Spanish slugs. Pic by Dr Ian Bedford

John Innes Centre scientist needs public’s help to stop ‘killer slug’ in its tracks

Thursday, January 17, 2013
6.30 AM

The Norwich scientist who recorded the UK’s first confirmed “killer slug” sighting last week has appealed for the public’s help in assessing the threat from the invasive species.

Dr Ian Bedford, head of entomology at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Colney, identified the Spanish slug at his home in Cringleford, after the creatures had appeared in large numbers and devoured his vegetable patch.

The species earned its “killer” nickname from its aggressive and cannibalistic tendencies and has become a serious pest in mainland Europe, where it is known to attack crops and eat dead animals.

So Dr Bedford, along with his colleagues at the Norwich Research Park and universities in Aberdeen and Newcastle, has launched a project to learn more about the slug’s distribution and behaviour.

He has urged anyone, including gardeners, growers and farmers, to report unusually large numbers of slugs or strange behaviour and eating habits, along with a location and, preferably, a postcode.

“We have to understand this slug’s biology before we can find a way to fight it,” said Dr Bedford.

“At the moment, we don’t know very much at all, apart from the fact that they are here. There have been lots of stories going around, but not very much evidence. That is where the public can help us.

“We don’t expect people to be able to identify which species they have seen, but we would be very grateful if people could report unusual activity, or if they have seen slugs in very large numbers.

“We’re not talking about one or two at a time – it would have to be amazing numbers, like I have had here where you could easily go and collect a hundred of them, and see them eating things they would not normally eat, like the tops of onions and potato foliage.

“We also want to hear from commercial growers who have been unable to control slugs in the last year. We have heard some people put problems down to the wet weather, but those problems could also be linked to the Spanish slugs.”

The Spanish slug, which can grow up to 15cm long, is usually brown or reddish brown, but Dr Bedford said he had found specimens which were orange, yellow or black.

He said: “The morphological features can vary so much and we don’t know if they have bred, so we need to kick-start this research – and the first step is to pull together and find as much data as possible about where these slugs have become established.”

Dr Bedford can be contacted by emailing ian.bedford@jic.ac.uk or via Twitter: @drianbedford.