In Search of the Elusive Banana Slug

A few weeks ago, we went for a homeschoolers’ hike at Villa Montalvo, and to our surprise, we found a banana slug on the way, which delighted the children, particularly the younger ones. So this weekend, I thought I’d take Neil and Kelly out to someplace with loads of banana slugs to look at and admire.

Kelly already built a reputation as a banana slug murderer when we took a hike in Sam McDonald Park, which that summer, was banana slug central. It was hot and dry in San Jose, but just over the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the redwoods were damp and misty, and the banana slugs were out all over. Kelly was in a kiddie backpack at the time, but she marvelled and pointed at the slugs. And when we returned to the trailhead and had our picnic, Kelly was out and grabbed a banana slug that was unfortunate enough to have crawled under out table. I know she didn’t mean to crush it, but that banana slug never moved again, and Kelly’s reputation was set.

Since then, we’ve been unable to see banana slugs again, even in known banana slug terroritory–until we saw the one (albeit very quiet and possibly dying) on at Villa Montalvo. I thought it would be fun to take this hike at the Portola Redwoods State Park.

It’s a wonderful state park, but I didn’t anticipate that getting there required an hour’s worth of driving in and out on narrow, winding mountains roads which would make both my children carsick. When we arrived, the ranger let us know the bridges were still removed for the winter, so if we wanted to take our hike, it would require wading through ankle-to-knee high water several times as we crossed creeks. But since we were just there to see banana slugs, we had alternatives. He pointed me to two child-friendly trails where banana slugs were known to be out and about.

Sadly, the weather was too warm and dry for the slugs and we didn’t find any slugs at all, even though we enjoyed the spectacular redwood trees. For a final try, I took the children down a trail towards the creek, and there we found one slug.

That poor slug! We we fascinated with him, and he was put through all his banana slug paces. We turned him over to look at his toes, and he curled up and showed us how quickly he could right himself again. Neil created a maze for the slug, and our slug popped out his eyes to examine in and then crawled right over the obstacles, leaving a trail of slime behind. If my camera battery had been working, he would have been the subject of more photography than a  fashion model on a go-see. And he survived Kelly’s touch, because she’s learned now that the slugs are more delicate than they may seem.

We looked for more slugs, but any others were gone. But with our slug hunt complete, we headed home down the long windy twisty road.

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