A new species of slug has been identified in the UK for the first time, prompting concerns over the potential effect on UK crops.
The Spanish species, Arion vulgaris, has been nicknamed the “killer slug” for its cannibalistic tendencies and aggressive nature.
The slug was originally identified by Ian Bedford, head of the BBSRC-funded John Innes Centre’s (JIC) entomology facility. He believes it’s a discovery that will need to be closely monitored.
“It’s obviously of great concern that we now have this species here. There’s been lots of reports from around the county of massive problems with slugs, which I’m sure are now going to be Arion vulgaris,” he said.
If suspicions about the Spanish slug are correct the UK could see a population explosion in the spring when their buried eggs hatch.
Dr Bedford is keen to act quickly on the new discovery, collaborating with his colleagues at Aberdeen University and Newcastle University to develop a potential programme of research to find out more about the slug, its distribution in the UK and the effects it is having.
The species has already invaded Scandinavia and caused huge damage to their crops. The fear is that the same could happen in the UK, with signs indicating the slugs have already started damaging crops this year.
“There are reports of oilseed rape having problems this year which we think could well be because of this Spanish slug. I’ve actually seen them in a potato field in the middle of summer sliming across dry, sandy soil. The agronomist with me couldn’t believe what he was seeing, because slugs don’t usually do that. It’s a hardy species,” added Dr Bedford.
David Glenn of Styloma Consulting admits it’s an interesting find that will need further research, but believes farmers should not be too worried, with the Arion species favouring field margins and only crossing fields when migrating.
“The main arable crops at risk would be oilseed rape, because it is drilled when this species has reached adulthood and become most mobile. This can be easily dealt with though, with a band of slug pellets around the edge of the field.
“Vegetables may be at a slightly higher risk than other crops,” said Mr Glenn.