UK native reptiles – Are there any?

24 May, 2022

UK native reptiles – Are there any?

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Pets come in all shapes and sizes. As a pet owner you may have kept UK native reptiles as domestic pets at some point without realising it. But do you know much about them? And do you know about native species? In this article we tell you about the range UK native reptiles and some useful facts about them.

Which reptiles are native to the UK?

uk native reptiles
The slow worm found in most garden compost heaps is a UK native reptile

Britain is home to a wide array of wildlife. And while some species are very common to see, others are a little less so, which is often the case with reptiles. This leaves many people wondering which reptiles are native to the UK, as there’s a chance that, depending on where you live, you may not have come across one yet.

Let’s take a closer look at the UK’s wildlife, specifically which reptiles are native to the area.

There are few UK native reptiles

What may surprise you is that there are only six native reptiles in the UK: three species of snakes of the British Isles and three lizard species. So, what’s the reason for such few native reptile species in the UK? Europe has more than 80 native reptile species, which is a massive difference.

Well, you can blame it on the climate. Reptiles are cold-blooded and they require the heat of the sun to regulate their body temperature. Because Britain isn’t a particularly warm or hot climate, it doesn’t make for the best conditions for reptiles. Invasive species haven’t been an issue either, thanks to the English Channel stopping them from migrating.

Slow worm

The slow worm is part of the Anguis fragilis species. While it looks like a snake, it’s not a snake or a worm. In fact while counted as among UK native reptiles it is in fact a legless lizard. Its population is currently decreasing, and it can be found in various locations in the UK except for the Channel Islands, Scottish Islands and Northern Ireland.

Its habitat can be found in woods, moorland, grassland and heathland and it has an average life expectancy of 20 years.

Adult slow worms can measure up to 50cm in length, weighing 100g. As for what they eat, they survive on slow-moving invertebrates, snails and slugs.

The female slow worm is brown and can have dark stripes on both sides of the body, or just dark sides. Meanwhile, the male is grey-brown and doesn’t have any stripes. Some male snakes lizards and slow worms have blue spots on them, but not all.

Smooth snake

The smooth snake is extremely rare among UK native reptiles, so it’s not often you would spot one of these. They are non-venomous and only live in a few places. For their habitat, they will choose a sandy heathland, much like the sand lizard. Because they are cold-blooded, they hibernate from October to April. The average lifespan of the smooth snake is 20 years, and its length is 50-70cm.

The smooth snake is often mistaken for the adder snake since they look very similar. The smooth snake is thinner, has a dark coloured pattern on its back, is dark brown or grey and has very round pupils. The snake causes no harm to humans and is a constrictor. Its prey consists of nestlings, insects, slow worms, and sand lizards.

Sand lizard

Even rarer among UK native reptiles is the sand lizard. This is listed as one of the rarest species of all in the UK. Just like the smooth snake, it prefers to live in the sandy heathland, which isn’t ideal since the smooth snake is its predator. They are also listed as the only egg-laying lizard species that reside in the UK and its population is currently decreasing.

The average lifespan is 12 years, and they are just 20cm in length. They can be brown or grey, have two stripes down the back and their markings look like small eyes.

Common lizard

Then we have a much more common UK native reptiles which is the common lizard. Its lifespan is only six years, and it can be found in many places throughout the UK. It can adapt better to its surroundings, which means its habitat is varied.

It comes in a variety of colours and can be black, green, yellow, or brown with spots or stripes. Females have a belly that is pale, and males have an orange or yellow belly with small black spots. If you are interested in having a lizard as a pet but don’t have an idea on how to care for them check here for more information on how to be able to raise one and if you are capable of doing so.


The adder also counted among the more common UK native reptiles, also called the Common European Viper or Vipera Berus, is a bit more formidable as this is the only venomous snake in the UK. It’s uncommon for it to be aggressive to humans, so it’s not generally a big concern. It is known for swallowing its prey whole.

The adder can be found in woodlands, moorlands and heathland and can be spotted from March to October. It can be up to 80cm in length and has an average life expectancy of 15 years. The population is listed as “least concern”.

Grass snake

Finally, we have the grass snake, which is a non-venomous snake. It has an average lifespan of 15-25 years and can be up to 150cm in length and weigh up to 240g. This one can be spotted from April to October and prefers wetlands as its habitat. It’s not unheard of to find them in gardens and dry grasslands if there is a pond nearby.

Its species status is listed as “least concern” and it preys on small mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians.

What to do if you suspect you have UK native reptiles on your property

Did you know that many species of UK native reptiles are protected here in Britain either by UK laws or European laws? This means they cannot be deliberately injured, killed or sold. This is of course to help protect the species population.

Where issues can occur is if you’re trying to put in a planning application and discover you have one of the protected reptiles and its habitat on your property. You will need to conduct a reptile survey which can either be a phase 1 or 2 survey. Phase 2 surveys can only be done at specific times of the year, making it a bit more difficult.

Who can do UK native reptiles surveys and what will it cost? You can contact a professional survey company such as Arbtech who can perform your reptile survey. The company uses licensed and qualified ecologists, so you know it’s done properly. The cost starts at £399; however, Phase 2 surveys start at £1899, so the best tip is to call and get a free quote.

UK native reptiles in summary

If you’re looking to brush up on your reptile knowledge, the fact that the UK only has six native species certainly makes it easy for you to become an expert on these creatures rather quickly.

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