Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d utter. Then I heard this delightful story on KUOW, my local NPR station. It seems that the Pacific Northwest is the only place in the entire world that has jumping slugs. Lucky us!
These slugs, which are about a half inch long, and range from Vancouver Island to the Oregon coast, and as far inland as Idaho, are remarkable in that they manage to keep a really low profile. They are so camouflaged that they mostly avoid detection, but just in case, they’ve developed another defense mechanism: they will break their own slime trail in order to confuse predators who are trying to track them.
Calling what they do “jumping” is a bit of a stretch. Check out the video that’s attached to that KUOW story to see what I mean. To me it looks more like an enthusiastic wiggle, and that wiggle might cause them to fall off the already fallen maple or alder leaves they prefer to hang out in, but they aren’t exactly pole vaulters. Still, other slugs don’t get up to these types of shenanigans. There are only about six species of jumping slug.
Another cool thing about these little guys is that, while other slugs have done away with their shells entirely, these have little half shells on their backs, hidden under the skin. (Why? Beats me. But they do.) These humps of hidden shell make them look like they’re sporting shiny little backpacks. They look pretty cool, by slug standards.
Another fun fact, according to this article from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is that a jumping slug has a stronger, more nimble and muscular “foot” than other slugs have, primarily because its vital organs are mainly up under that little shell, rather than inside the foot as with other slugs. So that’s a nifty little backpack, indeed. It wouldn’t pay to accidentally leave it in the slug equivalent of a schoolyard.
One species in particular, the Burrington Jumping Slug, is experiencing diminished populations. In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have them designated as an endangered species. This may seem extreme to those of you reading this who don’t think the environment should be a priority, but these jumping slugs actually provide a valuable service.
If it weren’t for slugs decomposing stuff, we’d be up to our chins in leaf litter in our forests. That would be bad, because more fires would have the fuel to cause even more havoc. In exchange for all their hard work, all the slugs require are cool, wet places in which to live. (This, Mr. Trump, is why we should not rake our forests. And why the rest of us shouldn’t overlook the fact that fallen vegetation is also a habitat. We should stop trying so hard to make our yards so perfectly manicured.)
With their love of cool, wet places, slugs are not enjoying global warming any more than we are. More heat, fewer slugs. Fewer slugs, more leaves. More leaves, bigger fires, which then release more carbon into the atmosphere, thus causing even more heat. Everything is connected.
Apparently the slug watching community is rather close-knit. But their earnestness does not belie a sense of humor. There are slug jokes. This one must be the most popular, because it is in both articles. So I leave you with it.
While jumping slugs may not be the best jumpers, they can jump higher than the Empire State Building…
Because the Empire State Building can’t jump.
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