Gastropods (class: Gastropoda) are commonly known as snails and slugs. The most highly diversified class in the phylum Mollusca, gastropods range in size from microscopic to large. There are 60,000 to 80,000 living snail and slug species. 444 species have recently gone extinct; 18 species are now extinct in the wild (but still exist in captivity) and 69 other species are “possibly extinct.” The Gastropod class exhibits an especially high frequency of convergent evolution. Many marine gastropods have separate sexes (male and female) while some are hermaphrodites; most terrestrial gastropods are hermaphrodites (although some have separate sexes). Some species engage in courtship behavior prior to mating; some families of air-breathing snails use love darts, which are amazing and you should totally click that link.
Okay, so she’s not GIANT: she’s only about 8 inches long. Still, OMG FABULOUS. This species of slug was recently discovered on Mount Kaputar, a 5,000-foot peak in the Nandewar Range of northern New South Wales, Australia. After a volcano erupted about 17 million years ago, the area dried out leaving only tiny swaths rainforest-like environments. Triboniophorus graeffei now lives in a tiny alpine forest about 6 miles by 6 miles square, hundreds of miles from any habitat like it. As a result, the animals are acutely susceptible to human-induced climate change: if temperatures rise only a degree or two higher, their mountaintop will dry out.
LEOPARD SLUG (Limax maximus)
The adult leopard slug measures 10-20 cm (4-8 in) in length. There is much variation in pattern and color in this species, but it is generally a light greyish or grey-brown with darker spots and blotches. Indigenous to Europe, it has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world and can now be found in Madeira, southern Africa, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Chile, southern Brazil, Canada and most of the United States, where it has become a major agricultural pest. (It eats small crops faster than they can grow.) These slugs are almost always found near human habitation, including OH YEAH IN THE PALACE GARDEN.*
They are omnivorous and nocturnal, leaving a slime trail that turns iridescent once it dries. The leopard slug eats dead and living plants and fungi, as well as other slugs it hunts down at its breathtaking top speed of…six inches per minute.
Leopard slugs have a very unusual method of mating. A pair hangs suspended in the air from a thick thread of mucus and then…well, you really have to see this to believe it. Watch leopard slugs mating:
[TRIGGER WARNING: extreme weirdness. I am not fucking kidding.]
*To kill slugs humanely, press shallow aluminum cans into the dirt until level, and fill them with beer. These slugs cannot resist getting drunk, and then falling in and drowning. Trufax: once I told my friend Darlene I was doing this, and that I had found really cheap beer at my local grocery store. She said, “What?! It’s their last night on Earth! Can’t you spring for Heineken or something?”