Slug is a common name for an apparently shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusk. The word "slug" is also often used as part of the common name of any gastropod mollusc that has no shell, has a very reduced shell, or has only a small internal shell. (This is in contrast to the common name "snail", which is applied to gastropods that have a coiled shell that is large enough that the soft parts of the animal can retract fully into it.)
Slugs exist on land and in the sea, and there is even one genus of freshwater slugs, Acochlidium. The unadorned word "slug" is however applied primarily to land slugs, whereas slugs from the sea or from freshwater are usually referred to as "sea slugs" and "freshwater slugs". Land gastropods with a shell that is not quite vestigial, but is too small to retract into (like many in the family Urocyclidae), are known as semislugs.
The various taxonomic families of slugs form part of several quite different evolutionary lineages which also include snails. Thus, for example, the various families of land slugs are not very closely related to one another, despite a superficial similarity in the overall body form. The shell-less condition has arisen many times independently during the evolutionary past, and thus the category "slug" is emphatically a polyphyletic one.
Slugs, like all other gastropods, undergo torsion (a 180° twisting of the internal organs) during development. Internally, slug anatomy clearly shows the effects of this rotation, but externally the bodies of land slugs appear to be more or less symmetrical, except for the positioning of the pneumostome, which is on one side of the animal, normally the right hand side.
The soft, slimy bodies of slugs are prone to desiccation, so land-living slugs are confined to moist environments and must retreat to damp hiding places when the weather is dry.
The subsequent information in this article applies to land slugs.
Famous quotes containing the word slug:
“Before me you are a slug in the sun. You are privy to a great becoming and you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is in your nature to do one thing correctly: tremble.”
—Michael Mann, U.S. screenwriter. Frances Dollarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan)
“Adrift dissolving, bound for death;
Though lumpish thou, a lumbering one
A lumbering lubbard loitering slow,
Impingers rue thee and go down,
Sounding thy precipice below,
Nor stir the slimy slug that sprawls
Along thy dead indifference of walls.”
—Herman Melville (18191891)