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What is a Ghost Slug?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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A ghost slug is a carnivorous nocturnal slug first discovered in Wales in 2006. The closest relatives of the ghost slug are found in Eastern Europe, leading researchers to believe that the ghost slug may be an introduced species. However, it is certainly a distinct species, and it has been awarded its very own specific epithet: Selenochlamys ysbryda. Due to concerns that the ghost slug is an introduced, rather than native, species, researchers are keeping close tabs on the spread of the animals to ensure that they do not harm native wildlife.

The first ghost slug was spotted and photographed in 2006, but researchers didn't fully realize the magnitude of the find. In 2007, a gardener in Cardiff, Wales discovered another slug, and brought it to researchers at the local university. Once scientists had a specimen to work with, they realized that an entirely new species had been discovered.

Ghost slugs are entirely white, looking rather like a banana slug dipped in bleach at first glance, which explains their common name, as well as their specific epithet, which is derived from the Welsh word ysbryd, which means “ghost.” These slugs are eyeless, and they have a set of sharp teeth which they use like ratchets to haul in prey such as worms; upon magnification, the teeth are actually quite formidable. One researcher describes the eating process as being akin to slurping up a piece of spaghetti.

Researchers believe that ghost slugs probably evolved in a cave environment, which explains their lack of eyes and nocturnal habits. They may have been imported to Wales as hitchhikers on gardening supplies, which would have allowed them to spread in Welsh gardens. These eyeless slugs are certainly distinct from native Welsh species, making it unlikely that they are of Welsh origin.

The discovery of the Welsh slug highlights the role which members of the general public can play in the sciences. If a curious gardener had not brought in a ghost slug to the university, researchers might not have made the discovery, and the slugs could have proliferated extensively before being brought to the attention of the scientific community. Instead, scientists have a head start on learning about the ghost slug, which may be useful if the slugs become a serious pest.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Ghost Slug and where does it come from?

The Ghost Slug, scientifically known as Selenochlamys ysbryda, is a predatory, nocturnal slug that was first discovered in Wales in 2007. It is notable for its pale, almost translucent body and lack of eyes. Originally from Eastern Europe, it is believed to have been accidentally introduced to the UK through the horticultural trade.

What does the Ghost Slug eat?

Unlike many other slugs that feed on plants, the Ghost Slug is carnivorous. It preys on earthworms, using its blade-like teeth to capture and consume them. This unique feeding behavior has intrigued scientists, as it is quite rare among slug species, which are typically herbivorous or detritivorous.

How does the Ghost Slug hunt its prey?

The Ghost Slug hunts primarily at night, using a keen sense of smell to locate earthworms. It then uses its extendable radula, a ribbon-like structure lined with tiny teeth, to grasp and shred its prey. The slug's stealthy movements and pale coloration make it an effective nocturnal predator.

Is the Ghost Slug harmful to gardens or agriculture?

Since the Ghost Slug feeds on earthworms rather than plants, it is not considered a pest to gardens or crops. In fact, its presence is relatively neutral in terms of agricultural impact. However, its predatory nature could potentially affect local earthworm populations, which are important for soil health and aeration.

How can I identify a Ghost Slug in my garden?

To identify a Ghost Slug, look for a pale, almost white slug that is typically around 7 cm long when fully grown. It has a distinctive lack of eyes and a keeled back, which differentiates it from other slug species. You're most likely to spot them at night when they are active.

Are Ghost Slugs endangered or protected?

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, the Ghost Slug is not listed as endangered or protected. It is a relatively recent discovery, and there is limited information on its global population status. However, as an introduced species in the UK, it is monitored to understand its impact on local ecosystems.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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