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Why Slugs? A short and simple explanation for why slugs are beneficial to your garden and the earth

This slimy yet beautifully patterned slug is the Leopard slug or "King Slug" (Limax Maximus), and true to it's name it is a 'predatory' slug that is out to eat other slugs.

This slimy yet beautifully patterned slug is the Leopard slug or "King Slug" (Limax Maximus), and true to it's name it is a 'predatory' slug that is out to eat other slugs.

Fun Fact: Fast Slugs

We might consider slugs slow, but apparently the Spotted Leopard Slug is one of the fastest slugs in the world, clocking in at 6 inches per minute or 1 foot per hour.

Slugs, snails and other gooey pests have a purpose on this earth too

It's really easy to say a "weed is just a weed" and a "pest is just a pest" and leave it at that. The only problem with that sort of ignorance is that it leaves gaps in your knowledge that could make or break the difference in your own health and the health of our dear planet earth.

It is the very same type of ignorance that has lead to the destruction of much of our planet. Most everything we've created or destroyed, started out with "good intentions", though because there were gaps in knowledge at the time, we didn't realize our actions would have such huge global consequences.

An obvious example is with Bees. For the longest time they were thought only to be vicious pests. Over time though, we realized they are an extremely important insect that we specifically cannot live without. If bees go extinct, we'll loose more than half of our global crops and be unable to produce enough food to supply the world, without creating some crazy expensive means of pollinating large scale crops of food. Sure, there are other bugs that help with pollination, but bees by far are one of the most important.

Bees are often killed by humans under the belief that they're "just pests", and because of certain irresponsible groups like Monsanto and Phillip Morris, all forms of bees are nearing extinction, including the most important Honey Bee.

And while people are certainly awaking to the plight of the bees and other beings that were formerly considered "just pests", I want to do my part and prevent the mistreatment and death of other insects, animals and beings that many people consider to be "just pests".

In this case, this hub is going to cover the Slug and some of it's cousins. Not in extreme detail, but in enough detail so that you can walk away from this hub understand more about the purpose of slugs, how they can help and harm your garden and in what ways you can learn to strike a balance with them that is mutually beneficial and not harmful to the earth.

Photo taken in the pacific northwest.

Photo taken in the pacific northwest.

Fun Fact:

Did you know that slugs are hermaphrodites? That means that they have both male and female sex organs. When they mate (which is more interesting to watch than you might think), they approach each in a mating dance that transfers sperm from one slug to the other, fertilizing the eggs that they will later lay.

This was discovered by several european scientists with an eccentric interest in our slimy friends, in the late 15th century and then later published sometime in the 16th century.

What is a "slug"?

This will be short and sweet, and possibly necessary for anyone who isn't clear yet, as to what exactly a slug "is" besides a slimy crawly creature.

To be specific, a slug is a type of (invertebrate) spineless "mollusc" without a shell. They are, in fact, just snails that have a thicker top layer of skin than their shell-encased friends. Other than the difference in shell though, slugs and snails, for all intents and purposes, are the same thing.

And just to be clear, what we know simply as a "slug" are shell-free snails found only on land and more commonly near gardens, on farms and in very moist environments. Slugs that are found in water are either "fresh water slugs" or "sea slugs". The only one who can hold the title of "just a slug" are those lovely ones that live on the mainland.

Interestingly enough for a curious mind, slugs get their name from the old english word "slugge" which was originally used to describe a lazy person, which is believed to have etymological roots in the Scandinavian words "slogga" (to be slow or lazy) and "slue" (to be "relaxed" or to "hang loosely") which also happens to be where we got the word "sludge".


Fun Fact:

Did you know that slugs have FOUR noses?

By most human standards, they wouldn't be considered 'noses' in the way we think about them, but these proboscises are definitely used for 'smelling'. Slugs use them to smell for potential poisonous chemicals in water and food, though that's not all. The reason they have four noses, is because they use them for more than just sniffing out good food and water. They also use their noses to smell heat and light.

Meet my pet slug?

Many people actually keep slugs as pets, and apparently, they can do quite well in captivity when under the care of meticulous slug lovers. If you've been looking for an interesting new pet, check out this online guide to the care and husbandry of your common garden slug.

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What do slugs "DO"?

You might be surprised, but this is actually one of the hottest search trends and has been for some time. Though it markedly saw an increase along with a higher interest in organic and natural gardening methods. We humans may be slow at times, but we catch on pretty quick and it's kind of a no-brainer to go with organic gardening over more modern methods.

