Let’s say you’re in your yard one day, when you see something in the grass—long, gray/brown and moving slowly along the ground. If you’re afraid of snakes, it’s only natural you don’t want to get any closer because it might be a baby snake. But do they really look alike?
Snakes are longer than earthworms, and have different colors and patterns. They also have scales, which worms don’t. However, the Brahminy blind snake looks a lot like a worm.
Besides that, there are tons of ways to tell snakes and earthworms apart because they’re so biologically different. They’re from completely different classes of animals, but that doesn’t stop there being quite a few snakes that do look like worms.
What is the Difference Between a Snake and a Worm?
If you think about long, thin, slithery creatures without a leg between them, then the two words that come to mind are ‘snake’ and ‘worm.’ Other animals that are similar to one another are normally related: think different kinds of bird, for example.
These creatures are typically related to one another, with a common ancestor that lived millions of years ago. So what about worms and snakes? Are they related?
No, they aren’t. Snakes are a suborder in the class of reptiles, which are thought to have first developed about 300 million years ago, from a group of amphibians that increasingly took to land. Reptiles are an incredibly diverse class, featuring creatures of all shapes and sizes; but they share common features, such as:
- Each has four legs (the majority of reptiles are ‘tetrapods’, or are at least evolved from animals that had four legs)
- They breathe air
- They have a special kind of skin, made up of scales or bony plates
- They’re cold blooded
That’s because reptiles evolved from a common ancestor that had these traits. Now, snakes don’t have four legs. But if you look at their skeleton, you can see where their four legs used to connect to their body. Some ancient species of snake like the boa constrictor even have two very small stumps, called spurs, that are the remnants of their hind legs.
Earthworms come from a completely different evolutionary background. For starters, they’re much more simple creatures than snakes; they don’t have a spinal cord, for example, or any bones in their body. While snakes are in the class Reptilia, all earthworms are in the class Clitellata. There are 8000 different species in the class, many of which you can find in the U.S.
Do Baby Snakes Look Like Earthworms?
Baby snakes can look like earthworms, provided that they’re the right color and size. There are many snakes and snake-like creatures that look a lot like worms already, like the Brahminy blind snake. However, there are ways to tell them apart. Let’s take a look at some of the snake species that look like earthworms, before detailing how to tell the difference between the two.
Usually, baby snakes are quite easy to tell apart from earthworms. There are many reasons why. There are three main ones, though, that make it easy: color, pattern, and length. First off, earthworms are typically mid to dark brown or gray color. Snakes can be far more colors than just that, from red or orange to green, silvery or even shades of blue.
Many are brown or gray like an earthworm, but even these are easy to distinguish because of their pattern. The vast majority of snakes have a pattern. Take diamondback rattlesnakes, for example, which have a pattern of diamonds running along their back. Or what about boa constrictors, which have obvious, dark saddle shapes along theirs? These patterns are very easy to spot even when the snake is a hatchling or juvenile.
The third factor, size, is just as obvious. Almost all small snakes hatch at sizes larger than your average earthworm. While worms are two, three or four inches long at most, snakes are much longer. Hatchlings of most species are at least eight inches long the moment they come out of the shell. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are few and far between. Almost every hatchling snake that you encounter in the wild is going to be much longer than any worm you’ll find.
What is a Brahminy Blind Snake?
Brahminy blind snakes are the kind of snake that looks the most like earthworms. They’re known to reach between two and four inches on average, which means they’re about the same size as most earthworms. They’re the smallest snake species known to man. They range from a uniform charcoal or silver gray color to a dark brown, or even beige, which means they’re often the same color as worms too.
According to a paper in Biology Letters, they’re native to both Africa and Asia. More recently in history, they’ve been accidentally introduced to other parts of the world like Australia, several Pacific islands, and the United States. This means that you can find them in the same parts of the world that you would expect to find earthworms. Not only that, but they live in loose soil. They’re so well known for their choice of habitat that they’re often called the flowerpot snake.
So, what is it that makes them snakes? Well, on close examination, you should be able to spot that they have tiny scales all the way along their body. And unlike worms, they have two very small eyes that you can’t quite see with the naked eye unless you’re up very close.
Aside from the Brahminy blind snake, there are dozens of blind snake species found around the world. They’re all broadly similar to one another: thin, primitive snakes that look a little like earthworms. And they’re not the only family that looks like worms, either.
What is a Slow Worm?
