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Slug Slime

Most of us who have encountered slugs know that if you handle one, the slime it produces on the lower surface of its body persists on your hands even when you wash them with soap and water. (If you let the slime dry and rub your hands together, it will come off in small beads.)  Slug slime contains water, mucus and salts. It keeps a slug’s skin moist, preventing it from drying out, and aids in locomotion.

Slug slime changes as the slug moves. Initially it has the consistency of a liquid gel.  It is solid at rest and turns to liquid under pressure.  A slug sticks part of its body to the ground with its slime, uses its muscles to move its body forward, and then pulls its body away from where it was stuck. More slime is released and the process is repeated.  It’s interesting to note that slugs are strong enough to move without the aid of slime, but nonetheless are always producing it.

Slug slime has its good and bad points. Scientists are studying slug slime properties in their search for a better surgical adhesive. Most substances are either flexible or sticky, not both, like slime.  On the other hand, there are some aspects of slug slime that are not all that appealing.  In addition to being next to impossible to remove from your hands, slug slime can carry rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), a parasitic roundworm that mainly lives in rodents such as rats and can infect slugs (and snails) that come into contact with infected rodent feces.  This disease can cause a form of meningitis which is prevalent in Southeast Asia and tropical Pacific islands.

(Photo:  Two slugs & bubble of slime. Nature of activity not determined! Thanks to Alice Trageser and Mary Landon for photo opportunity.)

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12 responses

  1. osgoodjill

    I’m guessing that what you are seeing in the photo may not be slime, but the male organ that comes out of each slug’s head when they mate. It’s most likely covered with slime, though!

    September 21, 2020 at 9:39 am

  2. Libby

    Oh…slug slime may carry lung worm? I wonder if that can transmit to my chickens who eat slugs. Hopefully hens do not become infected….. Is there any information on that????

    September 21, 2020 at 10:10 am

  3. Leah Goat

    Thank you for this wonderful yin and yang image from nature!

    September 21, 2020 at 10:16 am

  4. Clara Mulligan

    Mary, Slugs also carry a parasite that impacts deer. The meningeal worm enters the digestive tract either by eating the slug or the slime, travels through the stomach wall, gets into the nervous system and lives around the brain without hurting the deer. It reproduces from there. However, if a sheep, goat or alpaca ingests it, the parasite doesn’t know what to do, and ends up in the spinal cord, resulting in various kinds of paralysis. One of my sheep just had it – she was not able to get up and stand. I treated her with a heavy dose of wormer, and now three weeks later she is in pretty good shape.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing work! Clara

    On Monday, September 21, 2020, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: ” Most of us who have encountered slugs know that if > you handle one, the slime it produces on the lower surface of its body > persists on your hands even when you wash them with soap and water. (If you > let the slime dry and rub your hands together, it wil” >

    September 21, 2020 at 10:47 am

    • Alice

      That’s so nasty. Parasites do a lot of harm. I’m glad your sheep is feeling much better.

      September 21, 2020 at 11:18 am

    • Thanks so much, Clara. So glad your sheep is recovering. Sounds like a nasty parasite!

      September 21, 2020 at 1:30 pm

  5. Alice

    Slugs look like they are cuddling.

    September 21, 2020 at 11:18 am

  6. Bill on the Hill

    I see a commenter explains this may be the slugs sex organ, whatever it is, they both appear to covet it!
    Most slugs I have encountered are of the all white variety & typically in a curled up position…
    Bill…:~)

    September 21, 2020 at 12:08 pm

  7. Clyde

    Is this where the term “slime ball” came from? Activity not determined. MMMM I’ll bet Mary will be out doing research into slug activity soon.

    September 21, 2020 at 1:21 pm

  8. Mary Is this the lungworm that has infected sheep In the area this year?

    On Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 9:36 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > > > > > > > Mary Holland posted: ” > > > > Most of us who have encountered slugs know that if you handle one, the > slime it produces on the lower surface of its body persists on your hands > even when you wash them with soap and water. (If you let the slime dry and > rub your hands together, it wil” > > > >

    September 21, 2020 at 6:38 pm

  9. Well Yuck! I can always see their trail left behind when they have travelled across my pathway boardwalk, and other places but most obvious there! 😦

    September 22, 2020 at 3:04 am

  10. This is so interesting! I must admit that I have tended to just think “yuck” when I come upon a snail in my garden, and then gingerly pick it up and toss it out into the middle of my lawn,trying not to get much slime on my fingers (and wondering how long it will take it to make its way back to munch on my plants again). Now I’ll have to consider moving it to a spot where I can observe its method of locomotion more intentionally; and I’ll try letting the slime dry on my fingers, and then rolling it into little balls.
    As for your beautiful yin-yang slug image – spectacular!

    September 22, 2020 at 10:55 am

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