Saturday 24 February 2018

Slimy nights of a thousand teeth

"Swallows are stumped by hay shed nets and are trying to colonise a potting shed...

"Hares are munching around the vegetable beds... fat wood pigeons are building just above the bedroom…. Newly awake slugs are chewing, chewing…."

Real spring is here, one reader writes. And so it goes.

Another asks, bluntly: "Those brass-necked magpies have killed, eaten or driven off all our songbirds, pulled out nest material from wall holes where brave, pathetic sparrows have been trying to make homes. What shall I do?"

Another: "A magpie behaving like the city gulls we read about 'buzzed' me at the back door. Was it expecting food or warning me to keep away from a nest? There may be one, invisible in a thick cypress tree half-way down the garden.

"This bird's compatriot is fat and sleek, almost as big as a domestic chicken, waddling about, obviously well-fed."

It goes on. Some readers have forwarded excellent snapshots of creeping leverets in a poly-tunnel, swooping swallows a-building, refurbishing old dwellings over lintels and pictures galore of banks of sweet primroses - a bountiful year - in Dublin, Meath, Louth, Mayo and especially at the marvellous Powerscourt demesne where there is literally a primrose hill or hillock, a captivating sight.

And there they are once again along the grassy banks of a haunting stretch of winding road from The Hills cricket club in North Co Dublin to Milverton into Skerries.

And then there are the slugs. Send off the slugs! Generation of slime! The night has a thousand teeth.

It's because all that rain is really their time to be the prime pest - it's usually a little later. They are devils all, except one, described by naturalist Dr Norman Hicken as "a treasure of nature".

This is the famous Kerry Slug (geomalacus maculosis), a spotted fellow of variable colour about 5cms or more long which does not eat your garden greens! It prefers mosses and liverworts which coat the Old Red Sandstone rocks of the far south, and it rolls up into a ball if disturbed.

It may only be found in the extreme south-west and, interestingly, in a triangular north-western corner of the Iberian Peninsula and just over the French border.

How did it travel? This is one of Ireland's Lusitanian fauna mysteries, discussed at length by science without a totally satisfactory conclusion being reached.

You won't find the spotted Kerryman outside its home patch but everywhere else representative of about 30 other species crawl in the night wreaking havoc in gardens. Some, like the great grey slug, are relatively harmless, preferring rotting vegetation, but nasty ones such as the common slug and the Budapest will destroy herbaceous plants and root crops.

These fellows have four noses that can detect food from four metres off. Their thousands of teeth can make short work of anything they fancy over an area of 45 square metres and they crawl homewards by a scent trail they have laid down on their mission to munch through the night.

Methods of discouragement are publicised regularly. Fortunately, we do not have any Africans so far such as achatina fulica which is as big as a banana with an appetite to match!

Sunday Independent

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