I find it amazing how one can go through life without ever noticing something, then once you learn about it, you see it everywhere. Kinda like buying a new car and then realizing just how many of that model are on the road. A month or two back I read a few books on snails and slugs for book reviews (I’ll share one next post) and now I am finding creatures I never knew about before all over my garden. Certainly they had been there all along, yet why had I been unaware?
I’m starting to become privy to the secret mollusk world in my garden, and it’s a kick (I know, I need to get out more).
I see banana slugs, the marauding European Arion, the tiny, but ever-so-damaging grey slug, but only last week did I come upon the giant garden slug. Sheesh—you’d think I’d have previously spied an almost 6” long slug with a pattern like a leopard! David George Gordon, in his The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane, notes that this slug can reach 8” long and travels four times faster than our banana slug. Limax maximus is not from around here and was discovered by the originator of our modern system of classification, Carl Linneaus in 1758.
This species can be carnivorous. In Land Snails of British Columbia, author Robert G. Forsyth, maintains that this mammoth mollusk is more likely to eat fungi and rotting organic matter than live plants. A positive thing from a gardeners perspective—especially since they can live 3-4 years. A banana slug might take a different position on this visitor.
The second creature to recently make itself known is Monadenia fidelis, Pacific sideband snail. What a pretty little thing. Actually, for a native snail, it’s large—just under the size of the dreaded common brown garden snail. Its shell, however, is flattened. It gets its name from the light and dark bands of nut brown, auburn and gold on its shell and lives from Alaska to Northern California.
I didn’t recognize it when I first noticed it in the Land Snails of British Columbia field guide but sure enough, a month later I spied it making tracks on the trunk of a vine as I was pruning. And wouldn’t you know, both my books indicate that the Pacific sideband overwinters in the crotches of trees and has been found as high as 21’ in the canopy. Naturally it was at home in the woody trunk of my Dutchman’s Pipe vine (Aristolochia durior). As I snapped its photo, I admired its sleek pinkish brown body.
I use slug traps filled with beer for slug control in the garden and they work really well at keeping the pest species down. Of course, it’s not the most pleasant of tasks to empty, clean and refill them, but it beats other forms of bait in price and is low in toxicity. I use the traps (I like the Surefire brand) in the spring (this year was so cold I didn’t need them until recently). In the arid summer, when humidity is low and temperatures are higher, the mollusks make themselves scarce. At that time of the year all I end up with in the traps are beneficial ground beetles and a few miscellaneous harmless insects. Better to just wash and store them when the weather warms and bring them out again with the fall rains; storing them again when we get regular frosts.
Luckily I don’t find many of the native species of slugs in the traps–and when I see the banana slugs in the garden, I remove them to the woods. I do find the imported Chocolate Arion slugs (in dark brown or beige), which do tremendous damage to my plants. When changed weekly to bi-monthly in spring and fall, the beer traps work wonders to keep these guys under control.
© Colleen Miko, 2011