Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Strangest Thing

strange but true

At a barbecue the other day a friend asked me - what was the strangest thing growing in our community garden? At the time I said I wasn’t sure but that I’d look into it and write it up as blog post for him. Walking past after my jog the other morning I had a good look through people’s plots – I found tomatoes, basil, chives, cucumbers, corn, cornflowers, common mint, Vietnamese mint, marigolds, sunflowers, lettuce, eggplants, carrots, LOTS of zucchinis, nasturtiums and pumpkins. Someone has even planted a mini watermelon at the back of their plot, it’s adorable for sure, but I couldn’t find anything that really qualified as “strange”. And then, walking by the fruit tree bed, it struck me.... the strangest thing in our garden isn’t growing in one of the plots. It’s not even a plant. The strangest thing things in our garden, without a shadow of a doubt are... the cherry slugs!! 

Ah, cherry slugs. Even the name sends a creepy shiver of delight down my spine. And the beasties themselves certainly do not disappoint. I had no idea such wonders existed until last week when I was in the garden watering. Gav, our lovely site manager was cursing as he pulled grubs off the leaves of the cherry tree and squished them between his fingers. When he uttered the words “cherry slugs” I thought he was making it up. But a closer look soon revealed little moving blobs of greenish yellowish brown, scattered like alien snot across the upper side of the leaves on the cherry tree. There, in all their bizarre glory.... cherry slugs! Not since I saw a bott-fly larva blow me a kiss after I pulled it from the oesophagus of a dead kangaroo, have I been so transfixed with equal measures of disgust and delight. 

tiny, slimy, sluggy beastie
It turns out cherry slugs are not truly slugs. This much is kinda obvious because under their weird little sluggy bodies they have legs, much like a caterpillar (not at all like a true slug). An internet search soon revealed that they are the lovely, pesky larvae of sawfly and they feed on the upper surface of the leaves of cherry, pear, plum, apple, quince and hawthorn trees. The adult wasps (sawflies are actually little wasps) lay eggs in the leaf, from which hatch the cherry-slug larvae. After feeding on leaves, the larvae drop to the ground and dig into the soil, where they pupate. Adults emerge later and fly to the leaves to mate and lay more eggs. And so on and so on. 

But don’t let this mundane entomological description fool you. Cherry slugs are my latest reminder that when it comes the weird, wonderful, fascinating and well... just plain strange, the natural world never fails to disappoint. With their delightfully evocative name and their semi-see-through jelly-slime bodies, cherry slugs are like something from an episode of David Attenborough does Doctor Who. And yet... for all their shiny, sludgy strangeness, there they are in the garden at the bottom of my street. 

1 comment:

  1. only just read this post. was enthralled. And your bott-fly line had me in stitches!