Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fighting in the Slug Fest

Speedy little devil!

It started out as a seemingly small problem restricted to just a few plants.  Perfectly round clusters of little holes started showing up in the leaves of plants my wife called hostas early on in the summer.  There was the usual minor concern, but since we kill plants by the bushel basket as a matter of course throughout the summer months, it was not to be unexpected.  We’ve never had much luck with hostas anyway, so no harm done.  After a few weeks, however, about the same time holes started showing up on all the other plants in the garden, Georgia decided the situation was getting out of hand.

“A.E., you need to figure out what’s making the holes in the plants and do something about it.”

“Me?  Why me?  I can’t even grow dandelions.”

“That, buster, is pure bull.  The year you took care of the lawn, we’ve never had so many dandelions.  Remember when the lawn and garden committee from the neighborhood paid us a little visit about your dandelion growing prowess?  Besides, bugs and stuff creep me out, and you like them.”

That little reminder about the visit from the anti-dandelion committee got me to thinking.  If they got all fired up about a few little plants - some extra greenery that blossomed, really - what would the ramifications be if word got around that we were responsible for a pestilence of Poynor Spot that resulted in the consumption of the entire crop of cultivated plant life in the subdivision?

Bad case of Poynor Spot on daisie
With that kind of motivation, it didn’t take long to figure out the problem.  Checking things out closely, by scraping around the base of the plants, the source of the problem was readily evident.  We had slugs.  Not only did we have slugs, we had LOTS of slugs.  From that point on, right about the middle of July, I entered into an all-out battle to eliminate the slugs.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want to advertise the fact we had slugs.  First off, how does one go about doing that?

“Hi, how are you?  We have slugs.  Lots of slugs.  We have so many slugs, we have to wear ice cleats to keep from slipping on the slime when we go out in the morning to get the newspaper.”

See what I mean?  In my estimation, a person infested with slugs might as well stand on top of a soap box in the middle of town and scream, “I AM COVERED WITH LICE!”  Such a proclamation would net the same number of eager new acquaintances.

Come to think of it, I take that back.  At least with lice the health authorities would want to talk to you.  NOBODY wants to talk to you after confessing about the slug thing.

In an act of desperation, we turned to the internet to research the problem.  The research provided some interesting results.

First, and most amazing, there seems to be some slug lovers out there.  One web site waxed poetic about the positive aspects of slugs; even as pets.  The site argued that we ought to make an effort to make them more socially acceptable by calling them “land snails.”   Whatever.  A slug by any other name would slime as much.  Speaking of which, the same site stated flatly, “This mucous is wonderful stuff.”  Yeah, sure, you bet.  (And we know: you’re not picking your nose, you’re pointing to your brain.)

Good grief! It's a slug stampede!
At every “how to kill slugs” site, beer stood out as a favorite weapon in the arsenal in the war on slugs.  I was immediately attracted to that potential solution.  Any activity that involves beer can’t be all bad.

Unfortunately, it’s the slugs that get the beer, not the slug hunter...  Trapper?  Warden?   And, as anyone who has ever watched a football game can tell you, not all beers are created equal.  To prove the point, somebody at Colorado State University (school motto, “Party ‘til you’re slimed.”) performed a study on which beer, in the opinion of the slugs themselves, was the very best.  A collection of beers was tested as which provided the very best qualities of attraction.

The number of slugs drawn to Budweiser beer was taken as the base number, and all other beers were rated in a ratio based on that base number.  The resulting rating was called a “Bud Unit.”  (Really.  I mean it.  Honest.)  They even rated a Pink Chablis in the study (probably because somebody’s girlfriend was hanging out at the party... er, study), which scored only slightly higher than tap water.  Of the nine other beers tested, only two scored higher than Budweiser: Michelob and Kingsbury Malt Beverage.

One site was a study on how caffeine will kill slugs.  That might be because an animal designed to move at a snail’s pace can’t take much activity.  A couple of stout espressos and the slug jumps into overdrive, quickly overheats, and dies.  Obviously it’s hard to sweat through a thick layer of mucous.

Even at a lower dose than what was found to be immediately lethal, the slugs lost their appetites.  I don’t know what’s worse, looking at all the holes in our leaves, or having a bunch of anorexic slugs oozing around.

Oh, look! Pre-shelled Wild Alaskan escargo!
Our battle has been less than a resounding success in the war on slugs.  It’s only a matter of time before the Anti-Slug Committee shows up- unless an early freeze saves us.

As an alternative to wiping them out, I’ve decided to try a different approach with the slugs.  I’m going to work on getting those folks that grow giant vegetables to apply their expertise in growing giant slugs.  It could prove to be an economic boon. We could sell them to the French at a premium, advertising them as pre-shelled snails.  We could even advertise them as “Alaska Wild Slugs.”   Sorry, I forgot: Alaska Wild Land Snails.  

Note to readers: This piece is an excerpt from the upcoming book Of Moose and Men II: Home is where the harm is, which is due out as an e-book on Amazon for Kindle in late September.