Yesterday I came across a slug out walking the dogs. I realise, on re-reading this first sentence, that it is open to misinterpretation so let me state plainly that it was me out walking the dogs and not the slug. The slug just happened to be crossing the dirt track which links two sections of roughly-paved road. The track itself is little used. In the recent rains it becomes very slippery and so vehicles tend to keep off it and, as a result, plants grow freely down the middle.

In the manner of all slugs, this thing was showing little sign of urgency and so I didn´t hang around long enough to see it complete the journey from the long grass on one side of the track to the long grass on the other side. I had to give it credit for ambition though because, from the point of view of a slug, crossing a path without cover is a pretty ambitious undertaking.

Humorists are often given to considering the motivating factors for chickens crossing roads. Perhaps philosophers do too. But the slug, not being the brightest creature in the world, probably had little idea that it was crossing the road at all, let alone that there might be a sound reason for doing so. If it was a conscious decision maybe the old adage of the grass being greener on the other side had something to do with it.

It must be a matter of regret to the slugs of the world that, on the day of creation, when God was fashioning streamlined dolphins and elegant gazelles and dazzling tropical songbirds, that slugs should each end up having the general size and profile of a dog turd. They really drew the short straw there. I imagine that this must give the group a collective chip on the shoulder but I guess they just take it on the chin (of course having neither shoulders nor chins makes all of this something of a moot point). But slugs, to their lasting credit, just soldier on with fortitude and courage and make the most of whatever limited opportunities come their way.

In the great hierarchy of living things as organised and described by Linneaus and his descendants, slugs and their fellow molluscs are relegated to the “inferior” invertebrates and excluded from the “higher” vertebrate club of which we, of course, are team captain. And even in among the molluscs there is a pecking order with, I imagine, the intelligent and dynamic squids and octopuses sitting at the top table. Even a snail would likely consider a slug to be an inferior. “Call yourself a gastropod?! Don´t make me laugh! You don´t even have a shell!”

But far be it from me to belittle the humble slug and it would not be fair to say I was unimpressed by the rather fine specimen that crossed my path yesterday. It was, by slug standards, a whopper. I don´t remember seeing a bigger one. And so I took a photo of this goliath with my foot next to it to give some impression of its size.

I am as keen on natural history as the next man, in fact I am probably keener than most, but I do find it hard to get overly excited about slugs. Or at least not in the way I would be excited by, say, the arrival of the European bee eaters which were, at that same moment, cutting through the sky above like fighter jets. However, it is only right and fair to acknowledge the role in nature of the lowly slug which lives an unassuming life grazing on plants (although some are carnivorous) and, in turn, provides food for birds and mammals.

You might be forgiven for thinking that slugs lack charisma and, if a slug were to write an autobiography, it might be a poor choice of bed time reading material (or maybe a good one if the primary objective is to get to sleep). The unexpected truth however is that  the group as a whole is far more interesting than you might first imagine.

Slugs don´t really make a very tidy discrete group from a taxonomic point of view. They are shell-free gastropod molluscs but even that description falls a little short because some do have secret shells hidden away in their soft bodies. They are hermaphrodite and some, at least, have very perverse sexual habits.

I don´t really want to go into this aspect of their lives in case I begin to paint a picture of myself as some kind of drooling pervert myself, but I will point out, just in passing, that Leopard slugs are the proud owners of multiple body length penises and will only mate when they are dangling upside down from a thread of mucus. Well, I guess ….. each to their own.

Many slugs are marine including a whopper called a sea hare which is found off California and can weigh 30 pounds. I saw a picture of a guy holding one of these things. It would´t win a beauty pageant. In fact, neither of them would have. In Europe the gold medal for size goes to the ashy-grey slug which can reach a more modest, but still impressive, ten inches. I didn´t take out my measuring tape yesterday but I suspect that my campo slug was six or maybe even seven inches long and was a very fine specimen.

We fishermen have good reason to be appreciative of slugs. I have never used one as bait but some fish like chub will gobble them quite happily and I remember as a kid reading a book about carp in which there was an account of Jack Hilton catching a forty pounder on a free lined slug in Redmire Pool.

I don´t come across slugs very frequently on my walks here with the dogs but it was nice to see one yesterday. It is surprising, given the hot dry summer in Andalucía, that slugs and toads should figure in respectable numbers. I won´t see yesterday´s slug ever again but, with the epic road crossing experience now under his / her belt I can only wish him / her a long, healthy and fulfilling life on the other side of the track. It would be nice if the grass there does turn out to be greener after all.

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Here is where our paths crossed. Up ahead are my dogs Chica and Barney. Another dog, Boris, was out with us too but had buggered off somewhere at the moment I took this picture.

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And here is our good friend the slug.