The Amazing Slug

By Anitra Sanchez

Rain, rain, rain. Seems like all it does these days is rain. But some crea­tures are thriv­ing in all this pre­cip­i­ta­tion. This is absolute­ly a ban­ner year for slugs.

No one, of course, is fond of slugs. Real­ly, what good are they? They eat holes in let­tuce and take bites out of toma­toes and, worst of all, they’re real­ly, real­ly slimy.

But if you take the time to get to know them, slugs have an unex­pect­ed friend­li­ness, or maybe it’s just curios­i­ty. If you ignore the slime and pick one up, it starts inspect­ing you almost imme­di­ate­ly. Prob­a­bly by feel­ing the warmth of your hand, the slug pokes lit­tle fin­ger-like anten­nae out of its wrig­gling body. The top pair are light sen­sors (sort of like eyes), and the low­er pair detect odors. To the delight of kids, the slug can mag­i­cal­ly retract these anten­nae and then prompt­ly stick them back out again, seem­ing to look you over with their long-stalked eyes. 

Slugs are gen­er­al­ly referred to as pests. Google slug,” and hun­dreds of sites pop up with some fero­cious­ly poi­so­nous ways of get­ting rid of them. Seems like no one likes slugs. They’re not crowd-pleasers like, say, fireflies. 

Every­one bemoans the fact that there aren’t as many fire­flies around as there used to be. But if you want fire­flies in your back­yard, then at least a part of that yard has to become fire­fly habi­tat. Lawns are not fire­fly habi­tat, espe­cial­ly if they’re mowed as short as a Marine’s crew­cut. Fire­flies need tall grass, so the more areas you don’t mow, the more fire­flies you’ll see. As lar­vae, fire­flies over­win­ter in leaf lit­ter, so the more leaves you leave unraked and the more gar­den you leave unti­died, the bet­ter. And here’s the amaz­ing thing — if it weren’t for slugs, we’d see even few­er fireflies. 

As adults, fire­flies have wings and can flit from place to place. Depend­ing on which species of fire­fly they are (and there are many), they might eat flower nec­tar or pollen. Some eat small insects, includ­ing oth­er fire­flies. But as lar­vae, fire­flies are earth­bound and con­fined to stuff they can find on the ground. And they’re car­niv­o­rous: they don’t eat plants. They eat worms and snails and — you guessed it — slugs. 

So even if you don’t fall in love with a slug when you look deep into its eyes, remem­ber that the low­ly slugs help keep the fire­flies sparkling. If you want a sum­mer night filled with fire­flies, you have to wel­come rainy days and slugs.

Fall 2019

Volume 37 , Number 3

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