The Natural Enquirer: Slug adventures
When I was younger, my brother Bobby and I used to gather all the slugs we could find in containers with small holes poked in the lid while we were camping. At first, I used sticks and leaves to gently lift the slugs, but as time went on, I realized they weren’t going to hurt me, and just picked them up with my hands.
We’d pick the handsomest, quickest, largest, smallest, or spottiest slugs from the bunch, and write numbers on construction paper, which we cut out with scissors. We’d place the tiny pieces of paper on the slug’s backs (they pretty much stuck by themselves) and lined the slugs up on a pre-set racetrack. Sometimes we then left, it depended on how long the track was and if we wanted to wait long enough for one of the slugs to win. If we left, we’d come back later and see if one of the slugs had won the race yet. Sometimes they’d lose their numbers, other times they’d still be wearing them.
We often named the slugs. I remember one of my favorite slugs was a pure olive-green beauty of medium size with one big black spot right in the center of his mantle, named Oscar. My favorite slug was Trigger, though, an absolutely huge, race winning, plainly colored slug. Number One in red construction paper.
I decided to keep Trigger, so I set him up in a gallon bottle with holes in the. I set him up with dirt, gravel, oxalis, carrots and all sorts of sluggy amenities, where I would keep him until we returned home from camping and I could set him up in a better habitat. He escaped.
Trigger squidged through the air hole. My parents didn’t believe me. Frankly, I didn’t believe he had escaped through it. I figured someone had let him go (my parents hated how I brought home all manner of critters from camping.) However, I searched diligently (I loved that slug) and found him squooshed up under the stool I had set the bowl on. I felt I was truly blessed to have found him.
I put him back in his bowl, using a paper towel stretched over the bowl between the bowl and lid to cover the holes without blocking the air. Trigger came home with me without another incident, and I still thought maybe the lid had gotten left off.
However, one night very soon after we came home, the paper towel (which I had been replacing often) had gotten damp and sort of disintegrated, and Trigger once again was on the loose. I searched for him for hours, extremely upset, because I knew that in the warm, dry house, Trigger would dry out and die. My mom, though she loves animals, even slugs, was understandably disgusted that a slug was sliming around her house. I found him the next day on the other side of the house near the backdoor, a bit dry, but OK.
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Another Mollusk-Keeping Adventure. Once I found a snail when I was hiking. It was a light colored, tannish yellow thing, so I decided to take it home. Imagine my surprise when a mere days later, she started digging holes with her “tail” and laying eggs all around the edge of the large canning jar I had her in (really, snails are hermaphroditic like slugs, but I’ll call it a female because it’s easier.) What was really neat was that she laid most of them up near the glass, so I could watch the eggs develop.
She dug many holes and laid large clutches of eggs in each one. I watched as baby snails formed inside the tiny, translucent eggs, and even got to watch many of them hatch. The baby snails slimed their way to the surface. They were tiny, smaller than a cucumber seed. There were more than a hundred babies (which was a lot for the canning jar, but I didn’t dare move them once she started laying the eggs.) They ate a lot of cucumber pieces, and grew fairly quickly. After watching them for a while from the time the eggs were laid and hatched, I let all the babies go near where I had found the mother/father. That was a very memorable snail-keeping experience.
The truth is, any two slugs or snails of the same species can mate, though in captivity it’s not as likely to happen as in the wild, since the conditions are not usually as natural. What’s even more bizarre is if there are no other slugs, the slug can mate with itself and produce offspring, though this rarely happens. If you ever find yourself with galloping gastropod babies, I’d suggest you watch them for a while and let them go in the wild. Slugs and snails have so many babies because of the high fatality rate for the young.
Many things eat slugs. Many birds, fish, and small mammals would love a slimy slug feast. They are one of the favorite foods of garter snakes.
A very safe method of slug control is using an old, wide board. Lay it where the slugs are bothering your garden, and in the morning, slugs will have gathered under it to escape the sun’s rays. Then you can relocate the slugs to somewhere where it won’t bother any gardens, like a nearby forest.
Some people would rather step hard on the board and squoosh the slugs underneath. This will attract more slugs the next night, that will munch on the dead ones. Poor slugs!
Peter Dring is a retired nature biologist and phenologist who lives in the Land ‘O Lakes area. Questions or comments for Dring can be sent to [email protected].