Slow worms are a kind of legless lizard that’s native to Europe and Asia. They aren’t considered a true snake, even though they’re a legless lizard. They burrow like snakes, eat similar food to snakes and look like snakes. But they aren’t classes in the same family because they evolved from a different line. In places where they’re common, there’s a lot of confusion as to what a slow worm is.
Smaller specimens can look like worms, but they aren’t in the same family, despite their name. And most people’s second guess is that they’re snakes, although they aren’t in the snake family either.
Slow worms vary in size, but will only grow to be about 20 inches long. Small slow worms, whether they’re small adults or simply juveniles, are easily mistaken for earthworms. They move in the same way, enjoy burrowing and living underground, and can appear a similar color.
The main difference is that they aren’t slimy to the touch like earthworms are. In the United Kingdom, they’re a protected species because their numbers have been declining.
How to Tell Baby Snakes and Earthworms Apart
If a small snake looks like a worm in your yard, it’s important to figure out if it is one. One snake getting onto your property is bad enough, but if they’re breeding, that could be a lot worse.
There are many ways to tell between worms and the snakes that look like them. These differences are mainly biological, but also behavioral too, like the way that snakes and worms move around. So if you’re still not sure whether it’s a baby snake or worm, read on to learn how to tell them apart.
Do Worms Move Like Snakes?
Snakes move in a variety of different ways. The serpentine method is where they move forward in a wave-like motion, and is also known as ‘lateral undulation.’ Some snakes move using what’s called the ‘concertina method,’ which is where they push themselves forwards using their back half, then drag themselves along with their front half, continually. Lateral undulation is the most common, and many snakes will use the concertina method when in tight spaces.
Sidewinding is the third method, which is not very well understood. Snakes in desert environments move along sideways using the same principle as the concertina method—pushing themselves forward with just one part of the body, while pulling with another. But crucially, they move along sideways. There’s also the rectilinear method, where the snake is completely flat on the ground; they move one side of their body ever so slightly forwards, then the other.
Earthworms move in their own unique way. It’s almost like a cross between rectilinear motion and the concertina method. The worm will stay completely flat on the ground, and stretch out the frontmost part of their body. Their front tip will then grip the ground, and drag their back half up to meet it.
Do Snakes Feel Like Worms?
Snakes feel entirely different to earthworms. First of all, earthworms are typically wet to the touch. They only come to the surface when it’s rainy or wet, otherwise, their method of movement would damage their tender bodies. When you pick them up, they’re almost always slimy and wet. Snakes, on the other hand, aren’t naturally slimy or wet. Reptiles, snakes included, are naturally dry.
Worms are also softer than snakes. Snakes are smooth, but muscular. Because they don’t have limbs, their bodies have to be quite muscly for them to move properly. This is noticeable whenever you pick one up, and that includes hatchlings. Their muscle also makes them heavier than you would expect.
Besides that, snakes feel different from worms because they have scales. While they are less noticeable in hatchlings than they are in adults, snake scales are dry, smooth and made of a strong material that’s similar to fingernails. This texture is a world apart to the slimy, wet, and soft texture of an earthworm.
Biological Differences Between Worms and Snakes
At first glance, then, you can normally tell any snake from any worm. But if you want to be clear, you can examine each animal on a biological level. If you do, it becomes so much more obvious that earthworms and snakes are entirely different. As we said above, they’re in two different classes of animals, which means they aren’t similar. Biological differences include the following:
- Snakes have a backbone and bones throughout their body like ribs, and some snakes even have hips, despite not having any legs. Worms don’t have bones.
- Snakes have clear and obvious eyes in their head, just like we do. They don’t have eyelids like humans, but the eyes themselves are biologically similar. Earthworms don’t have any eyes at all, but they do have photoreceptor cells along their back, in their skin.
- Snakes can be either male or female. A male snake has hemipenes, while a female snake has internal ovaries. All worms are hermaphrodites, meaning that they have both male and female reproductive organs.
- Snakes are predators: they feed on small mice, birds, and smaller reptiles on occasion, depending on the species. Some snakes even eat other snakes, e.g., California king snakes. Worms aren’t predators. They eat dead plants, grass and leaves that they find. They also eat fruit and vegetable scraps, or dead animals. But they don’t ‘hunt,’ and would fail if they tried.
- Understandably, you won’t be able to see this from the outside; but an earthworm’s brain isn’t in its ‘head,’ it’s further along in the body. A snake’s brain, of course, is in its head.
So, while the easiest way to tell snakes and worms apart is size, pattern, and color, there are many other ways besides.