Thursday, April 18, 2013

Can Snails Be Bullies, Too?

In the time I've spent watching the interactions between slugs and snails, I've had slugs and snails painted in tow very different ways in my mind. The slugs were like the meat-headed bullies who did nasty things to others just because they could, even if their victim was much larger than themselves. They seemed to attack the snails (and other slug species) almost on principle.

The snails, on the other hand, were the quiet, timid victims in the whole thing, always taking shit but never flinging any back. They seemed content to just slime away from the aggressor as quickly as possible.

However, I no longer look at them this way. As I sat in bed one night playing video games, I took the time occasionally to stare at the bin of slugs and snails sitting not three feet away from me. What I saw confused me at first, then shocked me. On the side of said bin, right in plain view, there was a peacefully sleeping slug. Beside him, there was a small snail, only a fraction of the slug's size. The snail seemed to be inching closer and closer to the slug. By that time, my face was plastered to the side of the bin in my fascination.

The snail started biting the slug! It didn't look terribly aggressive, more like he was trying to eat him, but it was biting! As the snail bit, the slug woke up and scooted away by a centimeter or two. But the snail followed and continued his reign of nibbly terror. Whenever the slug would move, the snail would follow. He would not leave that slug alone for anything.

At first, I though this behavior was a sign that they needed more protein, so I gave them a generous helping of both salt-free peanut butter and hard-boiled egg. Despite the smorgasbord, I continued to see this behavior the more I looked for it. It almost appears to be some sort of a game for the snails, because the slugs (it's always just slugs) on the receiving end are always asleep. It would seem that my dear snails are not so innocent and meek after all. They appear to have a passive-aggressive streak a mile wide!

I find myself wondering, with no small amount of humor, if the snails have finally become tired of the slugs' abusive actions toward them, and are now giving the slugs a taste of their own proverbial medicine.

On more than one occasion, I've also seen a snail who was being harassed by a slug fling his shell back and forth with startling violence, as if he were trying to beat off the offender with it. However, this only seems to occur in larger, adult snails.

Or perhaps the reason is slightly more mundane. Maybe this behavior has gone on all along and, because I pegged the snails as unfailingly innocent, was blind to the fact that they'd do such a thing. As always, any thoughts or theories are welcome.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sneaky Slimers

In general, the scientific community seems to believe that only the so-called "higher" animals, like cats, dogs and even  rodents, are capable of any notable level of intelligence. However,. to people who pay attention, startling displays of intellect may be seen in the "lower" animals, as well. Animals like slugs.

I keep all of my adult and semi-adult slugs and snails in a bin separate from the babies. The lid of this bin has presented something of a problem for a while now. The latches on either side were constructed in such a way that the slugs could crawl through the hinge holes on the lid's underside and escape through a small gap between the latch and lid. They didn't do this at first, but then one slug did it, and soon enough many of them were doing it every night.

So I popped the latches off and sealed up the holes. I didn't need them on there, anyway. I figured that was the end of their escapades. I was wrong.

A little under a week later, after the lights had been turned off for the night, I go to check on them as I always do and I notice a lone slug sliming his merry way down the outside of the bin! I couldn't figure out where he had come from. I though that he surely couldn't have gotten out. I scooped him up and put him back into the bin, brushing the incident off as a freak accident. I thought that he might have gotten out when I'd had the bin open earlier that day and stowed away underneath the lip of it for a nap. It's happened before.

I'd forgotten the incident entirely until the next night. I'd turned out the lights for the night and was going to feed them and do some slug-and-snail watching. I was stunned to see not one, but four slugs had mysteriously appeared on the outside of the bin and on top of the lid! I was baffled as to how they could have been getting out. Fortunately, a fifth slug was in the process of revealing their secret. He was squeezing himself through the tiniest little gap that existed between the lid and the bin, right where the latch would have fastened them together. As soon as he noticed I was there, he started going back in. Since then, I've been taping up these gaps each night before I go to bed so they don't get out.

