Last night I picked up my dog's dish to fill it and found myself holding a slug in my hand. This slug did as slugs do and released slime all over my hand. Semi-disgusted, I went to the sink to wash the deposit off and guess what? Slug slime doesn't wash off! It kind of changes consistency, and it'll move around a bit, but it won't wash off. I decided I needed to know a bit more about slug slime. Here's what I learned.
Slug Slime has all the expected benefits for the slugs. It helps them not to dry out, lubricates their movement across the ground, helps them adhere to steep surfaces, and makes them fairly unattractive as food for predators. During sex, slugs often eat each other’s slime during courtship and then wrap themselves in a nuptial bed of slime during the actual reproductive act. But...there's more!!
Slug slime is actually made of a highly organized polymeric material that can absorb water extremely rapidly—up to 100 times its initial volume. It absorbs the water so fast that it's almost explosive. So, you ask, how come slugs don't soak up too much water and explode when the crawl across water? Well the slug cleverly packages up the dry mucus in granules, coating it with a layer of cell membrane material, thereby keeping it dry until it is ready to make slime. When the slug thinks it's time for slime, the granule is broken open and whammo...Slime everywhere!
Another little known fact about slug slime is that not only does it deter predators by being gross and slimey, but it also numbs the tongue of anyone who dares taste it. Go ahead...try it. Slug Slime actually contains an anesthetic. This doesn't keep everyone from eating slugs however. Shrews actually relish the slippery critters, and racoons roll slugs around in the dirt to give them a more palatable coating before eating them. My grandma swore that chickens and turkeys would eat slugs as well.
Scientists are very interested in the characteristics of slug slime. Researchers foresee numerous potential uses, such as pollutant traps for sewage treatment plants, effective water-based lubricants, and improved surgical implants and wound coverings. Slug slime is one of the best natural glues ever discovered and because it sticks especially well to human skin, doctors are studying slug slime to develop surgical implants that will stick to and be accepted by human bodies.
Oh...and I did discover how to get slug slime off my hands. Because the slime absorbs water and becomes thicker and stickier as it does, washing only makes the slime stick more. The slime should be wiped off with a dry towel before you wash. Or try rubbing your dry hands together, in much the same way you'd remove rubber cement. The slime can be rolled into a ball and discarded. See? You learn something new everyday.