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What is a Ghost Slug?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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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.

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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.

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