Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Opinion: Gillibrand Listening to the Wrong People on Rooftop Highway

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s quest to obtain federal stimulus funds for the “Rooftop Highway” is a puzzlement. Who has the senator’s ear on this? Apparently nobody inside the Adirondack Park.

While the science is abundant and clear, that four-lane highways are akin to walls to animals that travel on the ground, the presence of a six-million-acre park south of the proposed expressway is rarely mentioned. Nor are movements of wide-ranging mammals between the Adirondacks and southern Canada. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Adirondack Gardening: Habitat Close to Home

When the editors of Adirondack Almanack asked me to take over Ellen Rathbone’s garden columns while Ellen is on vacation, I couldn’t help thinking, they have got to be kidding! Me, write a garden column? I guess they don’t know that I’m more of an anti-gardener. Not anti in the sense of “against” (I love other people’s gardens), but in the sense of “antithesis of.” In short, I’m a weed-loving wildflower nerd who will risk drowning and broken bones and heart attacks and Lyme disease pursuing additions to my wildflower “life list,” but I faint at the thought of cultivating the plot behind my house. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sticking Up for Skunks, Adirondack Style

A friend of mine in college had a pet skunk named Cauliflower. We heard tales of this unusual household companion, but sadly only got to meet her on the occasion of my friend’s funeral. The year before, while I was interning at a nature center near Syracuse, someone brought in an “abandoned” baby skunk. One of the staff worked with a rehabber and took temporary custody of the little animal until the end of the day. After giving it a meal of Similac, I volunteered to babysit. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a baby skunk nestled in your bosom for the better part of a day (I had to keep it somewhere warm and secure). Needless to say, I developed a fondness for skunks.

In the ensuing years I have discovered that the mere mention of the word skunk causes cries of “pee-eeww” to leap from the mouths of every child, and even some adults, in the vicinity. Noses are pinched tightly shut, even though no actual skunk is nearby. This reaction amuses and baffles me. I guess some lessons are learned early and persist for a lifetime, whether legitimate or not.

Striped skunks (there are, by the way, nine other species of skunks) are known to scientists as Mephitis mephitis. Once grouped together with weasels in the family Mustelidae, skunks now have their own family, Mephitidae, which is shared only with stink badgers, an animal found in the Philippines and Indonesia. It is easy to see why skunks were combined with weasels, for like skunks, weasels have many scent glands and can be quite aromatic. However, only skunks use their scent as a mode of defense.

If one encounters a skunk, and does not threaten it in anyway, the skunk is liable to trundle along its merry way without a second glance. If harassed, it will give plenty of warning to leave it alone. First, it will stomp its front feet. If this doesn’t work, it will make little charges towards it’s harasser with its tail raised over its head. Should the intruder continue to bother it, the skunk will bend its nether regions around to the front, so both its nose and rump are facing the same direction, and let loose a stream of yellowish liquid, a potent musk that can be fired up to twenty feet away. The skunk can manage six to eight squirts before its supply is gone, after which it will require about a week to recharge. The active compound in the spray is butylmercaptan, Mother Nature’s answer to tear gas. While it will burn and sting the eyes, it will not persist (and the recipient will not go blind). Unlike man-made tear gas, the odor can persist for weeks and can be smelled up to a mile away.

In short, it’s best not to bother a skunk.

And why would you want to? After all, skunks provide a valuable service to those who grow crops, and they do it at night when we are asleep. They eat many grubs and grasshoppers and insects of all stripes that are considered pests to the farmer. True, skunks have been known to chicken eggs and sometimes even a hen, but these instances are considered rare. Skunks are true omnivores, consuming berries and bugs, mice and roadkill all with equal relish. That said, invertebrates make up the greatest portion of the skunk’s diet.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, skunks were routinely trapped and bred in captivity for the fur industry. Believe it or not, their pelts were the second most popular fur in the business. But after about 1915 the demand for skunk fur started to decline, and all the skunk breeders had to find a new outlet. Skunks as pets became the next rage. Today pet skunks are hard to come by, mostly because they are illegal in most states due to the fact that skunks are the number two carrier (in the wild) of rabies. Red foxes, incidentally, are listed as number one.

