Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The other day, I learned some really cool things about slugs.

After work/school, Jules likes to look for "wormies," "sfiders" and whatever other critters are making their homes under the rocks that frame the flowers, and weeds, around our gazebo. The other day, we found a slug.

Me: How cute! It's a snail without a shell.
Jon: It's a slug.
Oh. What's the difference? I was suddenly obsessed with slugs.

Jules (above) and I thought this guy was cute. Turns out, we're in the minority.

During my late-night "reporting" on this gastropod mollusc (thank you, Wikipedia), I learned that Jon is not the only person who dislikes slugs. Seems almost everyone does, mostly for two reasons (in no particular order): 1) they're slimy and 2) they destroy gardens. 

My search also turned up this fascinating article in The Daily Mail that gives slugs due recognition. In it, science journalist Michael Hanlon describes the slug as a "garden snail with bad PR" and paints slugs as the fascinating creatures they are. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  1. Slugs really are snails without shells. And because they don't need the calcium to build a shell, they're found far more widely.
  2. Their feelers (what makes them cute to me) regrow if cut off.
  3. Slugs use slime to move (and stop!), to protect them from drying out and to "communicate" things like the whereabouts of food. They also use it as a sex-aid. No, not as lubricant. It keeps them stuck together while they're getting it on.
  4. Slugs are hermaphrodites (i.e., have both male and female sex organs). Straight from Hanlon's article: "Like snails, slugs are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female sex organs. Mating slugs exchange sperm through their corkscrewshaped penis-like genitalia, and sometimes this process goes awry, the two animals locked in an amorous embrace. The only solution to the problem is a technique called apophallation  -  the chewing off of the other slug's penis using the same razor- sharp teeth with which the slug can decimate your cabbages. Having lost its penis, the castrated slug is then only able to copulate using its female organs." Wow.
  5. Slugs basically eat anything, including dead flesh.
  6. Gardeners battle slugs with salt (it dries them up), coffee grounds and beer. Some torch them. Sad.
He's cute, right? 

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