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Posts tagged “Mollusca

Slug Scat

slug & scat 066Slugs produce lots of mucus – some covers their whole body and makes it difficult for them to be picked up by a predator, some forms a “slime trail” that aids them when they are moving, and some envelopes their waste. After a slug has eaten and digested food (a wide variety of plants, fungi, earthworms and carrion), a mucus string of scat leaves through its anus, which is hidden under the leathery patch called a mantle, located just behind its head. The odd position of this opening is a result of the slugs’ evolutionary descent from snails. In a snail this opening must be outside the shell, and thus is far forward on its body. (Congratulations to Jean and Michele for their spot-on guesses.)

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How Slugs Eat

9-18-13 slug radula 262No-one needs a description of the damage that slugs can do in a garden, but the exact way in which they do the damage is quite unique. They actually do not have mouthparts as such, nor do they possess teeth as we know them. They, like most molluscs, have a radula, or rasping tongue-like organ with which they procure food. A bit of cartilage, the odontophore, forms the core of the radula. The rest of the radula consists of a band, similar to a conveyor-belt, covered with thousands of tiny tooth-like protrusions called denticles. The band moves over the odontophore, rasping away particles of food and moving them back into the slug’s gullet. The pictured slug was making short work of a mushroom.

ADDENDUM TO YESTERDAY’S POST: After several reader comments and self-reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that yesterday’s post could well be black bear, not raccoon, vomit. While all I found in the cornfield were signs of raccoons, it was a huge field, and I may have just missed bear sign or the bear may well have visited another field prior to getting sick. The amount of vomit was so large that it would have taken a giant raccoon to have left it. Both of these animals feed voraciously in the fall in preparation for winter — black bears can double their weight prior to denning.

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Slug Mating Behavior

9-2-13 slugs 035Slugs are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female organs; most species mate, however, with one slug pursuing the slimy trail of another. If a slug is in mating mode, there is a chemical that is present in its slime that conveys this information to other slugs. When two receptive slugs first encounter each other, there can be extensive interaction prior to mating. The pursuer often mouths the tip of the tail of the slug it’s pursuing (see photograph) to confirm that it’s receptive. The pursued slug may shake its tail vigorously to signal that it’s not interested, in which case they go their separate ways. If the leading slug is receptive, however, mating eventually takes place, with sperm being transferred from each slug to the other through penises that extend half the length of their bodies. During this process, the sexual organs are entwined; occasionally, in some species, the organs get stuck. If this happens, one slug gnaws off the other’s penis in a process called apophallation. The penis is not replaced and the slug lives the rest of its life as a female. (The opening you see on the side of the slug is its respiratory opening, or pneumostome.)

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Snail and Slug Eggs

Snails and slugs are very similar, except for a slug’s lack of a shell.  Both are hermaphroditic, possessing male and female reproductive organs.  In some species an individual may behave as a male for a while, then as a female. In a few species, self-fertilization occurs. Some species mate and lay eggs in the spring, some in the fall. Most snails and slugs that hatch in the spring can begin egg laying in the fall. The eggs of both snails and slugs are tiny, white or cream-colored, round and laid in roughly one-inch diameter clusters of 30 or so eggs. Look for these clusters under rotting logs, where they are protected from drying out as well as from freezing.  (Remember to place the log back exactly as you found it.)

How Snails Feed

Most terrestrial snails are herbivorous, feeding on a wide range of vegetation. The snail’s mouth is on the bottom of its head near the shorter pair of tentacles. Snails (and all molluscs) consume their food not with mouthparts, like insects, or teeth, like mammals, but with a rasping tongue or radula. Snails don’t bite their food, but rather, rasp or scrape it. The radula is covered with rows of tiny “toothlets” which rasp particles away from vegetation and move them back towards the snail’s gullet. Different species of snails have differently-shaped toothlets. The radula is used by the snail not only to process food, but to clean bits of dried mucus from its shell. Supposedly if you listen hard, you can actually hear a rasping sound when the latter is occurring. (If you look hard, you can just barely see the orange radula of the land snail in the photograph.)

Slug Eggs

If you spend enough time looking under rotting logs, you’re bound to come across the tiny, pearly white eggs of a slug. With the right climate conditions, slugs will mate and lay eggs twice in a summer — once early in the spring, and once in late summer. Thirty to forty days after mating, the female slug lays her eggs under leaves, mulch, or in some other cool and moist location. They will hatch in 10 to 100 days — the length of time slug eggs take to hatch depends upon the temperature – the warmer it is, the faster they hatch.