I have been asked several times by local folks why Newcomb has no skunks. My pat answer has been that it’s simply too cold here for them. However, I have learned from long-time residents that Newcomb used to have a good number of these black and white animals. Pursuing this, we discovered that skunks seemed to disappear about the same time that coyotes moved in. Hm…interesting. Part of me wonders, though, if it has more to do with the lack of open space than it does with the presence of coyotes. Skunks are traditionally animals of open spaces, preferring to live near agricultural lands and open woods. Sometimes they inhabit dense woodlands, and have even been found at elevations over 2000 feet, but this is not where they thrive best. Since Newcomb has reverted back to forest over most of its acreage (believe it or not, at one time most of this area was cleared for farms), I suspect this is what has driven the skunks from our fair village.

We could learn a lot from skunks, who are truly pacifists at heart. They waddle their way through life, minding their own business, consuming pestiferous insects to help out (unintentionally) their human neighbors. We could all use a few more neighbors like this.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Porcupines: 2nd Largest Adirondack Rodent

This last winter one of our local residents came in with a photograph of the strangest looking tracks in the snow. There were no distinct foot prints, and no well-defined gait pattern. What it looked like was a beautiful serpentine zig-zagging design; it reminded me of rickrack. And it looked familiar. I grabbed one of my tracking books and quickly thumbed through. Sure enough, there it was: porcupine tracks. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dog Day At The Adirondack Museum

On Saturday, August 1, 2009 the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake will celebrate all things canine. “Dog Days of Summer” will return for a third season with a variety of dog demonstrations, programs, and activities. All dogs are welcome when accompanied by well-behaved owners.

The event will include a few simple rules and regulations for doggies and their people: dogs must be leashed at all times; owners must clean up after their pets – special bags will be available; dogs will only be allowed on the grounds – not in the exhibit buildings; Doggie Day Care will be available throughout the day at no charge, with the understanding that dogs cannot be left for more than an hour; poorly behaved or aggressive dogs will be asked to leave the museum grounds with their owners.

“Dog Days” demonstrations will include “Dancing With Dogs” at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on the museum’s main lawn. Join members of the Adirondack High Peaks Training Club for Canine Freestyle behaviors, Solo Freestyle performances, a Formation Dance routine, and a Square Dance. Whether you have two feet or four paws, this fun-loving group of dogs and owners will get you moving!

The “JAZZ Agility Group,” featuring a variety of dogs going through their paces on an agility/obstacle course featuring hurdles, weave poles, and tunnels, will demonstrate at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Adirondack Museum Curator Hallie E. Bond will offer a Brown Bag Lunch program in the Mark W. Potter Education Center at 12:00 noon entitled “Historic Hounds: A Ruff Account of Dogs in the Adirondacks.” The presentation will showcase a portion of the more than 800 historic photographs of dogs in the museum’s collection. Dogs are welcome in the Education Center.

Nationally recognized Adirondack folksinger and storyteller Chris Shaw will share songs and a few humorous stories about man’s best friend in two short sets at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Shaw has released nine recordings: his 1988 debut album, Adirondack, has been inducted into the Library of Congress Folk Archive. He has appeared at the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Old Songs Folk Festival, and the Chautauqua Institute, as well as music halls, festivals, and coffee houses across the United States and Europe.

From 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. “Doggy Booths” featuring working dogs, including the Champlain Valley K-9 Search and Rescue Dogs, will be open. Dog owners will answer questions about training, care, and the work of their dogs.

Museum visitors and their pets are invited to participate in the Rustic Agility Course from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and join the Pooch Parade, a who’s who of dog breeds at 2:30 p.m.

This year the Adirondack Museum will support the work of the Tri-Lakes Humane Society, a no-kill shelter caring for stray and unwanted domestic animals, by holding a collection drive as part of the “Dog Days of Summer” festivities. Visitors are asked to bring a donation of food, toys, or cleaning supplies to the museum. A drop-off spot will be located in the Visitor Center. Needed items include: Science Diet puppy and dog food, Kong and Jolly toys, dog beds, biscuits and jerky treats for dogs of any size, Clorox bleach, paper towels, toilet paper, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and large, heavy-duty garbage bags. The museum will deliver donations to the shelter.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Linking Forests Across the Champlain Valley

The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy gets a lot of attention when it completes a landscape-scale protection deal like the 161,000-acre Finch Pruyn purchase, or when it buys a place with a hallowed name like Follensby Pond.

But for decades it has also been working among the little farms and forests of the Champlain Valley with a larger picture in mind.

