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Slime time with the slugs

SUFFOLK

While we were walking this weekend, we received the attached photo from our daughter. Thinking our two granddaughters were playing with a coiled snake (maybe a small blacksnake,) we checked in to find out what they were up to.

Our investigation into the matter revealed that they were catching slugs and wrapping them around a stick … a lot of slugs. When we got home, they gave us the slug tour of the bottoms of our beech trees … 12 on one tree, then five, then seven. A good subject for an article!

Slugs are gastropod mollusks that live on land. (There are sea slugs that weigh up to 40 pounds.) They are basically snails without shells. Each has two sets of feelers or tentacles, the upper two are light sensitive, if not actual eyes. The bottom two sense taste and smell. Both are retractable. Who knew?

The mantle behind the head has a hole in the side for breathing. The rear part is the tail; the underside is the foot, which undulates for movement … with slime everywhere.

If your grandkids are into the new slime craze, this is a creature they’ll love to observe.

Slugs are basically water. Mucus, either slug or human, is a liquid crystal, somewhere in-between a liquid and a solid. Some of the mucus they generate is thin and some very thick and sticky. It can be used as a lubricant or … an adhesive … as inquisitive little hands at our house found out. Slugs generate mucus to protect themselves against desiccation and aid movement.  In dry weather slugs hide in moist places. After rain, they’re out and about like the slimy guys in our yard.

Most slugs are plant eaters; some eat worms or other slugs. It’s the plant eaters that bother gardeners, as they attack mums, petunias, daisies, lilies, lobelia, hostas, etc.

And they are worse around leafy vegetables like kale and lettuce. They eat plants so quickly that they can eat a plant faster than even a big plant can grow.

Garden infestations can be controlled. Home remedies include saucers full of beer, coffee grounds and egg shells. Sometimes people pour salt on them, but that is just cruel so don’t do that. All God’s critters have a place in the choir. If you are serious about getting rid of them, use iron phosphate from your garden store.

On the plus side, everything eats slugs. Reptiles, snakes, birds, mammals, amphibians, (especially frogs and toads), even fish eat them. The next time you eat a trout … well … just don’t think about it. But slugs are not for human consumption, so don’t think about cooking and eating them … no matter how much butter and garlic you’ve got.

If you think slugs are ugly, travel to the redwood forests of California’s coast. We recommend Lady Bird Johnson Grove or Muir Woods. There you will find banana slugs six inches long which are either black or bright yellow in color. And they are beautiful.

SUSAN and BRADFORD “BIFF” ANDREWS are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.