Delayed autumn a good time for slugs and snails

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The Indian summer continues and wildlife responds to the delayed onset of autumn. However, the trees are turning and horse chestnuts in particular are starting to show beautiful colours of fall.

This message came from Ray Sykes, accompanied by amazing pictures: ‘Good morning Ian, I saw this slug suspended from our greenhouse roof and wondered if they regularly acted this way. Regards Ray’.

Slugs and snails, collectively known as molluscs, are doing particularly well this year. A mix of wet and warm weather and the early luxuriant growth of vegetation this spring have generated a bumper crop.

The two groups are closely related. Slugs, in evolutionary terms, descended from snails but with much reduced shells.

With slugs, an internal plate that protects the lungs has replaced the external shell and helps prevent desiccation.

Both these types of mollusc are soft-bodied and move by means of a large muscular foot that slides over a slimy secretion.

With two sets of highly extensible tentacles, they can smell with the lower pair and see with the upper.

Slugs and snails have surprisingly elaborate and complex courtship and mating rituals, laying up to 500 eggs during their adult life, which explains the population boom.

While mating, snails may be seen joined together, and slugs often do it suspended in mid-air by a thread of slime.

One of the most obvious to do this is a slug commonly associated with gardens and human habitation, the fittingly named great grey slug which reaches several inches in length.

Anyway, this brings us back to Ray’s mystery beast, which I believe is deroceras reticulatum, or the field slug.

Bad news for Ray’s plants – this is one of our most common, and for horticulture most damaging, slugs.

They grow to around three to four centimetres in length and are coloured from grey to fawn and mostly feed above ground on a wide variety of plants. With their toothed tongue, rasping and chewing on leaves, flowers, stems, tubers, buds, roots, bulbs, and fruit, they cause enormous problems for the gardener.

You can expect slugs and snails to keep active until the first hard frosts of the winter.

Of course, if you want to keep numbers down then the help of your local hedgehogs, if you still have any, is great; otherwise, toads are good too.

Basic garden hygiene is helpful in removing slug habitat and, if all else fails, try a glass of stale beer, which attracts and destroys slugs relatively painlessly.

There is another way to deal with the infestation, but shhhh, don’t tell...

Just pop out on a warm night, collect them up and drop them over next door’s hedge; nobody will know!

n Sightings: Nuthatches are doing well and at this time of year are noisy and obvious in Norton and Norton Lees. Interestingly, a garden at Millhouses had six siskins, the first since March, and maybe a sign of things to come. Rother Valley Country Park looks good with a willow tit near Meadowgate Lake car park, kingfisher fishing on the Meadowgate Lake with a shelduck nearby, and a chiffchaff too. A singing chiffchaff was at Grenoside and another was seen at Canklow Wood. A hobby was over Stubbin Hill at Rawmarsh. Close to me at Norton, Graves Park had a kingfisher and a little grebe on the Lake. Black redstarts were seen at Derwent Edge – presumably European birds on migration.

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