If you're like me, you may have searched for the "purpose of slugs" because you have a garden or want to start a homestead and you want the best possible "ecosystem" a person could have in your area. Generally, that means letting nature do it's thing as long as it doesn't promote disease or other health issues.

For nearly 100 years, most gardeners have been focused mostly on the asthetic or monetary value, which has lent to the indiscriminate genocide of anything that appeared to be a "pest" or "weed".

In fact, until I found myself interested in local herbology and foraging, I was one of those people who just squashed anything that seemed like a pest and pulled up anything that seemed like a weed. Now, as I look back, I wish I hadn't done any of that. Not just because I believe all creatures and beings on this planet have the right to be here as much as we do, but because there were plenty of interesting and uber-beneficial plants and bugs around here that are now gone because I shamelessly killed them at the time.

Now, while I would love to go into immense detail of what I have learned, I also don't want to take up your entire day with this hub about slugs, so let's get back to the main topic of this module, which is to explain what exactly it is that slugs "do".

Some people seem to be under the impression that all slugs do is eat your beloved plants and then become accidental shoe lubrication. It's easy to believe this and never seek more knowledge, but that knowledge is vital and slugs, like all creatures, have a purpose.

Specifically, slugs have 3 main "purposes" in their lives, which are:

  1. Recycling plant and animal waste and leftovers - Believe it or not, one of the most important responsibilities slugs have, is to recycle plant and animal matter. What's that? You mean slugs are actually helping your garden? THAT'S RIGHT! In fact, all though it might seem invasive and rude at the moment, slugs are like maggots in the sense that they are more likely to go after plants that are already damaged (in ways our senses can't sense), diseased or about to rot. So if you find yourself with a "slug problem", keep in mind that it might not actually be the slugs that are the 'problem'. It's more likely that they are simply a symptom of a greater problem with soil or gardening methods. Slugs are scavengers by nature, and are more likely to go after fallen plant pieces, cardboard and dead animals before they'd head over to healthy crop or pretty flower. Though the thing to remember is that slugs are strong survivors, and are actually one of evolutions more adaptable developments. If slugs find themselves in an environment that is perfect for them in terms of moisture and plentiful hiddy places, they are more than happy to chow down on healthy plants. They are also generous eaters, as they grow and reproduce quickly, which means the more they eat the more they can proliferate. Slugs definitely LOVE to eat, which is part of why they got lumped in the "pest" category in the first place. They absolutely love fruits and vegetables that are ready to drop and rot. They also love fungi including mold and mushrooms and are great for keeping a check on any deadly species of either you might have in your yard. Slugs also enjoy anything that is rotting, dying or decomposing, which is why you'll often find them clinging tight to your garbage cans. It's a slugs primary function to help with the decomposition of all waste on the earth, which is why organic gardeners often encourage slugs and snails to party in the compost bin. In that way, they can be lumped together with other 'decomposition laborers' like maggots/grubs, flies, hornets/wasps, ants, rodents, coyotes, racoons and certain birds. These types of earthly beings could be considered to be Mother Nature's Janitorial Squad". And in this honorable role they make sure that seeds get spread farther and in better locations, and the rest becomes beneficial fertilizer for those seeds.

  2. Regulating plants, bugs and other slugs - A secondary responsibility of slugs is to regulate over-abundance. Anything in excess results in a negative. Plants, animals and insects are certainly not excluded from this rule. Once you have too much of anything, you have a problem and slugs are more than willing to do their part to help out with that, including becoming a predator themselves. Which is weird, isn't it? It's slightly strange to think of a slug as a mighty (and slimy) warrior of it's world, but they certainly can be. Some of the slugs favorite "live" meals are earth worms, In fact, slugs are so determined to do their jobs right, that there are certain species of slugs that specifically eat other slugs. And all slugs are known to turn cannibal anytime a friend or family members dies. Waste not, want not, I suppose. The Ghost Slug is one of the most notorious of the predatory land slugs and it even has a very sharp set of teeth for quickly devouring it's prey. Getting back on track, as stated above, slugs play the role of "mother natures regulators". They aren't just there to clean up, they are there to prevent messes as well. Interestingly enough, if it weren't for creatures like slugs, we'd have a much larger blackberry and raspberry problem than we do now, and anyone who lives near those types of invasive vines, knows that is really saying something. They are already a plant known to quickly take over miles of land in no time (when not managed) and to have a greater problem with them would be nearly impossible. Sadly, the slug is rarely recognized for the masterful art of regulation, since they are most often found "regulating" on farms and in gardens.

