Thursday, June 11, 2009

Slugs

You know it has been overcast, cool, and raining a lot (this is supposed to be June not April) when the slugs are gliding through the grass at mid-day. Slugs are interesting, but if you search for information on the Internet all you get is how bad they are and the various ways to kill them because they will eat your garden. Many of the sites include chemical controls, which I ignore. My favorite recommendation was for "good garden sanitation." More on that later.

First, let me introduce the slugs in our yard. I tried to determine the species, but could not find a good source on slug identification. When you Google "slugs" you get a lot of unrelated stuff. Anyway, this may be a common garden slug, and it may be native to Europe, not the U.S. If anyone reading this is a slug expert please comment on your best guess for species.

Okay back to the slugs, these snails without shells. Here "it" is. Yes, they are or can be both male and female. They are hermaphrodites or better known today as "transgender." Alright, here is the smooth, yellowish-brown naked mollusk.

The head is to the left. The two dark blue antennae or "optic tentacles" are used for smelling and seeing. The top half by the head is the "mantle," which in other mollusks is what creates the shell. Somewhere underneath is a guillotine jaw and a scraper-like set of teeth for chewing through plants, fungi, and decaying matter. They are true composters. A blowhole for breathing, more scientifically known as a pnuemostone, is located somewhere on the side of the mantle.

In Spanish they are called "babosas" from the verb "babear" meaning to drool. And that they do. They excrete a mucus or slime that serves many purposes. It helps them glide along without harming their tender feet; remember no shell. It prevents them from drying out and leaves a slime trail for mates to follow and so they can re-trace their "steps" to a food source.

Slugs move slowly and mostly at night, except when they move on cold, wet June days.

Okay, on to the tips for good garden sanitation....
  • Avoid watering gardens at night, since slugs like things moist; morning watering allows plants to dry before nightfall
  • Plant veggies and flowers with good air movement and ventilation between plants; crowding invites slugs and they especially love hostas
  • Stake tomatoes and other fruit-laden plants to keep leaves and fruit off the ground
  • Encourage robins, toads, turtles, ground beetles, shrews, and garter snakes, all predators of slugs, as are ducks and chickens
  • Apparently containers filled with stale beer buried at soil level are effective at capturing slugs
  • Since slugs move so slowly it seems quite easy to pick them up and dispose of as necessary if creating havoc in the garden, otherwise seems fine to let them be
As the rain and clouds persist, this might be Slug Fest Week in New Hampshire.

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