Photo of the Week – April 6, 2012

Here’s something I know almost nothing about:  Slugs.

I found this slug in one of our prairies yesterday morning, and managed to get a few decent photos of it.  Slugs are largely considered to be pests in gardens, but I’ve never heard any discussion of the ecological role(s) they might play in grasslands.

A slug on a pussytoes flower in the Platte River Prairies - Nebraska. What was it doing up there on the flower?

Sure, I know that slugs are gastropods that resemble snails without shells.  They have rasping mouthparts, eyes on tentacles, and leave trails of slime as they travel.  But what do they actually DO in prairies?  How important are they in the ecosystem functioning of a grassland?  My understanding is that most slugs I see are probably introduced species, but are they causing any negative impacts in prairies?

The best information I could find online was this field guide to the slugs of Kentucky.  I thought it was great, but certain members of my family found it wildly amusing that someone had made a field guide for slugs.  Those same family members seem largely uninterested in learning more about slugs, but I think they (slugs) are intriguing creatures, and would love to have someone feed me information on their ecological roles.

Anyone?

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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17 Responses to Photo of the Week – April 6, 2012

  1. Eleanor Bailey says:

    I too have wondered about slugs. They seem to be prolific in my back yard in Indiana. In the early mornings they will be traveling around the inside of my composter which is black and cone-shaped. Eleanor

  2. Pat Halderman says:

    I just finished reading a magic book called, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating”. An up close and detailed look at a snail’s life. I think you would enjoy it. Now we need a close look at a slug’s daily life. :)
    Love reading “The Prairie Ecologist”!
    Pat

  3. Laci says:

    I know that slugs have a “saddle” that is properly called a mantle and the “fingerprint” in the mantle is a useful ID tool to a point. This: http://www.fnanaturesearch.org/index.php?option=com_naturesearch&task=view&id=1487&cid=186 might be a handy starting point.

  4. James C. Trager says:

    I’m with you on not knowing myuch about these, but thinking what can be knonw worth knowing. Field guides can generate interest, and I am glad to know of this one. I’d like to try it out on a few slugs form my yard.

    • James C. Trager says:

      much, known, from – Always proof before submitting, especially when you’re as fumble-fingered a typist as I!

  5. Matt BS says:

    Here in western Oregon slugs can have a pretty big impact on our grassland restoration projects in the establishment phase. They mow down seedlings and leave big patches of bare ground which eventually fill in with weeds. A number of research papers address the role of these mini herbivores in CA grasslands, but I’m not sure how relevant they are for the mid-west.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks Matt. My impression is that you guys have pretty different slugs – and impacts – than we do in the grasslands here. I never see more than a few here and there in our sites, and they’re pretty small. Really interesting to hear and read about their impacts in the west, though…

  6. Karen Hamburger says:

    I know that my snakes like to eat them. I over winter spinich and lettuce in a cold frame every year and when I see the slime trails on the clear lid early on in the spring and I keep an eye out for my snakes. Inevitably I find one in the box and I dont have any more problems with slugs eating my salad crop.

    I also know slugs like beer. It is a common way to control them. And the snakes will eat the slugs that are marinating in the beer!!!! I hope I am not contributing to the delinquency of my snakes:^)!!!

    Basically I think slugs are grazers.

  7. James C. Trager says:

    I told a wildflower ID group this morning about the slug field guide. Result:
    **chuckles**
    and
    “Why is that one not on my shelf?!?!” **smirk**

    Conclusion: Slugs are funny.

  8. Karen Hamburger says:

    People in Califonia harvest snails and slugs and sell them to the local resturants!!!!

    So next time you see them…taste them!!!!:^)!!!! They might be yummie!!!

    And let me know what you find out! if they are good I will sell mine at the local farmers market this summer!!!!!! :^)!!!

    Karen

  9. S. Carter says:

    I love slugs! They are just so darn cute. I used to raise them and our land snails here. I need to start that up again. Thanks for the guide link.

  10. Charlotte Reemts says:

    In the most recent issue of Plant Ecology, there’s an article about slugs eating seeds:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/w03660257l541u35/
    They can eat only small seeds, but actually increased germination of a couple of species.

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