Monday, July 28, 2008

Slugging Away!


Prophysaon andersonii, one of the tail-dropping slugs from British Columbia. 50mm head to tail. You can see the change in texture , diagonally, about a quarter of the way forward from the tip of the tail. I didn't challenge it to drop its tail, for obvious reasons.

The interesting thing about the personality of this slug was its liking for doubling back on itself - turning and crawling alongside its body.

Another BC slug, Arion subfuscus . 35mm head to tail. This species likes to curl into a circle to rest, head to tail-tip, which gives me the impression of a child sucking its thumb. Arion slugs seem dense and muscular, and their tails have a ribbed texture.


This massive black Arion slug is now called Arion rufus after the reddish colour phase. But I prefer the old name, Arion ater, which I believe means "black". Totally awesome, this beast! The first one I ever saw in the wild was in a roadside bed of tall Horsetail on Vancouver Island. I shouted excitedly to Fred that I'd found a "black licorice slug". The individual that I have painted here is an adult, 150 mm long. Actually, the meaning of Arion is "horse". This is one hefty horse of a slug!

I feel so privileged to paint these animals from life - to get to know the personality of each individual, and enjoy discovering the differences between species. Physical differences, and differences in behaviour. They actually get used to being observed by me as I set them on a damp stick which I hold in my left hand as I draw and paint with my right. Shy at first, they spend some time hunched up with their heads tucked under the front edges of their mantles, but eventually each one decides to move.

The black Arion does a very strange thing, which reminds me more than a little of a rabbit tucking its head under to receive and re-ingest the special soft fecal pellet that is part of good rabbit nutrition. Periodically this slug attended to its hinder end - eating the clear mucous that accumulated at the opening of its tail-tip mucous gland. Then it returned to its usual business, which in this case was slowly and deliberately searching for a way off the stick. It holds its breathing hole, the pneumostome, very wide open, and I could see the ivory, cottony-textured flesh inside as it took tiny puff-breaths which made the centre of its mantle rise and fall a little about once a second.

Slugs do not defecate from their tail-ends. They extrude long green strings of gut contents from beneath the front flap of the mantle, right next to the pneumostome - which I seem to remember being held closed during the process.


Now here is the "red" phase of Arion rufus, an immature individual, about 55 mm long. Very cute, don't you think? I like the black "siamese" face. What a challenge, to paint in transparent watercolour, the gray body beneath the golden tubercular skin!

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What do you think of this painting, and what do you know about the subject that I have painted?