Extremadura: Worm Lizard

Possibly my favourite and one of the most exciting finds from our trip to Extremadura was the Worm Lizard; a rarely seen reptile that spends the majority of its time underground.

I had read about these peculiar animals in a guide book before the trip, but at the time just thought of it as another species I wouldn't end up seeing, mainly due to the long periods of time it spends underground. But I would turn out to be wrong.

We came across this animal whilst in the Sierra de Gredos in the north of the region, shortly after seeing the Iberian Ibex. We were heading back down the valley, on our way back to Guijo de Santa Barbara, when we decided to try turning rocks on the side of the path in the hope of finding a scorpion or something interesting. The first rock produced nothing, but the second was a lot more exciting. At first, we thought we had got nothing; just an earthworm partially covered by soil. But as we were about to return the rock to its original resting place, I decided to take a closer look. We carefully prised the 'earthworm' from the ground, and held it up to get a closer look. And it was incredible. It was not an earthworm as previously assumed. On closer inspection, we realised it had a face; the face of a lizard. And it wasn't wet like an earthworm, but scaly and dry, and felt like holding a slow worm or similar.

This reptile was a Worm Lizard; a reptile that rarely surfaces. We had been very lucky to find one so soon; it usually takes a lot of upturned stones to come across one. It was amazing to hold in the hand. Not wet or slimy, but strangely smooth, and being able to see the face up close was amazing. It fascinated me how such a peculiar yet wonderful animal could have evolved to become what it has become. The eyes, though underdeveloped, were clearly visible near the snout, and a forked tongue could be seen as it flicked out from its mouth. The forked tongue, like other reptiles, is used for sensory purposes, and its small mouth is full of small, sharp teeth.

Iberian Worm Lizard, Extremadura

The particular species we had found was the Iberian Worm Lizard, found in Portugal and throughout central Spain. Its diet consists of mainly insects and their larvae, though the lizard will avoid eating certain ant species, which shows it can distinguish prey despite its poor eyesight and opportunistic feeding habits. 

Sierra de Gredos

Relatively little is known about this primitive reptile when compared to other species, but as we discover more about this secretive animal, it is becoming apparent there is more to it than meets the eye. It was a treat to find a brilliant example of this amazing creature so early on in our trip, and to be able to look at it up close, and appreciate what an strangely fascinating animal it really is.


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