In support of banana slugs

By Janet Carroll | Mar 28, 2012
Courtesy of: Janet Carroll Wilbur the banana slug.

 

I must admit to thinking slugs had no redeeming qualities. But then there was Wilbur, the banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus). I named it Wilbur before I knew slugs were hermaphrodites.

Wilbur is a big, tan slug with large black blotches and often appeared on my driveway or sidewalk. Since banana slugs are the only native slug on my property that I know of, I leave them alone.

When I do see Wilbur, I try to find something for it to eat, like maple flowers, leaves, mushrooms and things like that so he would be too full to eat my plants. I am happy to have Wilbur around my house.

This year I have seen six different banana slugs; five with spots, two without.

When Wilbur came on the scene, I decided I wanted to learn more about slugs.

As you probably know, there are a lot more slugs than banana slugs around our homes and other than the Wilburs of our area, they are imports from Europe or Asia often having been brought in on nursery plants.

Around my house there are slugs that are black, brown, reddish brown, tan and orange, all of which I think are the genus Arion, but I am not sure what species they are. There are several species of this genus in many sizes and colors, but I am not inclined to investigate further.

I also have the great gray garden slug (Limax maximus). This slug is grayish tan with stripes and/or spots and to me is unbelievably ugly. But maybe some of you will appreciate it because it cannibalizes other slugs.

Slugs play an important role in our ecosystem. They are the vacuum cleaners of the forest floor turning detritus into nitrogen rich feces that provide nutrients to the soil. Sounds like a fat, slimy, above ground earthworm to me. And we all love earth worms.

My dilemma has been how do I keep the banana slugs and get rid of the non-native slugs.

Approaches like putting out “Sluggo” or beer to get rid of slugs are non-selective. Additionally, I found that the squirrels and crows love Sluggo and Sluggo-type products, and eat almost all the pellets I put on the ground.

Using salt to kill the slugs did not appeal to me, although, I admit to having done it. Do you know what actually happens when you put salt on a slug?

This is what they say in The Western Society of Malacologists Field Guide to the Slug: “The salt creates an ionic imbalance, which impels the animal to crawl out of its own slime and rapidly dehydrate. Because the slug’s body surface contains numerous nerve endings, salting causes undue pain for the slug.”

What I do is just kill them by squishing them. Do I get rid of the slugs by this approach? No. I have them every year, and they love my salal, devil’s club, lupine, star-flowered Solomon’s seal and other plants.

I used to toss banana slugs down into the ravine thinking they would stay put on the forest floor where they naturally are found. And I still do that if I see a banana slug approaching one of my favorite plants, but now I walk them down instead of tossing them.

If there were only our native banana slugs around, we would have much less slug damage. Now are you convinced to differentiate between slugs and leave the banana slug alone?

Maybe since our community is a certified wildlife habitat, we could work on becoming a banana slug refuge. I am sure we could get some recognition from slug lovers everywhere. Yes, they do exist.

A good source of information on slugs is the book by David George Gordon called “The Secret World of Slugs and Snails, Life in the Very Slow Lane." It is in the library.

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