Slugging it out
Slugging it out
Although I know that dedicated naturalists appreciate all creatures great and small and admire the way natural eco-systems work to maintain a balanced whole, I confess I have a problem: I find snakes beautiful, cherish my household spiders and am fascinated by beetles and bugs but – slugs! As the famous question has it, What is the point of slugs? And now, not content with ravaging my hostas, a slug – possibly more than one – has invaded my kitchen.
The first sign was a network of silvery trails. These mucus tracks allow the slug to travel around more easily and retrace its route: they’re wonderfully ingenious, I admit it – but not across my kitchen floor. Sneaking downstairs in the early hours I surprised our invader – only one so far – in mid-prowl. It was not a species I recognized, not black or brown or orange; this one was mottled green and yellow, a pattern rather like the kitchen carpet. Steeling myself, I captured it in a bit of kitchen towel and ejected it by the front door. Success! Alas, a few days later the trails reappeared. I’ve repeated the capture and ejection routine several times but either the slug hikes around to the back of the house and re-enters or else is succeeded by another. Or, horrible thought, more individuals lurk undiscovered in the kitchen. Our best efforts have failed to locate such a colony and only one slug appears at a time.
Actually our invader is not a hosta-muncher. It eats dead material (and, presumably, crumbs) and I find its kin in my compost bins. Britain is home to over thirty species of slug of which only four do damage in the garden. However, these are the most common and pose problems for the naturalist/gardener. My stepson in Wales swears by ducks – Khaki Campbells are best, he says, but this is not an option for most of us. I use a combination of methods: nematodes, watered onto vulnerable beds early in the season, special copper tape around pots and tubs, and beer traps, though the last are no fun for the squeamish to empty.
Less feeble-stomached friends go out at night with torch, collecting and disposing of the molluscs as they chew – probably the most effective strategy. One such stalwart friend had a surprise the other night. She found two large slugs, one black the other brown, forming a circle – head joined to head, tail to tail – around a large globe of white jelly. Slugs are hermaphrodite – each possesses both male and female reproductive organs – but generally they cross-fertilise. These two were exchanging sperm, and their mating would have continued for over an hour (during which time they remain clamped together like a limpet on a rock) had my friend and her torch not intervened.
Whatever our chosen pest-control methods we can be sure of two things: that encouraging slug-eating wildlife – hedgehogs, frogs, toads, beetles and birds will help in the campaign, while an indiscriminate use of slug pellets can be damaging to the gardener’s most important allies.