Follow a glittering slimy trail, past munched mushrooms, through shaded corridors, under rotting logs, and you might find a creature that has been oozing around Earth for 40-50 million years – a slug or snail!
Snails and slugs are gastropods – or animals with a stomach foot (in Latin gastro=stomach and pod=foot). Their body is like a muscular foot with a toothy tongue-filled mouth on one end. To glide along, the muscles in their foot contract in a wave-like motion and they secrete slime.
Slime is a watery gel that absorbs moisture from the environment. To allow smooth movement, this mucus is thin when the slug or snail is in motion. But at rest, the slime thickens to help them stay attached, even when upside down. The slime also keeps snails and slugs moist and protected from predators.
We’ve found uses for their slime too. It is antibacterial and antiviral and has been used to treat wounds. The mucus is used in skin creams to minimize wrinkles and has inspired surgical glue.
Here are some ideas to get to know our ancient, gravity-defying, decomposer neighbors:
🐌Observe snails and slugs up close: what does the slime feel like? When do they swivel and retract their two longer eye tentacles and two smaller smell tentacles? Can you see their radula (toothy tongue) when they are feeding?
🐌Make a snail-sized home: they’ll need a shaded spot and depending on the species, dead vegetation, fungi, algae, or tree sap, to scrape up.
🐌Read some slimy books:
–Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen
–The Slug: The Disgusting Critters Series by Elise Gravel
–Sylvia Finds a Way by Stephanie Shaw
If you’ve picked up a slug, you know how sticky your hand is afterwards. And because slug mucus absorbs water, you’ll only make it worse by trying to rinse it off right away. Instead, let the mucus dry for a few minutes before rubbing your hands together. Then be sure to give them a proper soap and water cleaning.