Leopard Slug

Invertebrates don’t capture out attention much.  Invertebrates are creatures without a backbone, which of course covers insects, but some other creatures too.  You may have seen this one in your garden- as a matter of fact, I’ve seen many more of these near my front door than in the wild.

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Slugs spend most of the day hidden under things, but they come out at night or in rainy conditions

Slugs are land-dwelling molluscs without an obvious shell.  Snails of course carry their shell homes on their backs, but slugs are soft-bodied- though there are exceptions that we’ll talk about later.  They eat just about everything, and are sometimes classified as detrivores- a creature that eats dead plants and fungi.  This is a very useful thing for them to do.  Unfortunately, they also eat garden plants and crops, and are considered pests by many people.

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Leopard Slugs are a common slug found over much of the world, having spread from its native Europe.  These are the slugs I see the most of, even though they are nocturnal.  They have spots and stripes that give them their characteristic pattern.  They can grow to be 4 to 8 inches long, which is a good-sized slug.

It all started with the Rose of Sharon bush next to my front door.  I would see the occasional slug eating fallen flowers from this bush.  When I started feeding birds and squirrels unsalted peanuts, I noticed that this attracted even more slugs, who would saw away at the peanuts I left laying around.  They would repeatedly head straight towards the places where I left these peanuts- smart little things!  I’m thinking I created a very local population boom, because there were a good amount of slugs around suddenly.  I’m fine with this since I’m not a serious gardener.

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This picture was taken at night with a flash- hungry slugs caught eating fallen flower blooms

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Leopard Slugs are almost always found around human habitations (with the curious exception of Ireland, for whatever reason).  They seem to be thriving around my place!  They live an average of 2 to 3 years.

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A young slug near an adult climbing a wall

An interesting fact about these creatures- they have a small shell inside their bodies.  Perhaps this is an ancient remnant of a shell home they used to carry on their backs.

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Slugs enjoy rainy nights

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When the weather is dry, slugs will take a dip in my little birdbath

Leopard Slugs have both male and female organs for reproduction.  Check out YouTube for many film clips of their remarkable mating ritual!

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Notice the round indentation on the right side of the above-pictured slug.  This is its pneumostome, or ‘nose’ hole.  Slugs are rather different than you or me in more ways than one.

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This slug climbs a metal pole…

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Near the pole, another slug has found peanuts on a wall- note how it looks almost transparent in the light

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It looks like the slug is trying to reach the wall from the pole as if it senses food…

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Slug meets slug…

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One slug pulls in its antennae (or ‘optical tentacles’)- a defense mechanism when it encounters another moving thing

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You’ve probably noticed slug trails on pavement before- this is a mucus secreted by the slug to make its sliding movement easier.  It also may be a signal to other slugs.  The mucus also acts as a defense mechanism against predators.

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Here’s a slug out in the wild- they’re out there, too

Overall, slugs are a vital part of the ecosystem.  They are part of nature’s clean-up crew.  I know they can be aggravating to gardeners, but remember, we all have a place in the grand scheme of things.