A voracious “killer slug” found in a back garden outside Norwich could be the first UK invader from a species which has attacked crops and devoured dead mammals in mainland Europe.

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The Spanish slug, which earned its “killer” nickname from its aggressive and cannibalistic tendencies, has been identified in this country for the first time after being spotted by scientist Dr Ian Bedford, head of entomology at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Colney.

Dr Bedford’s role at the internationally-renowned plant science and microbiology centre meant he was alert to the appearance of potential crop pests, and resolved to find out what species had destroyed the garden vegetables at his Cringleford home.

His suspicions were confirmed by Aberdeen University, where experts identified the species as “Arion vulgaris”.

Now researchers from the John Innes Centre and other UK universities are preparing a plan to investigate and tackle the problem.

Dr Bedford suspected the large brown slugs in his garden were invaders due to their vast numbers and their aggressive behaviour.

He said: “There were very strange things happening, like seeing a dead mouse which the cat had killed being eaten by this particular type of slug.

“It was something I had not seen before, and particularly in such large numbers. You could easily find 100 on the lawn. I grow vegetables and when I saw the carrots coming through the whole lot would be gone by morning, like a lawn-mower had gone through and wiped them out.”

Dr Bedford said it was a “great concern” that the species had arrived in Norfolk.

“East Anglia does seem to be an open door to invasive species like this,” he said. “Whether that is because we import a lot of products, or that we have a lot of ports, or our close proximity to Europe, I don’t know.

“We have had a lot of reports from growers around the county of horrendous problems with slugs this year, with some rape crops being re-own twice.

“They’ve caused damage to a vast range of plants that you wouldn’t expect them to attack, like the foliage on potato crops, onion tops and chives, broad beans and runner beans.

“We suspect a lot of those things that were reported are linked to Arion vulgaris. So obviously we have got to do something.”

Dr Bedford’s discovery has launched a research project which also includes Aberdeen and Newcastle universities, and could include The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) at Colney,

“We (the JIC) have got experience of looking at organisms in laboratories but we can also use TGAC to try and identify the types of parasites these slugs carry, and to find out if these species has been breeding with our indigenous slugs,” he said. “Because it is an unknown, we need to do this very carefully and very quickly.

“We need to be ahead of the game and the first step to try and control this pest is to understand is as much as possible. We need to find its Achilles Heel.”

9 comments

  • Our garden was decimated by these last year. Potatoes . beetroot, carrots, parsnip, strawberries. They also ate the dead mice left on the path by the cats. We were collecting over 100 per night (killing in boiling water) but made no difference. Also used slug pellets and nematodes. - Gave up in the end!!

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    Ken

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • I like a good conspiracy....but dem mad scientist wouldn't release these k*ller migrants? ..in order to get guaranteed funding???

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    nrg

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • I think we have had this slug in our garden in Dickleburgh. Very large, just like the one in the picture. I did take a photo to show my husband, but sadly deleted it from my phone now.

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    Roving Reporter

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

  • Gosh what luck an expert was the first to notice these.

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    City Boy

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

  • Dem slugs of county hall need a good sorting too.

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    nrg

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

  • Best described as a moving dog turd, these blighters noshed my toms to nowt last autumn. They also have fancy for breadcrumbs meant for the birds, they don't like a dollop of salt on their backs for a sizzling end for their slimy lives.

    Report this comment

    nrg

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

  • They are as common as muck in and around County Hall.

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    John L Norton

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

  • Hi There I have suffered with slug problems for many years i have treid all the natural remidies from beer traps to copper strips, whilst they are effective to an extent they are not effective enough. I was searching throught the interenet and came across a product call the Slug Bell, it is a beautifully designes products that can act as an ornament in the garden as well as a slug killer! You place a metal stick into the ground and pour the pellets in to the little basket ( which is high up the stick) You then place the metal bell shaped lid on, so now the only animals that can get to the pellets are slugs and snails, saving the wildlife which is important to me! Also because the pellets can't be washed or blown away you dont have to change them for 3 weeks! this product really has saved me garden i am so impressed with it i just want to share it with every one! Please take a look at them www.slugbell.com

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    Michael Messina

    Monday, January 14, 2013

  • Yes, what luck indeed that an expert was the first to discover them and now has initiated a research project which will keep him and his buddies in work for god knows how long, and no doubt all funded by some fat grant, which we are ultimately paying for. Its a farce.

    Report this comment

    Police Commissioner ???

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

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