Neither alive nor dead

It’s not another depression post, but something far stranger…

On the path, yesterday, we found a tail, still moving. One end was pink and raw where it had detached from the body. It skittered and wriggled like a thing possessed of intention. Sometimes it managed to organise its two ends so that it stood up, a loop of flesh and bone trying to go somewhere, do something.

Many lizards shed their tails as a decoy. I’ve never seen a ‘live’ and abandoned tail before. It was a peculiar experience to say the least. Even though I knew that this was an abandoned bit of a creature that could have no life of its own… seeing its desperate movement, its frantic attempts to do – I have no idea what – was really affecting. Everything about it spoke to me of a living thing in need and distress, and so I very carefully lifted it out of the path the way I would any other creature. Not being on a thoroughfare is likely to improve survival, I figure.

In my hand, the abandoned tail continued to move, and I felt the energy in it, and my sense of its aliveness continued.

Only because I moved the tail, did I spot its former owner – the biggest slow worm I have ever seen. Golden, over a foot long. The slow worm looks like a snake, but technically, it is a legless lizard. No, I’m not quite sure how that works or why it is not them but the newts who are traditionally associated with insobriety.

If you’re curious there’s more on slow worms here – http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/slow_worm.htm

Brain function is, to some degree, distributed though the central nervous system. When the tail of a lizard is dropped, something in there is still thinking – maybe it isn’t thinking much, but it has minutes of life available to it in which to perform the final, desperate dance that will allow the greater part of itself to live and survive. If it sounds strange, I promise you that witnessing it firsthand makes for a profoundly uncanny experience.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Neither alive nor dead

  • Catriona McDonald

    We had a pair of these in the education dept. at the zoo where I interned once upon a time. I hadn’t hear of the name “slow worm” (which makes me think of “slow wyrm” and all the interesting associations to be found there)–we called them glass snakes, because the tail could break off so easily.

    The strangest thing about these creatures is that unlike a true snake, who will always keep belly down in contact with the ground, the slow worms would use a spiraling locomotion to burrow deeper into their bedding or sneak out of your grasp. That difference in movement was more indicative of their nature as legless lizards than any of the more subtle visual identifiers.

    I’m glad your worm’s tail let her get away from whatever had frightening her. 🙂

  • treegod

    Not slow and not worms. XD
    I only learnt in the past year or two they could lose their tails. I’ve always handled them but they’ve never lost their tail.

    Where I live there’s lots of geckos (and slow worms), and occasionally I see a bodiless tail. It’s fascinating to watch the first time because there’s nothing “controlling” it, no owner to make it move that way, just a nervous system that is still somehow active. Perhaps the will-to-live doesn’t need a brain to work? 😉

  • Aurora J Stone

    I have seen several slow worms over the years. They are one of the creatures who have a real sense of mystery about them. And the tail that dances its distraction so the rest of the creature can get away. An amazing diversionary tactic that some lizards have, and then there are the regenerating arms of starfish. Our bodies have forgotten much as we became more and more complex and our minds have become so very clever.

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