It’s always a treat to visit Malham Tarn, and even better when I get to play with slugs and snails. Wait, what ?
Yes, you heard me right, slugs and snails are not just for complaining about in the garden, they are a fun group to study and quite accessible, especially now the test version of the new slug key is available from the Field Studies Council.
There are around 40 species of slugs in the UK, which makes them quite an accessible group for beginners in invertebrate identification like myself, and as we all know, SLUGS ARE EVERYWHERE ! Terrestrial snails are a bit trickier but still a small group compared to, say, vascular plants, and it’s fairly easy to make progress in identification without any special gear beyond a hand lens.
This makes slugs and snails the perfect topic for the Biodiversity Fellows project at the Field Studies Council, which aims to help more people enjoy and identify under-recorded groups like bryophytes, stoneworts and terrestrial molluscs (all of which I’ve been able to study for free thanks to the project).
Almost a dozen future slug and snail enthusiasts gathered to meet Robert Cameron, who literally wrote the book on snail identification. After warming up with coffee in the Common Room, we headed out to the woodland around the centre to furkle under logs and stones and moss looking for our slimy quarry. If you’re wondering, the best way to collect slugs and snails in the field is to put them in a lidded margarine tub (or similar), and make sure you have two tubs with you, so that you don’t mix slugs and snails (apparently the slugs crawl all over the snails and everything ends up a sticky mess). Always put some moist dead leaves or other veg in with them, because animal welfare.
Having successfully collected some specimens, despite being distracted by interesting woodlice and millipedes, we headed to the lab to put the keys through their paces. I found this easier than I thought and was happily identifying specimens when I realised it was time to go home !
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off out into the garden to pick over the strawberry bed and see what I can find lurking beneath those shiny green leaves…..