The thing I noticed first about these incidents was that it started with one slug one night and many the next. It makes me feel convinced that there must be some sort of communication going on between them. Like one slug is reporting to the others that he found a breach and was able to get out. Another thing I noticed was that they seem to be capable of remembering the locations of the breaches. I also imagine that when they noticed the first path had been eliminated, that they set to work searching for another. The tiny gap between lid and bin was too small to have been found on accident. It makes me wonder if they go around testing for weaknesses, and if so, something like that could very well point to problem-solving abilities.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


While looking through the slug/snail tub that has been overrun by babies, I noticed this little fellow:

My apologies for the poor quality of the picture, but it still makes the point. This little Deroceras baby is merely half a slug! His body stops at his mantle. It doesn't appear to be doing him any harm aside from making him comically short, nor do the others seem to be rejecting him. He behaves just like a normal slug.  He's as cute as a freaking button and I truly hope he grows up. I have a few stubby slugs of L. valentiana, but nothing like this little guy.

Due to the short lifespan and quick generations of Deroceras, I figured I'd see some mutations, but I never expected anything like this.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


When I was 16, my dad bought me a head lamp because I would be out in the back yard well after midnight hunting insects and spiders. To facilitate this, I would run down the batteries on his flashlights. This thing not only saved his flashlights from much use, abuse and batteries, but also allowed me to hunt hands-free.

I still have this head lamp and I've found it supremely convenient for viewing my slugs and snails, even in the daylight. It has also enabled me to see the new ambersnail hatchlings that have emerged! They're tinier than I ever thought possible- ten or more of them could fit on the head of a pin. As if that wasn't surprise enough, while I was changing the substrate in their parents' bin (another story entirely), I found five more clutches! The two adults have definitely been getting it on! Anyway, I managed to get a couple of photographs, even though I wasn't sure that my camera was capable of capturing something so small.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Succineid Expectations

When I found a single pair of ambersnails while in central Illinois, I had hoped very much that they would breed. I was not disappointed. Several days ago, I happened to catch them in the throes of slimy passion. When I went to check on the slugs and snails in that particular bin this morning, I was treated to another surprise:

A lovely little bundle of ambersnail eggs was nestled in the moss! At first, they just looked like an amorphous blob of clear goo, but as the hours passed, the individual eggs began to take shape. I can't wait until they hatch!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Species!

I recently journeyed to central Illinois to visit my parents for the holidays. And like any dedicated gastropod addict, I didn't let the snow, ice and bitter cold keep me from hunting for more slugs and snails. Because they're like potato chips: once you pop, you just can't stop! Aside from that simple and profound truth, there are species up there that we don't have in St. Louis. Or that I haven't been able to find. I'd imagine that it's normal for the selection to be pretty limited in the middle of the city. Either way, I made off like a slime bandit.

 I've pegged these two as Arion hortensis. As you can see, one is a dark slate gray with an orange belly while the other is a lighter gray with a pale belly. I'm fairly certain that they're different color morphs of the same species. At last count, I have three, but I suspect that there are a few more hiding in the main tub (they're all kept in clear storage bins).

This ornate little guy is an Anguispira alternata, or flamed tigersnail. This photo was taken by my mother, who is a talented photographer. It was like glamor shots, but for gastropods.

 Another photo by my mother. I believe this snail to be Oxyloma elegans, a species of ambersnail. I was fortunate enough to find two, so I have a (hopefully) breeding pair!

This snail is about half a centimeter long. It's really hard to accurately identify something so small, especially since there are many other species of this general size and appearance. However, I'm thinking that he may be Gastrocopta armifera, or the armed snaggletooth snail. I should have kept these guys in the container I transported them in. Instead, I put them in the main tub until I could get to the store to buy another one. Big mistake, because they're really hard to find in there.

02/08/13 EDIT: This snail is actually a Cochlicopa lubrica

I have no idea what kind of snail this guy is. He's a very plain brown, and the underside of his shell features an umbilicus, like he has a belly button.

02/08/13 EDIT: This snail is a Triodopsis tridentata

Last, but certainly not least, is the largest Deroceras reticulatum I've ever seen. He measures more than 2 inches in length. I was fortunate enough to witness him mating with another, comically smaller, D. reticulatum, so hopefully I'll get some giant babies from him.