By Rich Edwards
Too much talk about Big, Bad Things. Let’s talk about a friendly native, the banana slug. Yes, native! Do not mistake the banana slug for those voracious, slimy European slugs. Banana slugs come in bright yellow, slate-green, or white and with or without black spots. They are much more beautiful than the lowly European slug that is just black, brown or reddish with numerous ridges and grooves on its dorsal side. And the banana slug is credible in size, up to twelve inches long, while the puny European slug measures in at a mere two and eight-tenths to six inches long.
They prefer to eat living and decaying vegetation, such as roots, fruit, seeds, bulbs, lichen, algae, fungi, delicious scat, decomposing carcasses, gourmet mushrooms, and even poison oak. In other words, they are the clean-up crew. They prefer the forest floor, but if humans intrude, they will wander over to a garden to feed. But, if you have signs of slugs nibbling on your prized flowers or vegetable garden, don’t start killing off banana slugs. Instead, look toward their European cousins, they are probably the culprits.
Their reproductive life is pretty interesting too. They are hermaphrodites, but can mate with one another. Their sexual orientation does not seem to hinder their productivity, producing up to four hundred eggs a year. These pearl white eggs take up to 3-8 weeks to hatch, but hatching requires a moist environment. They are hatched colorless, but within a few days begin to get color and spots. They live for years.
Their slime plays an important role in movement, defense, water retention, and, yup, reproduction. The slug travels on the slime with the suction between the body and slime enabling it to stick to slippery surfaces and even upside down. Not surprisingly, the slime also protects them from being eaten by most animals.
During the daylight hours, slugs seek places that are shaded and moist, such as a hole in the ground, under a log, leaves, or rocks. Since slugs are solitary animals, they don’t congregate in these hiding places.
Banana slugs are not without predators. They may be preyed upon by ducks, geese, moles, shrews, garter snakes, crows, salamanders and raccoons… and hopefully not humans.
The next time you see a banana slug, take the time to marvel and thank them for being so effective in their role of cleaning up.
Source: The Banana Slug by Alice Bryant Harper (Editor’s note: This book is a great little gift to give to a gardener or an avid woodland hiker.)