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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Joys of Banana Slugs

By Lois Barton for West By

Posted on Dec 24, 2003

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"Slug," photo courtesy of Backyard Nature

When we came to live on this hillside 50 years ago banana slugs were a ubiquitous part of the environment. I'm not very familiar with their unique role in the ecosystem, but nobody likes them very much. They are ugly, slimy things about six inches long at rest, a mottled, yellowish color with brown spots much like an overripe banana.

When they crawled along they leave a slick, sticky trail behind. If you accidentally step on the trail your shoe is gummed up enough to pick up anything loose you stepped on next. If the toddler in the sand box get ahold of one his/her hands it is very hard to wash clean with soap and water. I won't even mention his face and clothing if his curiosity leads him to sample the taste of this fascinating new plaything.

A little research on the Internet explains about the slime. One adaptation enabling land snails and slugs to survive on land is their ability to produce plenty of slimy mucous. The trail they leave is pure mucous: the creature lays down beneath it as it travels. It prevents moisture in the animal's body from being soaked up by the dry terrain being crossed. It also protects the animals fleshy underparts from sharp objects. The big danger in the lives of snails and slugs is drying out. The web article explains that sprinkling slugs with salt causes the water to leave their bodies so they shrivel up fast . Mucous also comes in handy when a predator such as a toad snatches up a seemingly defenseless slug. The slug secretes such quantities of the stuff that after the toad chews a few times, it finds its mouth clogged with sticky, gooey slime.*

"Kitty & Banana Slug," photo by Lois Barton

But back to my story. Slugs of all kinds make themselves at home all around the yard and garden in damp weather. Banana slugs used to crawl up on the porch to sample the cat dish, and did the same in the barn to polish off the left overs on the cat pan there. I was amazed at their tough survival if an 800 pound cow's sharp hoof pressed one into the mud and manure at the barn door. It would surface when released apparently unharmed.

We tended to destroy one when we came across it. Cut it in two with a sharp hoe, or sprinkle it with salt and watch it dissolve into a puddle of slime. My grandson once reported that he had pinned 13 banana slugs in place on the same morning with a twig through each of their middles as he went up the trail through the woods to catch the school bus. This gives you a picture of the number one might encounter in a short space of time.

"Pumpkin with Slug at Mouth," photo by Lois Barton

Then came the gypsy moth scare in the mid 80s. Men were out here with a special light, carefully inspecting the fruit trees in our orchard. The area was sprayed by plane with BTk, a reputedly harmless agent. I have wondered if the plane overlapped our hillside in its various runs with the spray. Every season since, authorities have hung gypsy moth traps around our area during the summer months. Recent information from a trap supervisor is that there have been no moths found in our local traps. A department of agriculture entomologist recently told me that gypsy moths HAVE turned up this year in a residential part of the Crest Drive area in south Eugene. They plan to spray that area in the spring.

In a recent conversation with the entomologist I learned that # Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki is a bacterial pesticide that is activated and therefore effective only on caterpillars, butterflies or moths. Since banana slugs are molusks, they would not have been affected by the spraying. So now I have to give up my theory that spraying for gypsy moths was a factor in the slugs disappearance.

I have not seen any banana slugs on our hillside since that early spraying. My memory may be imprecise about the exact time when they disappeared about twenty years ago. At first, neighbors also noticed no such slugs around for a few years, but I have just learned they are present at my friend's home six miles away. The intervening miles contain a goodly amount of wilderness so maybe future generations of banana slugs will find their way back to this hillside if they are able to cross the blacktop pavement which separates us. And now a nearer neighbor reports that banana slugs began reappearing at their home a few years ago. There is no blacktop to interfere between that neighbor and our hillside. The entomologist speculated that some unusual weather or natural conditions caused the (probably temporary) local disappearance of our banana slugs.

This example of a disappearing creature raises my awareness of the reported extinction of many species which is widespread in the modern world. My lack of appreciation for the big slimy banana slug on my hillside does not justify its elimination from this ecosystem. While I've enjoyed its absence from yard and garden, I feel relieved to learn that they still have a place in our area.

* For more information visit: Backyard Nature

# Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurtaki

Copyright ©2003 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works

Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales

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84889 Harry Taylor Rd.

Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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