Peloponnese slow worm (Anguis cephalonnica)

Head profile of Peloponnese slow worm
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Peloponnese slow worm fact file

Peloponnese slow worm description

GenusAnguis (1)

Like other species of its kind, the Peloponnese slow worm (Anguis cephalonnica) is sometimes mistaken for a snake as it is a long, slender, legless reptile. It has quite a narrow head and its tail is relatively longer than that of the slow worm (Anguis fragilis) (2). Slow worms belong to the Anguidae family, and, unlike snakes, have moveable eyelids (3) (4) (5). Anguids have broader and flatter tongues than snakes, and the tongue is also notched rather than deeply forked (3).

The upperparts of the Peloponnese slow worm are usually coffee brown, while the underside and sides are black or dark brown. From the tip of the snout down to the tip of the tail, the border between the two colours is sharply defined, and is wavy on the neck just behind the head. Adult Peloponnese slow worms often have a short, dark, intermittent stripe, between two and six centimetres long, on the centre of the neck (2).

Adult male and female slow worms can usually be distinguished as they differ in colour pattern and sometimes in size. However, in the newborn and juvenile slow worms, it is almost impossible to tell the males and females apart. Newborn slow worms are strikingly marked, with an iridescent silver, gold, copper or bronze back, and dark brown or black sides. A distinctive black stripe, which stems from a black patch on the middle of the head, runs down the back and tail of all young slow worms (3).

Anguis cephallonicus, Anguis cephalonnicus, Anguis peloponnesiaca, Anguis peloponnesiacus.
Length: c. 50 cm (2)

Peloponnese slow worm biology

Very little is known about the specific biology of the Peloponnese slow worm; however, it used to be considered as a subspecies of the slow worm (Anguis fragilis), and as such is thought to be very similar (3).

In general, slow worms spend much of their time underground (3) (5), and when above the surface they tend not to bask in open areas, instead favouring small pools of sunlight in vegetation. Thermoregulation occurs mainly through keeping the body in contact with warm surfaces. Loose or decaying vegetation provides a good burrowing substrate for the slow worm, and it uses underground refuges for hibernation (3).

Little is known about the diet of the Peloponnese slow worm, but like the related slow worm, it is thought to consist primarily of soft-bodied invertebrates including slugs, snails and earthworms (3) (4), although insects and spiders may also sometimes be eaten. Prey is detected using a combination of chemical and visual cues, and slow worms will inspect potential food by using repeated flicks of the tongue to pick up scent particles. Movement of the prey is usually necessary in order for slow worms to strike, after which they swallow the prey whole (3).

Being similar to the slow worm, the Peloponnese slow worm is not thought to be territorial, but courtship can be a rather violent affair. The male will take hold of the female by biting it on the head or neck. The bodies of the male and female become intertwined, and courtship can last for up to ten hours. Slow worms usually only breed once every two years, producing between 3 and 28 young (3) (4), with an average of about 12 (4). The young are born live (3) (4), although they are still encased in the egg membrane (3).

When attacked, the main defence strategy of the slow worm is to contract its tail muscles, which severs the tail from the rest of the body (3) (5). Once the tail has been shed, it can twitch violently for up to 15 minutes (3).

The slow worm will shed its skin at intervals throughout its life. Unlike snakes, the slow worm usually sheds in two or three sleeve-like sections which are often heavily folded (3).


Peloponnese slow worm range

The Peloponnese slow worm is endemic to Greece, and is only found in the southern part of the mainland and on the Ionian islands of Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zakynthos (1).


Peloponnese slow worm habitat

Humid areas of open deciduous and coniferous forests, and the sides of wooded streams or rivers, are the preferred habitats of the Peloponnese slow worm (1) (2). This species is also found in humid areas within meadows, scrubland and hedgerows, as well as in rural gardens and agricultural areas that have been traditionally farmed (1).

The Peloponnese slow worm occurs up to elevations of 1,200 metres above sea level (1) (2).


Peloponnese slow worm status

The Peloponnese slow worm is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Peloponnese slow worm threats

Human-caused fires, such as the one which occurred in the Peloponnese in 2007, may pose a threat to the Peloponnese slow worm. This species is also often killed when it is encountered (1).


Peloponnese slow worm conservation

The Peloponnese slow worm occurs in a few protected areas within its range (1).


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A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
A winter survival strategy in which the animal passes the winter in a resting state. This period of inactivity is characterised by specific biological and biochemical changes including lowered blood pressure and respiration rate. In reptiles, this is also known as brumation.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
To control the body temperature.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
  2. Arnold, E.N. (2002) A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., London.
  3. Beebee, T.J.C. and Griffiths, R.A. (2000) Amphibians and Reptiles - A Natural History of the British Herpetofauna. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., London.
  4. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Worcestershire Wildlife Trust - Slow worm (November, 2011)

Image credit

Head profile of Peloponnese slow worm  
Head profile of Peloponnese slow worm

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