The recent rainy weather has brought out a lot of slugs and I've been spotting them everywhere. In the early morning, they'll be crawling across wet lawns, while paving, the outside of sheds and even windows show the slimy route of their night-time travels. The often damp environment of late summer and early autumn is a good time to get out and look at them.
Slugs are not generally seen as attractive creatures; they are slimy and disliked for their role in destroying plants by eating through their stems and leaves. I can't count the number of times have I gone out in the morning to find that a clump of, say, Nerine bowdenii which the day before was so full of the expectation of a glorious display now lies prone on the ground with its stems rasped through by the slug's file-like radula.
There are many disappointments in the growing year connected with gastropods, but I try to find something positive in them lest I feel tempted to destroy them all. Slugs and snails aren't intent on causing trouble to humans, they're just trying to make a living. Whilst they can cause damage to our prized garden plants, they also serve us well in disposing of waste, from fallen leaves to carrion. In recent years I've come to put them in the category I refer to as 'cleaners' or detritivores. Wasps and woodlice also come under this title. Seeing them in this light allows me to tolerate what might otherwise cause rage at the destruction gastropods can visit upon a garden.
Dislike them as we might, if we swallow any disgust we might feel and look at them close up, slugs can be fascinating. In the last few weeks, my partner Karl's cousin, John, has started sending me pictures of the slugs he sees (mostly of the genus Arion) on those evenings when he steps outside to the take the air. These pictures show slugs in almost cartoon-like poses and my inner child sees them not intent on destruction, but on some journey or quest. Another picture I took several years ago shows the same type of slug alongside a woodlouse. The woodlouse has one leg raised towards the slug and you can almost imagine them in deep conversation. In reality, the woodlouse might simply have been trying to protect itself from being flattened or eaten, but I find it useful to view images that don't show these creatures merely as things to be reviled.
I'm not alone in my attempts to adjust my thinking - a blog from the site Microscopy, 'Snail's Teeth, Spicules, and Other Bizarre Delights: Or Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder', looks at the finer details of gastropods in which the writer examines 'their rows and rows of beautifully coloured teeth'.
Researchers at Bristol University, meanwhile, have been looking at mollusc evolution and have found an early ancestor of the slug in a 480-million-year-old slug-like fossil. This tells us quite plainly that having been here for 480 million years, slugs aren't going anywhere so we'd better just get used to them.