“The goal is to provide safe passage for species—a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert,” Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said in a press release Monday. “Where are the most important habitat linkages and how do we work do we protect them? To date, we’ve raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Annual Adirondack Loon Census Seeks Volunteers

Loons are the quintessential symbol of wilderness. Just watch any TV show or movie that has a “wilderness” scene and you will hear loon calls in the soundtrack (even if it is in the desert). A stroll through any gift shop in the Adirondacks, Canada or Maine proves that they are probably the number one animal associated with the outdoors (competing only with moose and bears). There is nothing quite like the mournful wail of a loon floating through the night air as you lie in the dark trying to sleep. It is easy to see how people might once have associated them with unhappy or restless spirits. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Deer-Proofing the Adirondack Garden?

“There’s a deer in the hummingbird garden,” our intern said in a stage whisper. “It’ll probably be gone by the time I get there,” I said, as I grabbed the camera and made a dash for the door. Lo and behold, the deer stood there, ripping through our hosta as though it was so much buttercrunch lettuce, completely ignoring me as I stepped closer and closer snapping one shot after another.

While this certainly gave us a wonderful wildlife encounter, it isn’t really the type of wildlife we want to see in our butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Already it has pruned the hollyhocks, and who knows what else it will munch on next. We’ve had little problem with deer before now, but once they’ve discovered the choice produce aisle, it is hard to keep them away. What is a gardener to do? » Continue Reading.


Friday, June 26, 2009

This Weekend: Free Fishing in New York State

DEC’S Free Fishing Weekend this Saturday and Sunday is a great opportunity to introduce new anglers to the classic outdoor pastime of fishing. This weekend, June 27 and 28, anglers able to fish in New York’s lakes, rivers and streams without a state license. According to the DEC: “The annual free fishing weekend is the perfect time for residents and vistors to share the sport of fishing and create lasting memories with a friend or family member out fishing for the first time, or to reignite interest among those who may not have taken to the water in recent years. DEC first held the weekend in 1991 to allow all people the opportunity to sample the incredible fishing New York State has to offer.”

While no DEC fishing license is required during free fishing weekend, other fishing rules and regulations remain in effect. To learn more about New York’s regulations and information on how and where to get a fishing license, visit this DEC website.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More on Adirondack Bat Encounters

Bats are on my mind these days, thanks to the work I’m doing with the DEC survey. One of the other volunteers, who is also working on a bat project for college, just sent me an email about a baby bat that had fallen from its roost and the students who picked it up. To make a long story short, the bat was killed so it could be tested for rabies because the students had handled it without protection. So, I thought I’d dedicate this post to Proper Procedures When Encountering a Bat so that future tragedies of the same sort can be avoided.

Scenario #1: You are walking along and you see a bat on the ground – what do you do? Ideally you leave the bat alone and continue on your way. However, there are circumstances that might make this action unviable. So, first you should acertain if the bat is injured or sick. Injured bats should be taken to rehabbers. Sick bats should be sent to the state for rabies testing. Sometimes bats simply fall from their roosts (have you ever fallen out of your bed?); given the chance to do so, they will climb back up to safety. If it is a juvenile, it may not be able to climb back up, so assistance might be needed.

Never, never, never handle a bat without gloves. Better yet, don’t handle it at all. If you need to collect a bat, the best way to do so is to use a can (or jar) and a piece of cardstock. Gently place the can over the bat and gently slide the card underneath, effectively trapping the bat inside the can. If the bat is uninjured and healthy, take it outside and let it go. You can do this most easily by laying the can down on its side and walking away: the bat will crawl out, find a place to climb, and then fly away. Better yet you can empty the can gently on a branch so the bat will be able to fly off immediately.

Scenario #2: A bat flies into your house – what do you do? The best thing to do is determine what room the bat is in and then isolate it there. Close all doors and open one window. Turn out all the lights. Leave the room. The bat will find that open window and fly out. There is no need to panic. If there are no windows to open, or doors to close, follow the procedure above with the can. Eventually the bat will land somewhere (on a curtain, on a wall), and you can collect it there.

