Sleepless super slugs about to explode in Britain

An army of sleepless super slugs is about to mount an assault on British gardens, according to experts who say that the freakishly warm and wet winter the country has just experienced was insufficiently cold to trigger the gastropods’ urge to hibernate.

Slugs remain active when temperatures stay above 5°C, happily chomping and romping their way through gardens, and the winter that has recently come to an end was the warmest on record. ‘With little snow and frost, many [slugs] never went in to hibernation, and they have been making the most of it—eating and breeding all through the winter months,’ says the BBC’s environment correspondent Claire Marshall.

As the result of this symptom of climate-change, conservation charity BugLife is predicting that the UK will now witness a slimy explosion in the resident slug population, with potentially dire consequences for salads everywhere.

Red slug eyes a tasty snack. Photo: Henrik Larsson
Red slug eyes a tasty snack. Photo: Henrik Larsson

Slugs—which are all are hermaphrodites, with each individual boasting both male and female reproductive organs—are capable of laying up to 200 eggs per cubic metre. Marshall warns that the average British garden likely hosts around 20,000 slugs, and they are about to to get busy. On the upside, the increase in slug numbers should be excellent news for animals such as hedgehogs, which are critically endangered in Britain.

The word slug is a generic term for shell-less terrestrial gastropod molluscs, spanning many species, which come in a fantastic range of colours, shapes and sizes. The common denominator is that they’ve all largely dispensed with a cumbersome shell during their evolutionary journey (although most keep a remnant of a shell buried within their bodies). The trade off for travelling light, is that slugs heavily rely on the production of a protective mucus to keep them from drying out and dying.

Moisture is their friend, and they thrive in warm and wet conditions, so human-caused climate change is great news for slugs, and a nightmare for green-fingered lettuce lovers. However, although gardeners harbour a historical hatred for the creatures, not all slugs are salad-munchers hell-bent on pillaging your veggie patch—some species are carnivorous, and will follow the slime trail left by their cousins to attack and eat them. It’s a jungle out there…