MIDWAY: It’s a slug’s world
The wet summer, while depressing for most of us, has been fantastic for slugs. Slugwatcher Richard Meredith, who says this year has been “slug heaven”, estimates the current UK population at 15bn and growing — slugs can breed continuously and lay up to 30 eggs at a time. Farmers are panicking: when not having sex, slugs spend their time eating, and a field of broccoli is just the ticket. A nightmare vision of devastated crops, gardens filled with sex-crazed slugs and streets running with mucus is being conjured up. Who will stand up for the poor slug? I will.
I like slugs. I can identify with round, slimy, widely derided creatures, make a point of never stepping on them in the street, and give short shrift to my mother-in-law when she complains about them eating her hostas. They are quiet, law-abiding and no more or less attractive than a pickled cucumber. If you find one in your bathroom, let it be — they do a great job of eating mould that may have built up in tricky corners. If you find two in the bathroom, watch with interest, because their courtship rituals are fascinating, often involving one biting the male organ off the other (slugs are hermaphrodites).
“Humans have been around for a million years, but slugs have been around for 400 million years and will be here long after us,” says Professor George Dussart, president of the Malacological Society of London, which studies molluscs. “Destroying them has always been the holy grail, but if we destroyed them we’d probably destroy ourselves as well. Pests are part of what it is to be human.” Nor is their ecological effect all bad, he says. They recycle decomposing material, and slug faeces accounts for much of the average compost heap.
What slugs really need is the sort of gastronomic respectability snails have. Their potential as a delicacy took a knock in 2003 when a student in Sydney almost died of meningitis after eating two raw slugs, and the fact that they’re coated in mucus also presents problems, but Bert Christensen, an enterprising Canadian, has posted a recipe for slug fritters on his website: “Take 10 freshly slaughtered slugs cleaned of all outer mucus...” If cooked properly, slugs could grace our tables. Limaces a la sauce lyonnaise, anyone?