Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 21, 2007

Space Slugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:27 am

An item from a “cryptozoology” site caught my attention recently. The report begins, and I quote: “In September 2000 an object resembling a claw was found by a family in a bedroom of their California home. The family reported that they were in the midst of an intense series of visitations by purported extraterrestrials.” The “claw,” complete with a strand of hair attached, was found stuck to a towel and it was presented as evidence that the alien invaders were mammalian in nature.

   There were doubts about the actual nature of this claw (really?!), according to the report. Several experts examined it and one identified it as originating from some sort of New World Monkey. This revelation introduced a blood-chilling aspect into the investigation. Perhaps a group of South American Spider Monkeys have secretly developed space flight technology and were using this suburban California bedroom as their planning center? Maybe they were sharing their research with the “purported aliens” and providing them with Earth attack plans.  Fortunately, one bumbling simian accidentally left his claw stuck to a towel and unwittingly provided scientists with the opportunity to unravel this twisted plot.

  A very thorough DNA analysis of the “claw” came up with a less than satisfactory answer. “There is little doubt,” reported by the researchers, “that the sample found embedded in the towel….is a dried up mollusk.” In other words, it was just a shriveled up slug. 

  Now, Star Wars fans have long known of the existence of Space Slugs. They reside in the Asteroid Belt surrounding the ice plant of Hoth.  They eat silicon based life such as Mynocks and the occasional Millennium Falcon that enters into its cave-like mouth. The encrusted little California bedroom slug was far too small to be such an alien space creature, even though the Silicon Valley would be a logical place for colonization.

  No, this was just a dried up native slug from the outer space just beyond the doorstep. The towel slug in question ran out of moisture and dried up – a towel is the last place to be if you are a mucus covered water bag. The hair was probably a dog hair that adhered to the sticky critter as it ground to a halt.

  I will grant that slugs are a very alien type of creature upon close examination. I found two of them recently (not in our bedroom) and observed them for a few days. There are many species, some of which have attained the status of garden pests, but my charges were small (under 2 inch) natives. One was a veritable racing slug, while the other did absolutely nothing for two days.

  Slugs are essentially naked snails. As mollusks, they are in the same group as the snails, but their shell is reduced down to a flattened oval underneath the skin. This portion is visible as a mantle – located behind the head.  There is a single hole, called the pneumostome, on the lower right side of the mantle which functions as the breathing pore.  Slugs have a mouth, but do not breathe through it.  They feed on plant material by licking the surface with a very rough tongue (radula) located in the mouth.

  Right next to the breathing pore, but downwind of it, is the anus (if that’s not an alien feature, what is). Ahead of the pore are, shall we say, the “delicate parts” for reproduction. This clan is hermaphroditic and are all “Him-Hers,” “Dadmoms,” or “Their own best dates,” but they actually need another slug in order to exchange fluids and make little slugs. 

  There are four tentacles located on the head: the two short ones are for smelling and tasting, and the two upper ones are for seeing and smelling. The “smelleyes” are located at the very tip of long upper tentacles. My racing slug (named BillJill) provided me with a small bit of entertainment by demonstrating how its eye stalks retract inward upon contact.

  All alien creatures are required to have a slime coating, and our earthbound slugs excel in this category. Their skin glands exude several different kinds of mucus. Glands in the foot create a watery mucus for crawling (on every surface except towels and frying pans). A thick sticky mucus can be generated for protection and mating needs (on which I will not elaborate).  

  Specifically, slugs and snails are classified as Gastropods. This name literally means “Stomach Foot.” They say an army marches on its stomach, so it would befit a potential alien army to be made up of slugs.  There are plenty of other alien type traits to be found in this group of creatures, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. 

 You can begin your discovery venture by looking under rocks and other daytime hiding places. Since slugs are active during the moist nighttime hours, they need to seek shelter before the desiccating rays of the sun break the horizon. Their slime trails are a regular early morning feature on our sidewalks. Yesterday afternoon, I found what looked like the claw of a New World Monkey at the end of a slime trail, but closer examination proved it to be a dried up mollusk.

2 Comments »

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