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Banana Slugs

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A banana slug.

If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere, the changing colour of the leaves, the crisp coldness of the air and the increase in Christmas merchandise in stores can only signal one thing - autumn has arrived. And if you are lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, you also get to tramp about in the forest and check out the banana slug, Oregon's favourite1 invertebrate.

These creatures are a complex species, as one who has seen The Life Story of the Slug in biology class can tell you. Their body consists of eyes located at the end of the antennas, an anus (don't you just love scientific technical terms?) and a 'foot' which is really a large muscle underneath the entire length of the body to 'aid in locomotion'.

Contrary to popular belief, a slug is not a snail. They are very similar, but have one important difference: a snail has a shell to hide in, a slug does not. This distinction may seem trivial, but it becomes an important detail in the following experiment.

The next time you are tramping about in the forest (which we hope is at least once a day, if not more) and come across a banana slug, sneak up on it and give it a lick. Not just a touch with the tip of the tongue, but a full-on 'puppy dog happy to see ya' kind of lick.

As you watch the slug shrink away from the sudden stimuli, you will notice a most remarkable chemical reaction: your tongue goes numb. The slimy trail of slug ooze is really the only adaptation for slugs to have a chance of survival when lapped up by some human-looking puppy dog. Truly biochemistry at its finest.

Note - this does not hurt the slug. It only spooks it a little. In no way does this entry condone slug abuse. Of course, how would you feel if you were just scooting along the forest floor, minding your own little slug business, when... slurp!!!... you got licked? So don't do this too many times to one slug. Just use some common sense.

And there you have it. So, the next time you are in the wet 'n' wild forests of the Pacific Northwest, bring a friend. Tell them you want to conduct a 'serious biochemistry experiment', in which you need their full co-operation. The rest is up to you.

1Also believed to be the official state invertebrate.

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