Weird Nature

My second-grader came bursting into the house this afternoon yelling, “You’ve got to see this!” I’ve heard that phrase enough to know not to proceed innocently with visions of newly blooming flowers. When I saw him crouched over a mass on the front walkway, I steeled myself. I love nature. And you probably do, too, but if you’re squeamish, skip the rest of this blog.

A few steps from him I said with some relief, “Oh, it’s just a slug.”

“No, Mom!” he shouted.

I got closer. It sure looked like a slug. It was shaped like a slug and it was moving just like a slug. Then again, it sort of shimmered. This was one weird slug.

“It’s not a slug!” he said, still crouching. “And look! There’s more!” Sure enough, there were several of these slugs moving across the path and through the grass. Slugs come out in the sort of rainy, still, hot day that we were having. But I’d never seen this many. I got closer. I squatted next to my son. And then I realized he was right. What looked like a slug were hundreds of insects moving in concert like a slug. They were translucent. You could see their intestinal tracts. Sort of like caterpillars made from jellyfish bodies in slug camouflage. Gross is too mild a word. My first reaction? “Let’s feed them to the chickens!”

My husband, who at this point was busy videotaping and photographing this natural wonder, said, “I don’t think they’ll eat them.” (Ask me some other time about how our family photo albums are interspersed with pictures of frogs, snakes and insects.)

“Sure the chickens will eat these things. They don’t eat tent caterpillars – too hairy — but they’ll love these. All smooth and wriggly.” I scooped up one of the “slugs” with a garden trowel and called, “I’ve got bugs for you girls.” They came running. But when I tossed the mass of insects into their yard, they were suspicious. Twinkydink eyed the wriggling bugs. Ginger stretched her neck down and peered at them. Tweedledum, who has a hard time seeing anything through all of her fluffy feathers, came trotting over. She saw movement. She pecked. She swallowed. The hens watched her. Then they all dug in. I tossed them several more trowels of “slugs.” They chuck-chucked and clucked in the singsong way of a contented flock.

Meanwhile, my husband called the guy who installed most of our landscape. Were these bizarre insects going to destroy the garden? We got out our favorite guide to bugs -“Garden Insects of North America” (invaluable!). There they were, on page 520. March Flies. March flies, it turns out, are common and not destructive. They eat decaying matter and sometimes feed on turf grass roots. We’ve never used pesticides on our property and I was relieved that I didn’t have to start. Then again, I wasn’t at all sorry to feed some of them to the hens.

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