Friday, 28 August 2009

Love is in the air...if you're a slug

I woke up this morning and there was that noticeable chill in the air, the one you know if you sleep with your windows open, the one that reminds you autumn is fast approaching. I knew it was coming as the chickens are nearing the end of their moult and egg production is down, and the sloes in the hedgerows are ripe now.

When I lived in New England, it heralded the start of the tourist season -"leaf peepers" - when people travelled to the New England states to watch the leaves turn the most magnificent colours. It's the one time of year I get homesick.

In England, it signifies the end of summer and the end of the tourist season here in the south west, which is a huge relief for locals. Our roads are those picturesque lanes that wind languorously through the countryside but are only wide enough for one and a half cars (what engineering genius came up with that concept?)and littered with dips and blind spots which effectively hide from view walkers, horse riders, and other cars that have stopped to admire the scenery.

The speed limits on these roads are 50mph - the national speed limit - which is crazy. And just the sheer volume of traffic clogs up the roads. Just getting milk from the store requires military- like timing and a thorough knowledge of back roads - which includes field margins and tracks. Anything to avoid the traffic created by "grockles", a local nickname for tourists.

We have 'rush hour' in our own village of Mapperton, when Joe and Piat herd their sheep to new grazing, or Mr Puzey walks his bull down the road to another field of heifers so it can set to work producing next year's calves. Only in this rush hour, you are sometimes asked to participate - closing gates ahead, driving a old ewe who's decided to stop and sample the hedgerow offerings back to the flock. Livestock still have right of way on the roads. And so it should be.

Autumn's chill reminder made me remember that our log pile is still only pitifully knee-high and it should be covering the side of the shed, 2 rows deep. I must go and get a new bar and chain for the chainsaw today. The old one needed replacing anyway but I finished it off the other day helping Simon take out a stump from his garden which had soil lodged in its lower branches. It's also time to mow the lawn again, a job I always put off. It's so long now if I wait another day I might as well cut it and bale it for hay.

Anyway - today's post is on slug reproduction. When I went out to check the meat chickens this morning, I stumbled across this very private moment between two consenting slugs:

Although slugs are hermaphroditic, they will choose sexual reproduction when possible preferring new genetic material to a clone of their own. I knew slugs laid eggs, and I was pretty sure I knew what the white jelly was, but I wasn't exactly sure how the whole process worked. It was more fascinating than I thought. Wikipedia says:

Once a slug has located a mate, they encircle each other and sperm is exchanged through their protruded genitalia. A few days later around 30 eggs are laid into a hole in the ground, or beneath the cover of objects such as fallen log.
A commonly seen practice among many slugs is
apophallation. The penis of these species is curled like a cork-screw and often becomes entangled in their mate's genitalia in the process of exchanging sperm. When all else fails, apophallation allows the slugs to separate themselves by one or both of the slugs chewing off the other's penis. Once its penis has been removed, a slug is still able to mate subsequently, but using only the female parts of its reproductive system.

I bet you didn't know THAT!


pigeon pease said...

Blimey my legs are crossed ;)

Poppy Cottage said...

Only you could make the sexual life of a slug sound interesting!!!

I love Autumn, I love cold mornings, the different light that you get, the misty mornings, sleeping with my window open and lots of fresh air blowing on my face as the rest of me snuggles under Lily and the Duvet.

Bring it on!!!!

Pomona said...

Just discovered you via Poppy Cottage - I always thought slugs were horrid, now I know! We obviously have a lot in common on the self-sufficiency front - we have a smallholding in Kent with pigs and hens (for eggs) - not gone down the meat route yet, but it's on the list!

Pomona x

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Pomona,

Glad you found us and nice to hear of like minded sorts. I'm also interested in permaculture and strive to keep my inputs like fertiliser limited to what we can produce (with 2 horses we do pretty well on that front!)
I'd be interested in your experiences with pigs. We'd like to keep a couple weaners for the freezer and wonder about the pros and cons.
I assume by your name you make cider as well?

Pomona said...

If you have the space then pigs do work really well - we did 5 first time, which was quite a lot to manage, but what we sold to friends has paid for a freezer full of meat. We bought a pig ark, and use electric fencing - email me if you would like to know more details. We have a 6 acre Bramley orchard - we haven't done cider yet, but lots of preserves, apple juice, apple pies, etc.

Pomona x

Kerry said...

You would probably have more logs if you stopped using them to bludgeon animals. Don't you have a hatchet or 10 cc phenobarbitol laying around the house. For the animals, not the woodstove, obviously.

Jennifer Montero said...

I was looking at a special chicken stun gun with electrodes that go on their tiny temples but that assumes I'm going to have to despatch lots more, and I'm trying to think positive.

I do have a hatchet but I often think of the tale of Mike the Headless Chicken. Type that into Google and you'll see why I stick with the logs.