Look at those nasty things was my first reaction.’ But, then like staring at a train wreck, I found myself in awe of these slimy creatures.
As my curiosity for the natural world has always been leading me forward to see new things, slugs, although not as striking as other species that inhabit this planet, are still cool.
What true testament that every living thing feels the need to expand and explore the world, not just us humans.
The slug is considered to be native to Europe, and was introduced on the east coast of America in 1867. It only took this speedster 30 years to make it to the west coast and it’s now found in many areas of the world.
As I watched these two slugs start to dance, instinct told me something I had never seen before was about to happen. I quickly ran for my camera and returned to see the two slugs twisted together dangling from a thread of mucus.
I was struggling to watch and take pictures at the same time. I watched them twist around each other, a translucent yet fluorescent object protruded from each of their heads. I was trying to deduce what they were doing and this act gave it away.
The slugs were mating. What an amazing thing. Slugs are hermaphrodites so either partner has the ability to produce young. What I was watching was the exchange of DNA. After forty-five minutes of being suspended together the sperm is exchanged.
The slug that is not attached with the mucus tether simply falls off leaving the other to climb its way back up. I was fascinated after watching. I had to find out more. The slugs that I was so intrigued by are Limax Maximus.
This translates to great slug. They are commonly known as Great Gray slugs or Leopard slugs. They are one of the largest land living air breathing slugs in the world measuring up to 8 inches as adults. Great Gray slugs are Gastropod’s, a word that describes there locomotion, meaning stomach foot.
The class Gastropoda contains animal like snails and slugs, and is second to insects in total named species. Nocturnal by nature, Great Gray slugs are most active at night but can be found out and about on rainy days. Great Gray slugs have shown homing behaviors in studies. Time lapse photography of slugs living in an experimental enclosure show that these animals can return to a homesite from over 90 cm by direct route (Olfactory Basis of Homing Behavior in the Giant Garden Slug, Limax Maximus).
An omnivore these slugs eat anything, its beneficial in eating dead plants and fungi. This slug also has a taste for flesh. It will hunt down and eat other slug species, which is amazing considering their blistering pace of 6 inches per minute.
From the eastern shores of Maryland to Oregon these slugs are considered to be pest to gardens and agriculture. Great Gray Slugs attack seedlings of a number of crops, particularly no-tillage corn, and alfalfa and strawberries. Slugs injure plants by chewing holes of various sizes in the leaves and stems.
The holes may be in the middle of the leaf or on the edge. The early seedling stages are the most susceptible to slugs; slugs can sometimes consume the entire seedling. Once the crop has passed the five-leaved stage, the damage is generally superficial (Cornell Cooperative Extension).
Protecting our crops from these slimers is fairly easy, for small gardens place pieces of wood or shingles on the ground near the most susceptible plants. The slugs will crawl under the “trap” to protect themselves from the heat of the day, also encouraging the slug’s natural enemies such as the toad, garter snake, and predacious ground beetles.
In cases of large fields of corn or alfalfa, avoid planting in areas that lay wet. Slugs are also more abundant when the previous year the land was in sod. In severe cases a molluscicidal bait can be used. Although devastating to crops and not as showy or spectacular as other animals, slugs are neat.
These shell-less snails serve a purpose in the world. If they didn’t have a niche to fill we would find them only in fossil records. An easy target to sneak up on, these finger-sized animals spark curiosity in the minds of our youth, not to mention the performance they put on when they get together.