Scenario #3: Bats are roosting in your attic – what do you do? The odds are if you have a good number of bats in your attic, or barn, or garage, you probably have a maternity colony. This is a group of pregnant females who have sought your attic/barn/garage as the perfect place to give birth and raise their young. They are looking for locations that are warm (really toasty roosts help the babies mature faster) and have plenty of room to move around if it gets too warm, or too cool, in one spot. If you have a maternity colony, they will give birth by June. Baby bats are not flighted for several weeks. Once the young can fly and feed on their own, the colony moves on, usually at the end of the summer. Hiring an exterminator is really not a great idea, especially now that bat populations are declining. These days the thing to do is exclusion, wherein you locate all the entrances and exits the bats are using and seal them up…after the bats have left in the fall (or before they return in the spring). You don’t want to exclude the adults while the babies are still in the roost – they will starve to death and you will have a smelly mess. You can try erecting bat boxes nearby to provide an alternative roost site. These alternative roosts will have to be large enough to provide the bats with the conditions they need to raise their young (similar to those in your attic/barn/garage); the little boxes you can buy at garden or hardware stores are not going to cut it. For more information on bat houses, visit http://www.batcon.org/index.php/education/40-bats-and-the-public/61-bat-house-faqs.html.

Myth Busting: Forget everything your mother and friends told you about bats – chances are they are wrong.

1. Bats do not fly into your hair/head, or at least not on purpose. Have you ever accidentally walked into a wall or doorway? My theory is that in those cases in which a bat has hit someone in the head, it was simply a miscalculation on the bat’s part. It may even have been a juvenile that is still getting used to flying and using its echolocation.

2. Bats are not aggressive. As a matter of fact, they are actually rather shy animals, and many species are easily tamed. Bats only bite when cornered and given no opportunity to escape (like any other animal).

3. Bats drink your blood (after biting you on the neck). Well, first off, the only bats we have here in New York are insect eaters. You are not an insect, so you are safe. But yes, there are vampire bats – in Mexico and Central America. There are only three species of vampires; two of these species feed on birds. Only one is dependent on mammal blood, and it mostly drinks from cattle (now that cattle have moved into its habitat and are easy prey). These bats are all very small, and at most they drink (lap, actually, like a cat) a tablespoon of blood; more than that and they cannot fly.

4. Bats are dirty. Actually, bats are very clean animals. They groom themselves (and each other) almost as much as a cat does.

5. Bats are blind. Since people cannot see at night, they presume nothing else can see at night either. Therefore, bats must be blind because they fly at night without any difficulties (and we know that the blind can often navigate very well). In fact, bats have good eyesight, but they depend on echolocation (it’s like SONAR) to navigate at night and find their prey.

6. Bats are flying mice. Well, they may look like mice with wings, but bats are not even closely related to mice. As a matter of fact, bats are in a category all their own: Chiroptera (which means “hand wing”). There is nothing else on this planet like them. And, just because I love this fact, believe it or not almost one-quarter of all mammal species are species of bats! That’s right. Scientists have identified approximately 4000 species of mammals around the world, and about 1000 of these are species of bats. That should give us all an idea of just how important they are.

What about rabies? Any mammal can get rabies. Rabies is a virus that is tranmitted through saliva, usually from a bite. In general, the odds of a bat having rabies is set at less than one half of one percent. You are more likely to get food poisoning at a church picnic. That said, there are areas that do have higher incidents of rabies in bats. The last time I checked, New York listed it as 8%. Rabies testing requires the testing of brain tissue, which is only possible after the animal is deceased, so it’s not like a healthy animal will be released if its test is proven negative.

So how do you know if the bat is sick and should be sent for testing? Usually when bats get rabies, they exhibit a passive form of the disease. In other words, they do not become aggressive and charge at you, foaming at the mouth. If you encounter a bat that is lethargic and just not acting normally, it is probably sick. Such bats should be sent for testing.

With the cataclysmic decline of our most common bats these days, I think each of us should think twice when we encounter a bat. Don’t handle it. Don’t squash it with a broom. Help it leave your house safely. Bats have important roles to play in our ecosystems, even here in the Adirondacks. We should do everything we can to help those that remain survive.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adirondack Bat Survey

What is your favorite bird/animal/flower? This is a question I am often asked, and for me it is a difficult one to answer because there are too many fascinating things out there to select just one favorite. That said, I am especially fond of bats. They are highly misunderstood animals that are actually linchpins in many ecosystems. If more people understood their importance, they might be as popular as baby seals and elephants. Sadly, it often takes tragedy to bring around a change in feelings, and for our bats, that tragedy is White-nose Syndrome (WNS). » Continue Reading.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Fly Fishing For Dad, Bird Walks at the Wild Center

A couple of nice events this weekend at the Wild Center. It starts on Saturday with a new “Walking With Wild Birds” series. Designed for beginners and experts alike, these morning walks will explore mountain and boreal bird habitat as well as introduce people to bird watching. Then on Father’s Day, Sunday, the center is pulling together a fly-fishing program with local experts and hands-on opportunities to learn to tie flies and improve your casting skills.

