Kingston, Wa – If you know anything about western Washington and Oregon, you’ll know that we are serious about our slugs. These sticky, slimy ground dwellers are a fixture of coastal Northwest forests. Slugs are pretty much snails without shells, which make them well-suited to our acidic soils which make shell development a challenge.
Our common, home-grown slug is the banana slug which typically prefers to spend its leisurely-paced life in the shady, moist forests scooping up detritus and fungus. Banana slugs are the second largest slug in the world, growing up to about 8 inches.
The Slime – Anyone who has ventured into our Northwest forests have probably seen the trail of slime left behind by a banana slug. The slime serves three purposes for the slug —
Transportation – the slime produced provides a smooth way for the slug to glide over the forest floor. In addition, slugs can “rappel” down a vertical surface by means of a string of slime sent out from a port on their rear ends.
Hygiene – Slugs use their slime to keep clean. As it moves along, the slug picks up forest debris, which just keeps moving along on the slime to the rear of the slug. Once enough debris collects on his rear end, the slug can curl around and eat the debris!
Defense – When threatened, slugs produce extra slime to ward off predators or make them difficult to eat. Snakes have been caught with their mouths stuck shut after ingesting a slimy banana slug! So, even in death, the slug gets the last laugh.
Experience the banana slug
- Banana slugs are one of the slowest animals in the world, moving at a maximum speed of 32 feet per hour – that equals 0.006 miles per hour! As such, observing them is pretty easy… albeit a bit time consuming.
- Think kissing a toad is bad? Try kissing a slug. Their slime has an anesthetic quality to it that numbs the mouths of would-be predators. However, should you be brave enough to kiss or even lick a banana slug, your lips or tongue will also be numb for a short while, as many people have discovered. Even your fingers will be numb if you opt to hold one for a length of time. With no long term negative effects, it is the perfect way to test your love for slugs.
- Watch as the slug keeps an eye on you. Banana slugs have two sets of tentacles. The top set has eye spots which detect light. Each tentacle can move independent of the other. So, study the movement of the tentacles to see what the slug is sensing in his environment.
- A menace for vegetable gardeners, the most destructive garden slugs are smaller imports from Europe. It is helpful to remember that slugs love their beer! So, if you are having trouble with those pesky European garden slugs chomping your fresh vegetables, try creating your own pub by setting out a small dish with beer in it. At night, the slugs will cozy up to the bar for a sip of beer. While some will drink and drive away, others will fall in and drown.
- Northwesterners do love their slugs. In previous years, the town of Kingston, on the Kitsap peninsula, even hosts a slug hunt in which participants search for over 300 8-inch ceramic slugs hand-decorated by local artists hidden all over town.
- Banana slugs have a bizarre mating ritual. They are hermaphrodites, meaning that every slug is both male and female, and both can lay eggs after courtship and fertilization. They begin with a dance as they circle each other, lunging and hitting. They may stab each other with “love darts.” Finally, they end up connected and exchange sperm from structures that come out near their heads.
The banana slug is not the only slug leaving their slimy trails in our spaces. There are quite a few that were accidentally introduced to North America from other places. The leopard slug is quite striking, almost always found near where people live… gardens, lawns, and cellars.
If you have questions or comments about banana slugs, please contact us or post in the comments section.
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