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Thursday October 17, 2013

Are killer, cannibalistic Spanish slugs really invading British shores?

Come on people, get a grip. Stop trembling like a pack of whippets. We’re talking about slugs here – not an invasion of body snatchers, deranged zombies, or flesh eating monsters rampaging around the English countryside gobbling up farmers.

And while we’re at it, why oh why is the British media obsessed with calling Arion vulgaris, the large, handsome amber-hued slug that seems smitten with life as an expat in Blighty, Spanish? It may well be big – apparently they can grow to six inches and produce 400 eggs a piece – and have an insatiable appetite (no doubt for paella, olives and chorizo), but so does my one-eyed dumpling of a cat, Doughnut, and he isn’t vilified. In fact Doughnut would eat your hand if you smeared cat food on it. Now as to the slug being ‘Spanish’ in origin, the jury’s out. Apparently Alfred Moquin-Tandon, the French naturalist, reported the appearance of Arion vulgaris in parts of France as far back as 1855 meaning – according to some botanists – that the slug could indeed be French in origin, not Spanish.

The hysteria resulting from reports that this slimy and robust creature has been decimating the UK’s rural zones seems a tad un-British. I mean, yes, it has a penchant for crops and likes to eat dead animals but better dead than alive, surely? I’m not sure that it does have cannibalistic qualities and fret that this could just be a libellous slur on the good reputation of slugs. According to certain newspapers, in Scandinavia invading Spanish slugs multiplied to such an extent, gorging on road kill, that there were many casualties on the highways, leading to slug corpse pile ups and traffic problems. Oh, come on. Pull the other one. Nonetheless I shouldn’t mock because recently a leading British scientist maintained that the giant gastropod was a ‘voracious predator’ and it has even been described as the ‘worst slug pest in Europe’: heady stuff, so credit where it’s due.

Apparently the Spanish slug can cover 16 feet of terrain per night, presumably munching up everything in its path and who can blame it on a cold night in the British countryside? It seems that the biggest concern for British slug experts – yes, trust me, they do exist – is that these garlicky chaps might mate with British slugs and create a hybrid resistant to cold. Heavens above! That aside, one can only imagine the ensuing linguistic faux-pas and complications. I remember how distressed our siquier, the local water channel operator, was here in Soller when my husband allowed English worms from our wormery to fraternise with their Majorcan counterparts. He thought that it amounted to cross-breeding and would seriously affect the well-being of the Majorcan species. As it happens, they’ve all got along splendidly, as he had to concede, and now are completely bi-lingual.

It seems that the poor old Spanish super slugs arrived in the UK via imported pot plants, trees and salad leaves. Hardly their fault. If truth be told I bet they’d rather be back in the sunshine, nibbling on some tasty Spanish leaves rather than having to resort to oil seed rape. Now an organisation called Slugwatch is homing in on the chubby beasties. Is there no respite for the poor, hunted pariahs? I just hope that these unwelcome guests find a way to secrete themselves onto ferries and lorries heading back to Spain. Until then, I suppose they’ll just have to slug it out.

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