So, What Are They Actually For?

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We have lived in this house for forty years now and we have always had slugs, but never before in these numbers. They have appeared in a huge variety of black and orange, smooth and scaly, spotted and striped, big and small – and all looking like they have been regurgitated by a gull. Where are they all coming from? Behind us is farm land. It has been fallow for a couple of years, during which time, I suppose it could have become a gastropodal nursery. It is about to have houses built on it. Are the slugs fleeing the scene in numbers which I can only describe as biblical? Well, I’ve looked over the back fence and I can see no evidence of an encroaching slimy tsunami. The carpet of green and leafy weed does not appear to have been ravaged in the same manner as the foliage in our own (formerly) verdant plot. Besides, the builders haven’t arrived yet – is it even possible that slugs have foresight? I am certainly unaware of any eminence they may have in pre-planning circles. I question this perspicacity.

So, if they haven’t migrated here from the soon-to-be building site in anticipation of an imminent eviction, why have they suddenly decided to foregather in such numbers – and why in my garden? Have I, perhaps, introduced a new gastronomic morsel to my garden that is irresistible to the gastropod palate? Have I, perhaps, stumbled upon the slug equivalent of mashed avocado on toast? In short, I think the answer is ‘No’. It is a long-established garden and, save for the pots and baskets, filled almost exclusively with perennials. No new dishes have been added to the menu. There has been no spike in my Michelin rating.

I am certain that climate change is a factor – wet and warm does seem to suit the terrestrial mollusc rather more than it suits its natural predators: the hedgehog and the thrush. Both of these beautiful creatures are increasingly rare visitors to my garden now, and it’s a real shame because boy, could they plump up for winter. I resist the lure of slug pellets, lest they have a second-hand effect upon the slug consumers. In their absence, my efforts at slug control are definitely beginning to flounder.

I was once told to salt slugs, but the effect was so dramatic and so grotesque that I have never been tempted to repeat it. You would need a heart of stone and a cast-iron constitution to tackle the problem in that way. Anyway, the sheer numbers would pose a severe threat to the salt supply for the Highways Department in the winter – not to mention the blood pressure of any hedgehog that might happen to stumble upon the over-seasoned remains. So, a brush and pan is my main means of mass-collection, before bagging and dropping into the bin, from where they can be transported to their new home at the landfill.

I have noticed though, that whilst the slug population has boomed Chez McQueen, the snail population has diminished to a similar degree. Are slugs and snails, perhaps, competing for the same food source and the slugs, unencumbered by heavy household arrangements and therefore more fleet of foot (Foot? I’m not sure, I’ll have to check that out*.) getting there much more quickly than their principal competition? Perhaps I see shadows of our own society. I know that slugs and snails are closely related biologically. What if slugs are, in fact, snails that have not yet managed to get a foot on the housing ladder? That would explain everything. Except that I keep on finding empty snail shells and I keep on leaving them where the slugs foregather and, to my knowledge, not one of them has ever taken up vacant possession. Perhaps, like elsewhere in this world, they have discovered that they’re better off with mum and dad after all…

*Just did. A slug is a gastropod which means ‘stomach foot’. Not sure it’s how I would choose to imbibe my bouillabaisse, but hey, it’s nature…

16 thoughts on “So, What Are They Actually For?

  1. -I’d be curious to see how a slug would fit in a snail shell. Would it loop round and back out again? Or grow a knobbly bit to fill the shell? What shape is a snail without a shell? As always you’ve got me thinking…

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  2. No previous blogger has provoked such a prodigious quantity of cackles and snorts from this biped. You make writing seem so easy!


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