They come out at night, and in the morning, you will see glistening lines of mucus sometimes going in erratic and random directions – I wonder if they lose their way or perhaps catch a new smell and head off, only to lose it again, and go back the way they started?
These creatures are common garden pests belonging to the category of molluscs. They are classified as gastropods, ‘gastro’ meaning stomach, and ‘pods’ meaning foot – a pretty accurate description really, stomachs shuffling along on one foot.
Both slugs and snails have two upper tentacles that protrude from their foreheads. Used for sight and smell, they carry eyes on the tips.
Shorter, lower tentacles extending down from their heads are used for touch and taste.
Slugs and snails are hermaphrodites - they can be male and female at the same time. I idly wonder how this happened… was a lone snail looking for love in a barren landscape, and saw another snail on the horizon, but was so disappointed when getting up close and personal to find they were the same sex that our little love-sick mollusc decided ‘okay, today I will be Sharon’, and send out the right signals to offload some eggs?
Who knows. It’s just nature’s way of being flexible, to ensure the species continues I guess.
While one or two slugs or snails may not seem like much, populations can increase quickly, and as every slug or snail can lay up to six egg batches annually with as many as 80 eggs per batch, with each one maturing in three to six months - left unchecked, that’s hundreds of new pests each year, multiplied by every slug or snail in your garden.
Snails’ protective shells also influence their location. To form shells properly, snails need calcium, which they get primarily from soil. This need limits their range to areas where natural soil and weather conditions combine to keep soil calcium rich. Obviously, the ones in my garden must be lacking in calcium, as when I walk the dogs out in the dark I feel the squishy crunch when I step on a fragile shell (it was probably Romeo hot-footing it to meet Juliet. Well, I just saved it the possible disappointment of meeting another Romeo!)
Both slugs and snails do well in warm humid climates, and just wait out the winters in hiding spots that protect them until the weather warms up again, but are clever at hiding when it gets too hot and dry.
In addition, garden snails are as edible as those found in restaurants, and it’s not an uncommon sight to see people collecting them in empty water bottles after a shower of rain. Organic free-range snails! – though I understand French chefs would favour the larger cultivated escargot to serve with their garlic butter.
If slugs or snails move into your garden, you can protect your plants from the damage they can cause. Slug pellets contain harmful chemicals and to my mind, are best avoided. Other methods can be used - coffee grounds spread around plants are a deterrent, as are eggshells crushed up, and some say a plastic pot buried in the soil filled with beer works, but I would be afraid my dogs would enjoy this too much!
You can also plant lavender, mint, rosemary, and other companion plants that keep snails and slugs away. Diatomaceous earth (a type of powder made from the sediment of fossilized algae found in bodies of water) is another way to keep them away, and of course, bands of copper round pots or plants – they don’t like to touch the copper as a chemical reaction happens when they crawl over the metal, which causes unpleasant feelings on their skin. That’s the theory, anyway. My way is a lot less technical – any I find just get a short flying lesson over my garden wall.