|limax maximus, the leopard slug|
For years now, we've worked at chemical-free slug eradication in our yard. We plant our vegetables in raised beds. (This is supposed to be a mild deterrent.) Between those beds we've lined the paths with yards of hazelnut shells. (Supposedly the slugs would rather not crawl over the jagged edges. I've heard eggshells are similarly useful.) We've got chickens. (Who eat at least the slugs that wander into their appointed area.) We put out little cans of beer amongst the most desirable fauna. (The slugs can't help getting a taste of even the nastiest, cheapest swill - which is, of course, what we put out there - and they drown in the cans.) But still, our yard is infested with these plant munching critters. They can decimate five basil starts in about two days. They love spinach and lettuce and my primroses look like swiss cheese.
That's why I've begun late night slug hunting. Yup, slug hunting. When the Spring shoots emerge each year and I begin to see them nibbled to the stems, I get out my gloves, my trusty flashlight and an old cottage cheese tub and I head out into the nighttime garden. Slugs are nocturnal you see. They come out in droves a few hours after the sun sets and I find them leaving their slimy trails on the patio, up the sides of pots and ravaging the potentials of my summer salad bar. In about 10 minutes I can rustle up about 40 of the beasties. About 90% of those I find are Leopard Slugs, also known as "great slugs" or "great grey slugs" ("limax maximus" for those scientific types). They're quite pretty as slugs go actually and they're speedy little guys (I've read they travel at the awesome speed of six inches per minute). I've collected about 200 of them over the past month or two.
What's been especially interesting about the evening stalking has been finding not only a variety of small snails and numerous slugs but discovering all the other cool critters that also inhabit our midnight garden. I wish I could take pictures of what's going on out there in the dark. There are centipedes, millipedes, beetles of various sorts and, the first night I went out, I nearly jumped out of my skin when out of the corner of my eye I saw startled massive worms suck themselves under the soil when the beam from my flashlight caught them unawares. Those things were huge! Like eight inches long and as big around as a permanent marker! I don't know what I thought it might be when it shocked me so intensely that first time but I was out there in the dark with unfamiliar shadowy figures skittering here and there and I was taken unawares.
Since that first night, I've come to especially love the quick, slimy worms and their dash for safety. I've even come to appreciate the beauty of the slugs I so despise (although not so much that I'm leaving them to range free...in the morning they make the brief acquaintance of a few chicken friends of mine). I also feel like I'm coming to understand things about my garden that I never otherwise would have. It's an incredible, dynamic, kind of magical, insect paradise in my back yard in the dark.
Probably in yours too.
Got a flashlight?