  3. To be food for predators - It may not seem like an important role to us or even to the slug itself, but becoming food is just as important as eating food. In this world, all creatures are both predator and prey (even if they don't hunt or hide); it strikes a balance amongst all things. In this case, slugs are often a main staple for birds, coyotes, moles, badgers, hedgehogs, mice, rats, dogs, cats, frogs. owls, snakes, racoons and yes, even humans. Generally, people prefer to only eat certain types of 'snails' voluntarily, though that isn't always the case. Native American tribes used to consider them a main staple in North America, and there many parts of the world where slugs are still considered a delicacy. It's also very well known amongst survivalists that a boiled slug is a fantastic meal that will help you survive. Slugs fit the perfect 101 status of a great survival food because they found just about everywhere (including desserts), they are super easy to catch, full of water and extremely nutritious. In fact, for the people who can stomach such a slimy meal, slugs can offer many benefits including aiding in weight loss, lowering inflammation and even reversing the effects of aging. One slug holds more protein than your average cheeseburger, and they are loaded with Iron, Antioxidants, Potassium, Fatty Acids and Sodium. This is part of why they are so valuable in the animal kingdom as food.
Most commonly found in the moister regions of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Most commonly found in the moister regions of Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Slug Folk Remedy #1: Wart Cure

In some cultures, it is believed that slugs can cure you of warts. To do this, a person only needs to let a black european slug crawl all over their wart(s), then hang the slug up where it is in direct sunlight. As the slug shrivels up and dies, so should your wart...

Fun Fact:

Slugs and snails are part of the "gastropod" species, which means "stomach foot". This makes sense as a snail has only a head, stomach and one foot (I bet you thought it was a tail and that they crawled on their stomachs!)

Slug Folk Remedy #2: Cure for Anemia

A folk remedy that has survived the times, is that a diet of raw slugs will cure a person of Anemia. And while the original remedy might be incorrect, the theory is not invalid. Slugs are rich in protein and IRON. Anemia is an extreme lack of iron or a deficiency in the bodies ability to produce iron, making this remedy almost correct. The only correction it really needs though is that you want cooked slugs and you want to avoid poisonous slugs.

Merlin may or may not have really said it first, but Issac Newton gets the credit...

Save the slug!

As if there weren't enough reasons to be nice to slugs listed above, here's a few more interesting things to consider before you squish that slug....

  • If modern evolutionary theories are correct, at one time, we were slugs. Sure, you've never been a slug in your life (sluggish maybe, but not a true slug), but it's entirely possible that as we evolved from water creatures into land mammals, we spent time as slug like creatures. It isn't likely that we would've been exactly like the slugs today, but because we can never really know how we evolved, there's no way of knowing whether or not current slugs might evolve into something much more interesting in a few million years from now.
  • Just as we didn't realize that our efforts to increase food production with synthetic pesticides would have such far reaching and detrimental effects as it has had on bees and other needed creatures, there is no way to know what the genocide of slugs could mean for our species and the rest of the world. Just because they are strong enough to put up with most of what we've thrown at them so far, doesn't mean they cannot be threatened with extinction, especially when you consider how many people could care less about them and end up squishing them just for fun or killing them from fear of garden harm or simply from disgust. Personally, I'd rather be safe than sorry and learn to live in compliment with slugs than to just kill them because they "don't seem to be that important".
  • Modern world hunger activists and nutrition researchers are playing around with the idea of encouraging people to eat slugs when they don't have the option of many other food sources. If we do away with slugs or find ways to continue poisoning them, that's anther potential source of solving world hunger that will be taken off the table (literally).
  • It has been found that some slugs (like the Banana Slug) might hold the torch that will illuminate the path to the cure for cancer. In fact, properties in the banana slugs slim are already being used to enhance the effects of certain cancer drugs.
  • Scientists believe that slime from certain slugs and snails can actually promote bone regeneration rather quickly, which could be good news for clumsy or injury prone people.
  • Depending on where you are in the world, you might be living near slugs that can actually help clear up all sorts of skin ailments including acne, dermatitis and cuts. And while I definitely don't recommend it, many people in Italy have found raw slugs to be great for clearing up stomach ulcers.