Thursday, June 22, 2006

My Friend Sluggo

After we* finished repairing the broken boards on my porch, my cousin's boyfriend and I headed down into the cellar to turn up the temperature on the hot water heater. Once we moved the knob from "VACATION" to a position midway between "WARM" and "HOT" (after clearing about an inch of dust off the knob itself), I glanced up at the years of cobwebs in the rafters above the water heater. What do the spiders eat?**, I wondered. I hadn't really noticed any flying insects in the basement. How does an ecosystem work down here?

We were making our way out of the cellar back to the steps that led to the kitchen and we noticed recent-looking water stains on the floor. There has always been some water in the basement, and last year there were several inches of standing water during a period of heavy rains. I have plans to improve drainage around the foundation, but those are a few items down on the to-do list.

We noticed that one of the water stains looked more like a track. We followed the track with a flashlight to the point where it ended in a six-inch-long slug.

Now, this wasn't your garden-variety slug, which is good because I can't imagine most gardens lasting very long against a slug of that size. It was huge and actually quite beautiful, with a mustard base color and stripes and spots of darker brown. (The spots might have been stripes broken up by the slug stretching, or the lines might have been spots squished together by the slug compressing.) We called down the other friends who were visiting to come and have a look.

When my cousin crouched down in front of the slug to get a better look it did an amazing thing. It reared up, raising its front third off the cellar floor and extending both sets of head tentacles to maximum. I don't know what it was doing, but it reminded me a lot of a spider that will raise itself up and wave its forelegs in the air as a threat, even when the thing it is trying to intimidate is a human hundreds of times its size.

I named him*** Sluggo and declared him to be my friend.

It took a few minutes on the Wikipedia to identify this slug. It is the Great Grey Slug, more appropriately known as the Tiger Slug or Spotted Leopard slug. It can live up to three years and grow up to eight inches and is allegedly commonly found in basements, though this is the first one I have ever seen.

I plan to install a dehumidifier in the basement, to wash down the floor with bleach, and to reroute rainwater into a garden irrigation system - none of which will probably be very good for any Great Grey Slugs living in my cellar. But I will try to get along with Sluggo as long as he's there. Maybe I'll write another twisted children's story: "My Friend Sluggo, the Giant Slug Who Lives in My Cellar."

*I say we, but my participation consisted of holding some cut boards, driving some nails, locating some paint stirrers to serve as shims, and retrieving a board from the coal bin after it fell in.

**This story doesn't answer this question. I don't think slugs wind up in spider webs very often.

***Slugs are hermaphrodites. I'm calling Sluggo a "him" for the sake of convenience.

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