This past weekend a few NOS folks were able to attend an environmental and outdoor education workshop in Little Basin, an area of Big Basin State Park, which is near Santa Cruz, California. The workshop was fun and educational and on our last day we decided to explore the area a bit. I had been to California before, but hadn’t seen the redwoods, and it was one of my coworkers first time in California so we were excited to go exploring. We headed over to the visitor center and decided on a short trail through the redwood forest. Right before we started our hike, Trails mentioned we might come across a banana slug, something I had never heard of growing up in the Northeast. After finding out they are enormous for a slug - up to 10 inches - and bright yellow I was excited to find this new creature, but had doubts that I would be able to find one.
Low and behold about 10 minutes into the hike I stopped short. Right in front of me was a banana slug about 5-6 inches long just hanging out in the middle of the trail. Trails proceeded to ask us if we wanted to kiss it, because apparently it will make your lips numb, but we decided to pass. That got me curious though, about these crazy creatures, which look like something from a fantasy movie, so I decided to do some research.
The banana slug, which is the University of California, Santa Cruz mascot, is actually the second largest species of land slug in the world and can weigh up to as much as a ¼ lb hamburger (The Biogeography of the Banana Slug). The numbing factor has to do with their mucous, which has anesthetic properties when it comes in contact with a wet surface, such as inside a predator’s mouth, or a daring human’s lips. A way to get around this is to roll the slug in the dirt to get rid of the slime, which is a great option of a hungry raccoon, bird, or snake (Banana Slug Biology).
Some other interesting things I learned from The Biogeography of the Banana Slug:
• Banana slugs are mostly found in the Pacific Northwest and love the moist weather, which, because it had been raining all night is probably why we saw about a dozen
• Although they are land animals today, they are a mollusk and evolved from marine snails
• These slugs are pretty much loners, leaving their eggs as soon as they’re laid, and only interacting with other slugs during mating
• Mushrooms are their favorite food and they also like to feast on dead and decomposing plant and animal matter
Although I am new to this part of the country and am fascinated by a creature others may have seen their whole lives, it inspired me to take a closer look at plants and wildlife I’m familiar with. There may be something in your backyard that you don’t know much about, or maybe an animal you’ve seen your whole life; but do you really know why it lives in that environment or why it behaves the way it does? I challenge you to find out a new, interesting fact about a local creature—some things may surprise you!