THE MOST TROUBLESOME GARDEN PEST?
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t hate slugs! I’ve been reading about them and how to be rid of them in every gardening magazine and weekend paper. How to squash, drown or poison them. Everyone has their favourite technique. What really worries me is the latest adverts for “wildlife-friendly slug pellets, harmless to pets, children and birds.” How can that be true?. Surely if a hedgehog eats a poisoned slug it will do it some harm?
My researches have uncovered some interesting facts which may help to sort out the baddies from the fairly harmless to gardens. For instance did you know that there are 24 species found in this country, and these belong to three groups? The shelled, the keeled and the round backed slugs.
The shelled slugs are carnivorous, feeding mainly on earthworms so they need not be regarded as enemies.
The keeled slugs come in all shapes and sizes and include the largest member of the group, the great grey slug, a species always more common around cellars and damp outbuildings. It feeds mainly on fungi. The mating habit of this species is quite interesting. The courting pair climb up into a bush or tree and then, entwined together, they descend on a rope of sticky mucous and mate while suspended in mid air!
The yellow slug which has steely blue tentacles feeds mainly on funghi and decaying matter so can be regarded as a useful ally. The netted slug – a small fawn and white one is the one often found chomping away at our seedling lettuces. It is one of the few species that eat green leaves and likes to taste all sorts of crops.
The next three species in the keeled group are Sowerby’s (dark grey with pale sole and keel), the smooth jet slug (similar but with darker keel) and the Budapest slug (brown or black with longitudinally striped sole and an orange or yellow keel). These three are basically subterranean and can do a lot of damage to root crops, including potatoes.
The last group includes the large black slug which occurs everywhere and eats more or less everything. However, it does relatively little damage in the garden. It secretes extremely thick strong mucus which is difficult to remove from your fingers! It has immense powers of contraction and can condense itself into a hemisphere if picked up. It then sways gently from side to side, looking like an animated prune! The rich chestnut coloured ones are regarded