Kids like to learn about the animals around them… and so do I! So I’ve decided to share some tales about the various forms of life (some green, some many-legged, and some a bit slimy) that I encounter in the urban jungle that surrounds us.
There’s no doubt about it: the Pacific Banana Slug is one cuddly little beast. Its scientific name, Ariolimax columbianus, betrays … well, it doesn’t betray all that much, really. Except for the fact that, as usual, scientists like to use Latin-sounding monikers when naming species. Well done, science.
The photo I took above is of a mostly yellow banana slug, but the Pacific Banana Slug can actually have so many black spots that it can appear black. (Though I’m willing to concede that this is a different species of slug, if someone feels up to the challenge of identifying it.) There are some who claim this means the slug has over-ripened.
Apparently, the Pacific banana slug is the second largest terrestrial slug in the world. And though there’s no prize for second place, I’d say it’s still quite impressive, as the slug is able to hit a disturbing 25cm in length. Not the longest slug in the world, no, but I’d still rather not wake up with one looking me in the eye. (Particularly since banana slugs actually have small teeth that they use like a nail file — a technique reserved, one hopes, for plant matter.)
As far as ecology is concerned, these guys like to eat dead matter on the forest floor, and have a particular taste for mushrooms, helping to spread spores as they eat and — from the other end — produce soil humus. (Not ideal for dipping tortillas, as some hummus might be, but packed full of nutrients nonetheless.) Sadly for the banana slug, they don’t do all the eating. Raccoons, snakes, and various birds like to eat them. But hey, who doesn’t like bananas, right?
So it’s a mixed bag for the banana slug. On the one hand, there’s no lack of food — plenty of rotting vegetation and mushroom can be found throughout the forest. But on the other hand, death is only a beak away. And, seeing that banana slugs are plentiful, birds are not the only ones partaking in this feast. Apparently, banana slugs have been used as food by Yurok Indians of the North Coast and by German immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with Russian River in California even having a yearly festival featuring slug races and a sharing of recipes. (Notably, the slugs with the least flavour — ideally, no flavour at all — tend to win the prize.) Read more about these tasty goings-on here.
Of course, nobody quite celebrates the banana slug like Sammy the Slug, the mascot of University of California Santa Cruz.
So, until next time, remember that even the lowly slug has its fans. And that, given the right background music, the life of a slug may, in fact, be quite exciting.