Gastropods, Pacific Northwest
Gastropods inhabit all of the pacific northwest – from alpine meadows to old-growth coniferous forests, and from valley lowlands to urban gardens & parks.
You can see large ones after a rain or late at night when there is dew, but as a rule, most snails & slugs are tiny and stay hidden under rocks & garden debris.
Snails and slugs belong to a large & diverse group of animals called gastropods, that live in oceans, fresh water, and on land.
Gastropods have a distinct head, with eyes at the end of their tentacles, and a broad, flat foot used for locomotion.
The BC coastal region has many fascinating snails and slugs that dwell on both land and water fresh, and salt. They can be quite amazing to observe! One of our more interesting snails has to be the Robust Lancetooth Snail.
The Robust Lancetooth is quite a common snail on the pacific northwest coast, its a very pretty snail, sometimes its called the albino snail because of its white body.
This snail is commonly found in forest settings, it spends most of its time under rocks, logs and moss, or down deep in forest litter. The robust lancetooth snail feeds on slugs, earthworms, and other snails.
The name is given to them because of the calcium carbonate spike they use to stab their prey, once the other prey is punctured, the snail backs off and follows the slim trail left by the dying victim. After it dies, the Lancetooth devours it at its leisure.
The Banana Slug is native to the Pacific Northwest region and can grow to a length of 20 cm, with a few giants reaching up to 25 cm, making them the second largest slugs in the world, the Limax genus in Europe is the largest
The banana slug’s color ranges from dead white to black, with many intermediate color hues, such as lemon yellow, light tan, and dark brown. It is often seen with black blotches or spots on its body.
The banana slug has a varied diet and will eat decaying plant material, algae, dead flesh, and animal droppings. They need a moist and mild temperature to live. They can live up to 7 years of age.
They are named for their roughly cylindrical shape and characteristic golden yellow color. Banana slugs do come in other colors, including green, brown, black, and white. Though the less common colors may reflect the influences of diet, available light, moisture, age, health, and other factors, the basic coloration evolved to blend well with their surroundings and help slugs avoid detection by predators.
Banana slugs can only withstand a limited range of variations in environmental conditions. The climate has to be reasonably mild because severe winter cold will kill them. They need moist environments because severe desiccation can kill them. Since detritus and related organic matter provides most of their food, rotting plant and animal material must be abundant. Mushrooms are a preferred food, but they’ll consume lichens, algae, fruit, seeds, and even animal droppings. They will also eat the flesh of dead animals.
All things considered, it’s easy to understand why nearly all banana slugs live in the floor of temperate coniferous rain forests and similar wet habitats within the long, narrow, mountain-backed BC coastal region that stretches along the North Pacific Coast. This encompasses a huge area extending from northern California northward through British Columbia to southwestern Alaska. Only in a few places does this range extend inland more than a couple of hundred miles, and that is only in long wide valleys.
Snails and slugs move pretty slow. An average adult snail moves at a speed of 3.6 meters per hour, slugs are a bit faster. While moving, snails slide on a trail of slime, a lubricant they produce to allow them to easily glide over any type of terrain. Land Snails aren’t able to hear at all but they have eyes and their incredible sense of smell to help them find food.
Snail shell is made of calcium carbonate and keeps growing as long as the snail grows. They keep adding more calcium carbonate to the edge of the shell until the snail reaches adult size.
You will find that gastropods like snails are the most active at night. They may come out during the early morning hours as well. It is impossible to tell the females from the males but that means little as they hermaphrodites anyway and come equipped with both male and female organs. After mating, both snails are impregnated and will give birth.
Sometimes you just see the more uncommon slugs like the yellow bordered tail dropper, these slugs can drop up to 33 percent of their body and still survive, as they do not move very fast, this is a great defense from predators. I used to never see these around the coast but lately, i have been seeing them quite often.
Humans have always eaten snails and still do in many countries. But be warned, you can become very ill if the snails aren’t properly cooked. Some snails can carry a parasite that is known to cause meningitis.
Even handling land snails, especially those found in the wild, one should observe proper hygiene and wash up to avoid problems.