Feeling Sluggish

I encountered a Florida native slug this week (shown above) so thought it was a good time to dust off and republish my lost article on these interesting decomposers.

Dateline: September 2, 2011*

I live in Florida for seven years now and this week I saw my very first slug. Two in one week! Slugs are mollusks similar to snails but without an external shell.

Introducing the Florida leatherleaf slug (Leidyula floridana), a critter native to our fair state. Initially thought to be endemic to Central and Southern Florida, it has since spread northward and has also been found in Louisiana, Texas and northern Mexico which could indicate that it was found in more areas than the original records indicate or that it was spread via transport of goods from state to state.

Florida Leatherleaf Slug

This fellow (gal?) was a whopping 3.5-4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Slugs are hermaphrodites so I suppose it is a little of both! These critters are said to mostly live in natural, undisturbed habitats and as such are not of economic consequence. They rarely reach pest status although they do eat crops and ornamentals, given the opportunity. They have two pairs of tentacles, with the larger, upper pair bearing visual organs and the lower used for scent.

Their primary job is decomposition so I’m thinking that they are a good ally to have around. I discovered the first one underneath my sit-on-top kayak when I was dumping out some water. I wasn’t even exactly sure what it was, since it was in a “contracted” state. That is pretty much flat on the ground. The second was discovered by Chili, the Irish Setter who was nosing at it on the patio early in the morning where it was lounging in dampness along the drip-line from the gutter. Dampness must be their thing and appears to be vital to their habit needs.

Slug in contracted state, they flatten themselves out

Eaten by ducks, moles and shrews, a few other birds may partake in this <gag> delicacy. Other natural predators would be larvae from some insects, fungi and protozoa. Other species of slugs are eaten by frogs, toads, turtles, salamanders and snakes. Although mostly herbivores, there are some carnivorous species that will dine on other slugs or earthworms. They have their place in the food chain but I’m glad there is a huge gap between the links of slug and man.

The are quick to right themselves if flipped over

I flipped it on its back to get a look at the bottom and it was quick to twist and squirm right back over to right itself. The one on the patio didn’t seem to leave a slime trail like I remember those in New York doing. At any rate, rather than chance slime on the Irish setter, I gathered up my new found friend and placed him (her?) in the “dog free” area where it will hopefully break down some of the endless amounts of grass cuttings that are so typical of rainy season in Florida (it just never STOPS GROWING!) A little research indicates that they generally do leave a slime trail, so I must just have had a “Felix Unger” type. Lucky me!

The bottoms are smooth. This one covered in clippings it is breaking down

Once again I find another species in my beautiful wildlife garden. Nature never ceases to amaze me with the vast fauna it provides.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 2, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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