May 17, 2006

The Secret [Beautiful] Lives of Garden Slugs

Slugs and beauty in the same line? The nighttime denizens of overturned flowerpots and toppled trashcan lids have hidden complexities of which most have no clue, including myself. Until recently, that is.

The leopard slug (Limax maximus) can be found in any American garden (though it's not a native species), so we tend to overlook just how striking their behavior can be.

This video, from David Attenborough's newly released, Life in the Undergrowth, depicts two leopard slugs mating. It sounds completely unappealing, I know, but have a look for curiosity's sake. I'll bet you come away less repulsed than you would think.

Keep in mind that slugs, like most mollusks, are hermaphroditic, and the exchange of sperm between two animals is normal; they have both male and female reproductive parts. The beautiful translucent curls (which seem to artfully mimic body-form*) are the slugs' male organs.

Even in the most unattractive creatures we can find beauty, if not in appearance, such as the leopard slug, then in pure natural complexity.

*This is not a scientific claim, but an artistic one. Repeating themes are not requisite for evolutionary design, though humans like me would like to think so, if just for kicks.

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