Notes from a Musky Trail Hiker #1: A Plug for Slugs
It’s less like exercise, and more like exploration. Each week I will share some biology observations from my hike on the Musconetcong Wildlife Management Area trail in Asbury.
This morning I observed slugs hanging out on skunk cabbage leaves. Being… well… slugs, they were easy to photograph. A good first subject. Let’s see…what do I know about slugs? The first thing that came to mind was an old joke I heard years ago – that slugs are snails who have gone through a divorce. “Yep, she got the house.” They are both mollusks, but the slug is not disadvantaged by a lack of shell. A shell slows down a snail; whereas, the slug can zip around and slide into small crevices. Their main survival strategy is their icky, sticky slime – which makes it harder for predators to make dinner out of them.
I wondered if slugs could be consumable protein if I ever found myself in survivalist mode. A quick Google search told me that the answer is ‘no’. There are reports of people getting sick from brain-invading parasites after they ate slugs, apparently inadvertently. Note to self: another good reason to wash and check my fresh produce.
Even though slugs evoke an “ick” response from most of us, they have their merit. We environmentalists are all about recycling and the slug is an excellent recycler. They feast on delicious, decaying organic matter and return it back to the earth as fertilizer. Scientists at Ithaca College have also studied slug goo to see if it could be a model for medical adhesives, replacing stitches and staples in some applications. Biomimicry – looking for nature-inspired solutions – fascinates me.
In my final plug for the slug, you have to admit that a creature with eyes on stalks reminiscent of submarine telescopes is just kinda’ cool.