PHOTO: The Leopard Slug Is Easily One of the Most Bizarre Looking Creatures on the Planet

by Lauren Boisvert

We just found out about the leopard slug, and safe to say, we’re here for this new wildlife experience. The scientific name, Limax maximus, literally means “biggest slug,” which reinforces my opinion that scientific names are goofy. It’s also known as the great grey slug and the leopard slug, due to its distinct pattern. The leopard slug is among a species of keeled slugs. The keel is a ridge on the back of a slug’s body, acting sort of like a backbone. Additionally, they have a blowhole on the side of their bodies that leads directly to their lungs.

The leopard slug is the second largest of the keeled slugs, with Limax cinereoniger, or black keel back slug, being the largest of the keelbacked species. An adult leopard slug measures 4 to 8 inches, while the adult black keel back can grow longer than 8 inches. (Similar to the giant African land snail, which terrorized a Florida county recently.) So, whoever named the Limax maximus made a little bit of a mistake there.

What Do We Know About the Leopard Slug?

Both the black keel back and the leopard slug are native to Europe and certain places in Africa. But while the black keel back exclusively lives in forests, the leopard can be found in cellars and other developed areas as well. The cool thing about the leopard slug has to be its distinctive markings. They are widely variable, but different markings haven’t been found to really mean anything specific. They can range from solid ash-grey to reddish with spots and stripes to dark brown with black spots.

Another neat characteristic of the leopard slug is that it has specific homing instincts. This helps it return to whatever hole or crevice it has established for itself after it’s gone out to forage for food. It is capable of learning classical conditioning and aversion learning as well. This is where behavior is learned to be avoided by the introduction of an unpleasant stimulus.

Slug Sex? Yeah, It’s Weird. Eating Habits? Also Weird

As far as mating goes, the leopard slug’s romancing tactics are distinct and unique. The mating pair actually hang curled around each other from a thick string of mucus attached to a tree branch. They mate dangled in the air like Cirque du Soleil performers, so if you live anywhere the leopards live, make sure to check your porch overhangs for slugs getting it on.

For food sources, they are actually omnivores. They eat just about anything, but more specifically, they’re considered detrivores. This means they eat dead plants, mushrooms, and other fungi. They also go after other snails and slugs as a carnivore, pursuing prey at a top speed of 6 inches per minute. No word if they eat their own species or just other slugs, but, still, reminds me of the cannibal alligators we’ve written about so often.

Overall, we love the leopard slug now, and you’ll have to pry this spotted, weird-mating-ritual-having, possible cannibal slug from my cold, dead hands.