BY FRED SEITZ
On a damp, coolish evening mid-September, I was returning from my short evening walk with my wannabe fierce dog. As we approached the front steps to our home, I noticed a strange dark-colored 6- to 7-inch tube-like form on one of the shingles.
After escorting my mutt inside, I went back out with a flashlight. The tube-like creature turned out to be a homeless snail, without a shell — alternatively known as a slug.
For sure, it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen, but then I don’t go looking for them too often. The beastie’s size suggested that it might be Limax maximus, which translates to “biggest slug.” Indeed, this beast is one of the larger garden slugs in the world. L. maximus is native to Europe but has hitched rides to many other parts of the world, clearly including Hyattsville. (Technically the Limax cinereoniger, or ash-black slug, is actually the largest land slug, which leads me to think the L. maximus just has a better publicist.)
After staring at him for a minute or so, I noticed that he (or she) seemed to begin moving down the shingle, perhaps to avoid my flashlight’s glare (which would be typical slug behavior). About 2 inches away from this whopper, I noticed a second, slightly shorter and thinner slug, who also seemed to be avoiding the spotlight.
Gardeners usually dislike slugs because of their tendency to eat many different types of vegetables and plants. Slugs have thousands of microscopic teeth, which they use effectively in their crusade against gardeners. I have noticed that many of my hosta leaves have been rather intensely gnawed, which I’m attributing to the efforts of slugs.
Slugs like to hang out in dark, damp places. I believe that this adaptation is to avoid drying out or being devoured by a bird, turtle or some other wandering critter. Also, they rely on their production of slippery mucus to help them get around.
The two pointy extensions on the head of the slug are called tentacles and serve sensory and reproductive functions. Upon learning of the reproductive function of slug tentacles, I wondered if the two slugs on the side of my house might have been out for a romantic evening. Slugs are hermaphrodites but will partner up to produce little slugs. Their eggs appear in clusters which may comprise several hundred young ones.
While slugs may not qualify as Halloween horrors to most humans, excepting hosta lovers and hardcore gardeners, they have been cast as creepies in a couple of TV shows and films. Creepy as we may find them, turtles and a few other of our local critters are glad to see slugs and have them (literally) for dinner.
As a public service announcement, I should mention that if a dog — including my wannabe fierce pup — eats a slug, it can do some really nasty things to their intestines. So if these hosta-gnawing horrors wander near your dogs, definitely shield Rover from taking a bite.