Saint Patrick, what about legless lizards?

Ireland is one of the few places where snakes are not distributed on earth. But why are there no snakes on the island? Legend has it that Saint Patrick expelled all snakes from Ireland. Of course, we don’t know if St. Patrick didn’t like snakes. However, snakes have never been discovered on the island. According to scientists, the climate was too cold for snakes to inhabit in Ireland. Today Irish herpetofauna is formed by only one native land species, Zootoca vivipara (viviparous lizard). However, sometimes people reported single encounters with snakes in Ireland. As it turned out, it was slow worms (Anguis), representing legless lizards. In many countries, people often confuse them with snakes and kill them. This poses a big danger to the conservation of the. In general, Anguisincludes five species and is distributed in the Western Palearctic region but never in Ireland. As a result of our study, we collected lizards in the Burren area (western Ireland) and tried to determine the species of Anguis and their origin using molecular methods. Molecular analysis suggested that the Irish lizards belong to Anguis fragilis. This is a common species distributed in most Western European countries. Furthermore, we confirmed that the Irish slow worms are not a relict population and were most likely introduced from the United Kingdom. We think that this could have happened in the 1970s-1990s, when naturalists easily imported wild animals from different countries, including the United Kingdom. As a consequence, Irish snakes were legless lizards and we supported with evidence that the protection of Saint Patrick still works on the island. Thus, our results on the Irish population and their genetic affiliation will largely contribute to the design of further conservation management for this population on the island.

You can find paper here