominent
Ptilodon cucullinaMaple Prominent
Phalera bucephalaBuff-tip
Rivula sericealisStraw Dot
Hypena proboscidalisSnout
Lymantria monachaBlack Arches
Euproctis chrysorrhoeaBrown-tail
Euproctis similisYellow-tail
Spilosoma luteaBuff Ermine
Phragmatobia fuliginosaRuby Tiger
Tyria jacobaeaeCinnabar
Miltochrista miniataRosy Footman
Lithosia quadraFour-spotted Footman
Eilema depressaBuff Footman
Eilema griseolaDingy Footman
Eilema lurideolaCommon Footman
Eilema complanaScarce Footman
Herminia tarsipennalisFan-foot
Laspeyria flexulaBeautiful Hook-tip
Abrostola tripartitaSpectacle
Diachrysia chrysitisBurnished Brass
Autographa gammaSilver Y
Autographa pulchrinaBeautiful Golden Y
Colocasia coryliNut-tree Tussock
Acronicta rumicisKnot Grass
Craniophora ligustriCoronet
Amphipyra berberaSvensson’s Copper Underwing
Caradrina morpheusMottled Rustic
Hoplodrina octogenariaUncertain
Hoplodrina blandaRustic
Hoplodrina ambiguaVine’s Rustic
Thalpophila maturaStraw Underwing
Eremobia ochroleucaDusky Sallow
Amphipoea oculeaEar Moth
Luperina testaceaFlounced Rustic
Apamea epomidionClouded Brindle
Apamea scolopacinaSlender Brindle
Apamea monoglyphaDark Arches
Apamea lithoxylaeaLight Arches
Mesoligia furunculaCloaked Minor
Oligia strigilisMarbled Minor
Conistra vacciniiChestnut
Lithophane ornitopusGrey Shoulder-knot
Eupsilia transversaSatellite
Cosmia trapezinaDun-bar
Brachylomia viminalisMinor Shoulder-knot
Parastichtis suspectaSuspected
Orthosia incertaClouded Drab
Orthosia cerasiCommon Quaker
Orthosia crudaSmall Quaker
Orthosia gothicaHebrew Character
Anorthoa mundaTwin-spotted Quaker
Lacanobia oleraceaBright-line Brown-eye
Hadena bicrurisLychnis
Mythimna conigeraBrown-line Bright-eye
Mythimna pallensCommon Wainscot
Mythimna impuraSmoky Wainscot
Mythimna ferragoClay
Agrotis exclamationisHeart and Dart
Agrotis clavisHeart and Club
Agrotis putaShuttle-shaped Dart
Ochropleura plectaFlame Shoulder
Noctua pronubaLarge Yellow Underwing
Noctua fimbriataBroad-bordered Yellow Underwing
Noctua comesLesser Yellow Underwing
Noctua interjectaLeast Yellow Underwing
Noctua jantheLesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing
Xestia xanthographaSquare-spot Rustic
Xestia sexstrigataSix-striped Rustic
Xestia c-nigrumSetaceous Hebrew Character
Xestia triangulumDouble Square-spot
Meganola strigulaSmall Black Arches
Nola cucullatellaShort-cloaked Moth
Bena bicoloranaScarce Silver-lines

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: