Spanish slugs, Asian hornets, and the romance of Britain

Let’s talk about the romance of living in Britain, starting with slugs. Because nothing says romance like a creature that travels on a trail of its own slime, has no skeleton, and eats everything in your garden except the weeds and the lawnmower you left out.

I’m not much of a romantic myself, and that may be why British slugs shocked me when I moved here. Minnesota slugs are (in hindsight) shy little creatures that nibble but don’t gulp. They have no taste for garden furniture. Give them a saucer of beer and they’ll drown themselves, leaving your tomatoes in peace.

Irrelevant photo: hydrangeas

Irrelevant photo: hydrangeas

And if you don’t put out beer, they only eat the smallest bit. I could knock them off a tomato, cut around the hole they left, and tell myself that sharing is good and all nature’s creatures can live in harmony.

Unless of course I ignored the garden for a few days, in which case they’d eat half the tomato and the other half would rot, but whose fault was that? I should’ve taken my tomatoes in earlier.

British slugs, though? They don’t actually eat garden furniture. That was—by way of complete transparency—an exaggeration. But I’ve seen them eyeing it. They have plans. I know this.

That’s not what shocked me, though, because I didn’t know it when I was at that early, shockable stage. It was their size that threw me. They’re as big as buses. Or at least as my longest and rudest finger.

Even in that early stage, I got a sense of what we were dealing with: Wild Thing set out a tray of seedlings one night and by morning they’d mowed down the entire thing. All they left was the plastic, the soil, and a roughly crafted sign saying, “More.” If you set out beer for these beasts, when you come out in the morning you’ll find them sitting around the edge of the saucer, thumping their mugs on the bar, yelling for refills, and singing.

There’s something about the intersection of Britain and booze that makes drunks sing, even when the drunks in question are slugs, which (in case it’s not entirely clear, and again in the interest of complete transparency) can’t actually speak.

Singers, do not try to learn your lyrics from slugs. It doesn’t work.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I was reminded recently that starting in 2012 the country was invaded by Spanish slugs. Yes, my friends, foreign slugs have made their way into this green and pleasant land, and they threaten to outcompete our good native slugs. They’re bigger. (Good god. How big can a slug get?) They reproduce faster. They eat more. According to the website Slugwatch (no I didn’t make that up; yes, you can spend your life watching slugs if you really, really want to; and yes, I’m sure there are far worse things to do with a life although none come to mind just now), they tolerate hotter, dryer environments (neither of which they’ve found here lately, but never mind; I’m sure it’ll be an advantage eventually), and they have an “extensive omnivorous diet.”

I have to interrupt myself here to talk about that diet being both extensive and omnivorous, because if omnivorous means that they eat everything (and it does; I’ve stacked the garden furniture inside to protect it, along with my supply of parentheses, which is why I can use them so freely in this post), then how much more extensive can an appetite get? They eat more than everything? And if our native slugs’ diet is less extensively omnivorous, wouldn’t that make them not omnivorous?

Former editors are terrible nitpickers, although if it makes you feel any better, I was worse before I retired. And I got paid for it.

But let’s get down to the specifics of that extensively omnivorous eating. Spanish slugs eat excrement and dead animals, Slugwatch says. In contrast, my own small and unscientific survey suggests that our good British slugs do exactly the same thing. (I told you this was going to be romantic, didn’t I?) From the time I moved here—and it was before 2012—if I wanted to slaughter some slugs, all I had to do was locate the cat shit. Or the last batch of slugs and snails I’d killed. There they’d be, chowing down happily.

And that’s not just my experience. When M. cleaned up her yard after the dog, if she found any slugs she’d just pick them up and toss them all in the trash together. She liked to think of it as sending them off with a packed lunch.

But change makes good headlines. So do threat and horror. Cannibalistic slugs attack Great Britain! Keep the children indoors!

In fairness, Slugwatch didn’t say that, but one or another of tomorrow’s papers may.

To continue with our romantic theme, though, let’s talk cold, hard politics. Because romanticizing a culture is lovely until, without much warning, it turns toxic, contrasting My Romantic and Wonderful Culture with your (note that we’ve shifted to lower case letters here, since your culture’s less important) lousy one which threatens to dilute Mine in one way or another.

So when some papers and people talk about immigration, whether the incomers are human or nonhuman, something that scares the hell out of me happens. If they see the immigrants as smarter and stronger and more omnivorous than either ourselves or our annoying native species, they complain about the incomers because they’ll outcompete us or ours. And if they see them as dumber, weaker, and less omnivorous? Well hell, that means they’re not as good as us or ours, so they deserve to be swamped. Unlike us and ours, who deserve to be protected.

I admit, I don’t favor the random transplantation of all species. I draw the line at Japanese knotweed, which can come up (or so they say) through the floor of a house and can only be destroyed by eradicating the entire planet, which would have serious consequences for our species—and problematic as we are, I kind of like our species. I’m not in favor of moving plants and beasts from one ecosystem to another, because the target ecosystem may not be able to cope with it.

But you can’t carry an extreme example over and apply it to everything. If Japanese knotweed’s a problem, that doesn’t mean humans should be locked into their native soil.

Hysteria, however, sells papers. And selling paper (did I mention that I used to be an editor?) is good.

Consider the Asian hornet. I heard a mention of it on the radio recently, so I went to my old and odd friend Google and found an article in Metro, which is accompanied by a picture of someone holding a hornet roughly the size of a small lobster. Or at least of a monstrously large hornet. The headline says, “Run for cover because these terrifying Asian hornets are heading to the UK.”

From under my bed, where I cowered with my laptop, I read the slogan beside Metro’s masthead: “News…but not as you know it.” I figured that meant, “We’re having way more fun than any reputable newspaper should.”

It was a rough translation, but it helped me put things in perspective and I went on to read the small type, where I learned that the hornets aren’t in Britain yet. I almost crawled out from under the bed. Then I read that deaths have been attributed to them in France.

Should I stay? Should I wiggle out?

I read that the deaths came from allergic reactions and looked for a comparison figure that would tell me how many people died of bee stings. I didn’t find it, but I figured this might be business as usual, so I crawled back to my desktop, where I read that up to 6,000 Asian hornets can live in a single hive.

By then, I was suspicious. I googled number of bees in a hive and learned that it’s 20,000 to 60,000. So I went to the Independent and learned that Asian hornets could come over from France, and it wouldn’t be good news since they can destroy honeybee colonies, but that they’re not the same as giant Asian hornets—they’re less dangerous, and fairly harmless to humans. Unless, of course, you’re allergic.

But hey, they’re foreign. So it seems only fair that Metro would assume that they’re up to no good. And I say that as a foreigner myself. I’m up to no good. Just look at what I’ve done with the idea of romance. And there may well be 6,000 of me living in my house. Who’d know? I’m not letting Pest Control past the front door.

What I will not be doing here in the secrecy of my hive is joining a society to defend the British slug from foreign incursions. Even if the foreign slug is more extensively omnivorous.

And so to all of you who dream of visiting Romantic Britain, and to you Brits who want foreigners like me to respect the romance of your lovely (and it really is lovely) native land, I say that I am. The romance is as great as ever, and this morning it left slime tracks on my driveway.

51 thoughts on “Spanish slugs, Asian hornets, and the romance of Britain

  1. Although I do try to live and let live with all living things (even flies!), I have the hardest time of all with slugs. We had a beautiful German Shepherd/Labrador cross. We were completely unaware of the danger that slugs and snails pose to dogs and he died a horrible death after eating slugs in the garden.

    He would eat anything he encountered that was vaguely edible and we often had to grab him to remove stuff from his mouth when we were out walking. We were baffled when he kept asking to be let out at night when he clearly didn’t need a wee and we could hear him snuffling all over the lawn like a sniffer dog.

    We realised too late that he was actually eating slugs. Despite being wormed regularly and seeing the vet, he died. I hate slugs with a passion now and I feel so sorry that my own ignorance of the danger lurking in my garden cost Charlie his life.

    And dogs don’t even have to eat slugs or snails to get infected with the parasite that causes problems, it can be in the trails of slime they leave on pet toys etc.

    I did enjoy the content of your entire post very much but slugs are a sore point for me!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I just photographed some large, amorous slugs yesterday. I loved the description of British slugs thumping their mugs and demanding refills!
    I swear to you, there was a giant hornet on my porch at the beginning of summer. Something was wrong with it, or it was people-friendly. My dog brought it to my attention as she’d tried to eat it. I have never seen any bee-type thing that size, and I was frightened. It stayed on my porch for hours, crawling around. My husband crushed it when he arrived home. It was about the length of my middle finger. I was NOT pleased with this marvel. Really alarming. Glad I haven’t seen one since.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s probably no coincidence that Seattle and Britain “enjoy” similar weather and similar plagues of slugs. The little buggers are everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest US. You may remember Gary Larson’s hilarious “Far Side” cartoons. Being a Seattleite, slugs were a common theme of his cartoons—always right on target. Asian hornets have yet to find us, but you’re welcome to our foot-long earthworms. They’ll add to the romance….

    Liked by 3 people

  4. To truly embrace the romance of Britain, slugs aside, I think consideration must be given to the fact that you now have two rude fingers.
    What could be more romantic, and even better, less verifiable, than the story of our bowman sticking them up at the French to prove we could still outdraw their ridiculous cross bows with our long bows?
    On a side note I haven’t encountered any American slugs yet, but I am losing my birdseed to chipmunks.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The thing about chipmunks is that they’re cute. Slugs, in addition to eating everything in sight, are creepy. I know I shouldn’t make decisions that way, but let’s be honest, it does come into it. You don’t find me going on and on about snails, although they eat just as much.

      And I hadn’t stopped to think about how rich I am in rude fingers these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember very large slugs in the Pacific Northwest. When I worked for Weyerhaeuser, employee parking was in wooded lots. They put little “Beware Slugs” signs up along the sidewalk because a woman stepped on one, squished it into a large enough puddle of slippy-slug-guts to cause her to fall and seriously hurt her back. I don’t know which part of that story is worse.

    Minnesota might have been the perfect climate for not being bothered by things like this. I doubt those Spanish slugs are going to stick themselves to a plane bound for Minneapolis any time soon. Are there Norwegian super slugs? That might be a problem.

    thanks for jump-starting another Friday with a few smiles.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The slug problem in Britain gets ever worse as our winters get milder and milder. Time was when severe winter frosts would kill many of them off, keeping the population in check, but sadly (from the gardner’s point of view) no longer. They must be a real pest in the South West, where winters are always that much milder anyway.

    Over the years, during which countless of my treasured garden plants have been devoured by slugs and snails in the spring, I’ve learned what things our local beasties will eat and what they won’t. It turns out that the penstemon is one plant they just won’t touch, so now I have a lot of varieties of this beautiful flower in my garden. And guess what – the penstemon originates from North America. Good ol’ US of A to the rescue!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. When I think of British wildlife, I usually think of the way it shows up in stories, especially children’s stories. Watership Down, Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter, all full of adorable badgers and mice and hedgehogs and bunnies. Are there any children’s books that include a charming slug?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Sorry – no romance for slime trains in this direction – just the though of a slug the length of a finger creeps me out!

    I’ll have to remember to read this post again in January – right about the time I’m bellyaching over Wisconsin Winters. It might make the cold season seem just a BIT warmer knowing that cold keeps the critters down to a manageable size.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good Lord, Ellen! It sounds like you are starring in a John Carpenter film. Giant slugs overtaking your backyard, Asian hornets? I remember when my husband and I were living in Arizona (which has its own set of deadly invaders) and African bees had everyone on edge. Good luck with all the creatures great and small. Oh yes! SAVE THE GARDEN FURNITURE!

    Liked by 2 people

    • We’re teaching the dogs to bark if anything slithers toward it. Then I’ll run out with my slug-slaughtering scissors. I’m hoping that’ll be enough.

      I do remember the hysteria over African bees. It all settled down, it seems to me (following the story from Minnesota, where we weren’t likely to see them), pretty quickly when they failed to kill off entire cities.

      Liked by 2 people

    • A Spanish teacher once gave me a handy way to remember which is what: My love is like a rose is a simile. My love is a rose is a metaphor. Rose is a symbol. It wasn’t a particularly good class otherwise, but I’ve had many reasons to use her handy guide. Anyway, thanks. As a foreign slug myself, the–ahem–symbol resonates strongly with me.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Asian hornets: an update | Notes from the U.K.

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