Here are the details from the Wild Center: » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What is an Adirondack Wetland?

We have a new school program here at the Visitor Interpretive Centers: What is a Wetland? Since I am in the process of putting the finishing touches on this program, I thought it would make a good topic for the Almanack.

Put very simply, wetlands are lands that are, well, wet. That is to say, they are wet for part or all of the year. Some wetlands are obvious, like swamps, bogs and marshes that have sodden ground or standing water that you can see (or feel) every time you are there. Other wetlands, however, are seasonal, appearing when water levels are high, and disappearing in the heat of summer.

One of the Adirondack Park Agency’s responsibilities is protecting the integrity of wetlands within the Blue Line. They have staff who go into the field to conduct “wetland deliniations,” which are essentially determinations of the borders of wetlands. In order to do this, their staff look at three determining criteria: plant species, soil type(s) and hydrology.

The plant part is easy. There are species of plants that are either totally dependent on water (like pickerel weed and sphagnum moss), some that are in water two-thirds of the time you find them (like Joe-Pye-weed and black spruce), and others that are nowhere near water (like sugar maple and eastern white pine). If the area in question has a majority of plants in the first two categories, it is a wetland.

Soil types are kind of fun to determine. A core sample is taken within the test area. The soil from the sample is then compared to a soil chart, looking for evidence of oxidation. Oxidation indicates the presence of air in the soil. If there is no sign of oxidation, the soil is considered gleyed and is classified as a wetland soil. If oxidation has occurred, the soil will look rusty. If the amount of oxidation is minimal, the area is likely a seasonal wetland. On the other hand, if the soil is totally oxidized, then air gets through the layers year round and it is not a wetland.

Finally, we come to hydrology: is there water present? If there is visual evidence of innundation or saturation, you have a wetland. Do you see water? Does it squish underfoot? Is there a line of debris along the shoreline, below which the shore is scoured of vegetation? Are there areas of dead trees, where the trees essentially drowned from flooding? These are all indicators of wetland habitats.

Why is the APA so concerned about wetlands? Wetlands are extremely important habitats. Far too many people are unaware of just how important they are. Over the course of my career in environmental education, I’ve come to conclusion that many people think that those of us who promote the protection of wetlands are merely looking at them as animal homes, but the truth is that while indeed they are imporant for all kinds of wildlife, they are also so very important for people.

For one thing, wetlands clean and filter all sorts of pollutants from our water. These pollutants range from toxic chemicals to seemingly harmless fertilizers, like nitrogen and phosphorous. We know that nitrogen and phosphorous are essential for healthy soil and plants, but when large amounts enter lakes, ponds or streams, the result is potentially harmful algal blooms and excessive growth of water weeds, which can choke waterways and reduce oxygen levels in the water, resulting in the death of fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Wetlands also act as giant sponges. Every time it rains, wetlands soak up the water and release it slowly. This helps protect areas downstream from severe flooding. Look at places around the globe that suffer from massive floods today. Chances are that over the last century or two the associated wetlands have been changed or entirely removed. Without the mediating effects of these “sponges,” the water now rushes downstream, gathering speed and volume, with nothing to slow its progress as it rushes to the sea. This leads to the next benefit we get from wetlands.

Wetlands reduce soil erosion by slowing down the flow. With slower moving water, shorelines are not eaten away, and silt can fall out of the water, leaving cleaner, clearer water to continue downstream.

And, of course, wetlands are vital habitats for fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals.

Did you know that one of the deciding factors for the establishment of the Adirondack Park over one hundred years ago was protection of our waters? The Adirondack region is the source of much of the drinking water for downstate New York. With all the unregulated logging that was done in the 1800s, vast areas of land were left denuded of trees, and as a result, streams and rivers were severely impacted. Some had reduced flow, others were no longer clean as a result of runoff. You can listen to a reenactment of the 1894 New York State Constitutional Convention at the Newcomb VIC that lays out these very concerns.

So, yes, wetlands are important and we need to protect them. After all, there is only a limited amount of freshwater on this planet, and all environmental reports these days suggest that freshwater will soon become more valuable than gold. We need to protect our freshwater so that it will always be there when we need it, and this means protecting our wetlands.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Moose On The Loose At Saratoga Race Course

Saratoga Race Course employees arrived at work Monday morning to find a cow moose wandering on the sidewalk outside track property, New York Racing Association officials said. After NYRA security worked in support of the Saratoga Springs police department to bring the moose to safety inside the gates to Saratoga Race Course, Environmental Conservation officials tranquilized the moose with the intention of delivering it unharmed back to its natural environment. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adirondack Slugs – Difficult to Love

What do you do on a rainy day when you have twelve wiggly pre-schoolers to entertain? You go looking for snails and slugs! These slimy creatures (the snails and slugs, not the pre-schoolers) can be difficult to find on days that are warm and dry, but bring on the rain, and the things practically come crawling out of the woodwork.

