Going Bananas with the Banana Slug

A walk in any one of our county’s 32 parks can provide you with a saturated experience of sensations. Depending on the season, you may enjoy the depthless silhouettes of trees against the Technicolor smear of cloud cover, fog blurs of ducks as they decoy amongst the tule reeds along the lake, whole worlds encapsulated in water drops upon tender tips of pine needles, or you may enjoy birds and bugs singing about their homes. Famed photographer Ansel Adams said, “I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.” Now, to some, the lowly banana slug may be a repulsive little critter, but as I took a brisk walk along the creek and nearly squashed one, I decided to take an up-close- and-personal look at the lowly little slug.

Scientists tell us that banana slugs are important species in an ecosystem since they consume detritus, including dead leaves and other plant material like mushroom spores, moss and even animal feces. Then, these industrious little dynamos, whose range is from southeast Alaska to central California, recycle their food into waste which is loaded with nutrients to fertilize the soil. Banana slugs, so called because they are often yellow with over-ripened banana-like markings, also come in other colors like green-tones with dark spots, depending on their diet.

Those who study mollusks (snails and slugs) tell us that these slugs can grow up to nine inches in length and move across the landscape at speeds of up to – wait for it – six-and-one-half inches per minute! This factoid makes them out to be one of the most sluggish (I couldn’t help it!) species on Earth.

Since slugs depend upon moisture for life, they can utilize extra slime production in dry periods, and become dormant through entering what’s called aestivation. Surprisingly enough, slug slime has been studied by scientists since slime can absorb water quickly, and up to 100 times its original volume. Slime also contains an anesthetic that numbs a predator’s mouth when it tries to eat the slug, making slugs unpalatable to many woodland creatures. Some enterprising raccoons have been known to roll a coating of dirt or detritus over a slug as a pre-dinner prep prior to consumption.

Banana slugs possess two sets of waving and retractable tentacles, with one set being their eyestalks which detect movement as well as light, and the other two, lower tentacles being chemical-detectors for touching and smelling. Luckily for the smart slug, if a tentacle is damaged or snipped off by a predator such as a snake, raccoon or other enterprising creature, it can grow back its tentacle.

Next time you are out and about in a moist and dark forest, be sure to scout around for the secretive banana slug and observe its interesting habits. Writer Willa Cather said it best, “This is happiness: to be dissolved into something completely great. “
Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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