Finding purpose for slugs is a stretch

When Noah was getting ready to push off with his ark, the story goes, God told him to gather all the animals of the world “two by two.” That was a delicate way of saying that he was supposed to locate both a male and female version of each animal so that there would eventually be baby animals to ensure the continuation of each species. Fortunately, God didn’t have to explain the exact details of sex to Noah, who according to some sources fathered hundreds of kids of his own. That’s why God had to find something else for Noah to do.

Writer’s Block

When Noah was getting ready to push off with his ark, the story goes, God told him to gather all the animals of the world “two by two.” That was a delicate way of saying that he was supposed to locate both a male and female version of each animal so that there would eventually be baby animals to ensure the continuation of each species. Fortunately, God didn’t have to explain the exact details of sex to Noah, who according to some sources fathered hundreds of kids of his own. That’s why God had to find something else for Noah to do.

When I was a kid, my dad told me that when it came to rounding up slugs, Noah only needed to bring one aboard.

“Why was that?” I asked. “Because a slug is an hermaphrodite,” dad explained. “Oh,” I replied – and ran out to play.

After thinking it over for several months, I asked him who Herm Aphrodite was.

“It’s a creature that has both male and female characteristics,” dad said. “Oh,” I replied – and ran out to play.

A few years later, I asked dad a follow-–up question: “So does that mean that slugs are sort of like uncle Mike?” Dad nodded – and ran out to play.

The fact that slugs can mate with themselves is probably a good thing. They are so slow that if they had to go through the normal courtship process – going on dates, making out, foreplay – the species would have become extinct a million years ago.

Considering that slugs are so plentiful here in the Northwest, they’re probably not very smart, either. After all, in a place where gardening is so popular, slugs are practically Public Mollusk Number One. Even so, they choose to live in an area that is extremely hostile to their survival.

For example, slugs hate traveling across things in the garden like lava rock and bark chips. It irritates and dehydrates them. Coincidentally, I don’t like being in the garden for the same reason.

Master gardeners say that salt, caffeine, wine and beer are all fatal to slugs, making them the least fun gastropods to party with. Yet where do slugs choose to hang out? Why, right here in the land of sodium-laden restaurants (including one actually called “Salty’s”), coffee places, wineries and breweries. Let’s face it, slugs are just asking for it.

I tuned in a talk show recently where a woman slug expert was the guest. “True, slugs can be quite destructive in the garden,” she admitted. “But I think they are fascinating creatures.” I’m surprised Barbara Walters has never interviewed one.

“The way slugs are able to travel,” continued the expert, “is by gliding on the slime that their bodies produce. It is quite unique in nature.” Again, it’s a good thing they don’t need to date.

“Plus,” she added, “slugs can stretch up to 20 times their normal lengths, enabling them to squeeze through tiny openings in order to get at their food.” Sorry, ma’am, but none of that sounds all that appealing – although it would be kind of handy to squeeze through a keyhole if you accidentally got locked out of the house.

Unlike their cousins, the snails, slugs aren’t even good to eat. In fact, the Medical Journal of Australia recently issued a warning to the citizens down under not to eat slugs. And that includes the always-tasty slug-ka-bobs cooked on the barbie. Doctors say that some slugs carry a worm that can make people ill. So if the slug doesn’t get you, the worm will.

Around here, the experts say that it is actually OK to eat banana slugs, assuming they are worm-free. Banana slugs are those really big ones with the Chiquita sticker on the side. They can be as long as 10 inches or more. That’s a lot of slug to eat in one sitting, so it’s wise to save half for later. Incidentally, the official name for the banana slug is Ariolimax columbianus – which is the sound a human makes trying to choke one down.

So if slugs aren’t good food, maybe they’d make nice pets, especially for people allergic to dog and cat fur but not slime. In fact, maybe a slug could actually be taught to come when called.

Then again, who could wait that long?

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com


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