What is a slug, except a snail sans shell? Officially a mollusc, it is hard sometimes to reconcile a slug as related to oysters and clams. They may all be related, but on the family tree, slugs are definitely located on a twig of their own.



Most people really don’t appreciate slugs; after all, what’s to love about this squishy, slimy, oozing thing that eats your lettuce and other valuable plants? But, like so many unloved animals, if you really take the time to get to know them, you are likely to discover some fascinating facts.

For example, let’s take a look at slime. What purpose does slime serve? For one thing, it helps keep the snail from drying out as it crawls along the dry ground (assuming it hasn’t rained for days). It also soaks up moisture, another anti-dehydration strategy (and also the reason why the slime is impossible to wash off your hands/feet). Slug slime serves as an aid in helping slugs crawl over very sharp objects without sustaining any injury. Do you have your doubts? Go find a slug and set it to crawl over a sharp razor blade – a feat neither you nor I could accomplish! Some slugs use their slime to form a “rope” that they can use to lower themselves to the ground. A coating of thick slime can make a slug difficult to grab if you are a predator (think greased pig). Slug slime also acts like a map, leaving a chemical trail behind that the slug can follow back to its home.

Slugs (and snails) have tentacles on the front of their faces. On the slug, the two upper ones, which tend to be longer, also possess eye spots; these are the optical tentacles. These eyes are rather primitive, essentially sensing only light. The other two tentacles are sensory organs. As a matter of fact, much of the animal’s body is dotted with various sensory cells, although the majority are grouped around its mouth and tentacles.

Do you want a REALLY cool slug activity? Try this: find one good-sized slug and a piece of glass. Place the slug on the glass, lie down on your back, and hold the glass in front of your face so that you are looking at the slug’s belly/foot. After a few moments, the slug will calm down and start oozing its way across the glass. As you watch, you will see alternating bands of light and dark “roll” across the slug’s belly/foot in waves. These bands are caused by the muscle fibers on the slug’s belly/foot. Here’s what’s happening, according to the Field Guide to the Slug (put out by the Western Society of Malacologists): “There are actually two sets of these muscle fibers, each performing separate chores. To move forward, one set – those fibers directed inward and rearward – contracts between waves, pulling the slug from the front and pushing off toward the back. Simultaneously, the second set – the fibers directed inward and forward – pulls the outer surface of the sole forward, generating the pedal wave.” There’s a really good illustration of this on page 25 of this small volume.

Believe it or not, slugs are important. They are browsers, kind of like cows. They ooze their way along the forest floor sampling assorted fungi, lichens, algae, and soft plant parts. They will also eat other slugs, the odd insect or two, animal scats and carrion. In a way, they fill a vital role in the decomposition cycle of the forest. And they are constantly eating. And yes, slugs have teeth. Apparently their teeth are much like shark teeth in that they are continually being replaced. The teeth, however, aren’t used for biting off portions of food. Nope, that is done by a guillotine-like structure in the mouth. Once a piece of food has been lopped off, the slug applies uses its radula, a long, skinny body part that is covered with thousands of teeth (think rasp). It rakes this radula along the food, scraping it up and into the digestive tract. Makes you kind of glad that a)slugs are small, and b)humans are not on their menu.

Okay, so we’ve established that slugs are rather nifty, but even so, we don’t want them in our gardens, eating our plants. What can we do? Well, you can always go out with a salt shaker and sprinkle a bit of salt on any slug you find. This effectively dehydrates them and they die. Or, you can put out a dish of beer – the slugs crawl in, get plastered and die. Or you can put copper around your plants – apparently this causes an electrical charge to zap the slugs when they touch it. I’ve also read that putting wood ashes around your garden works fairly well: the alkali of wood ashes (the source of lye) is apparently an irritant to the slug’s mucus linings. But you also want to be sure you don’t get the wood ashes on your plants, for many plants also dislike a high pH.

Everything has a place in this world, and when everything is in its place, it is beautiful. Even slugs.



Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox