I'd heard it said many time since we moved to our homestead 11 years ago that garter snakes are good guys. They eat bad guys like slugs. I'd just believed it, like I did with many things neighbors and other gardeners told me.
But it wasn't until June of this year that I witnessed the miracle of a snake swallowing something fatter than itself.
First off, I want to assure my readers that garter snakes are harmless. Once you get over the initial fear of have of snaky things, they actually look really cute, this small, long creature that can swim as well as slide & glide, all without the help of fins or feet.
I was doing my chores in the garden one afternoon when I saw the familiar garter snake sidle across the garden, and very quickly too. I was curious to see what it was up to as normally snakes in our garden are pretty slow moving things.
When I got closer to take a look, I saw that the snake had a big black slug in its mouth!
So I thought to myself (because I couldn't talk to the snake), easy there, don't you be going around eating things bigger than yourself. The snake's mouth, wide open, could barely wrap itself around the small end of the slug, which was furiously struggling to free itself from the jaw of the snake. Well, lo and behold, I saw the snake unlocking its jaw, which opened much wider than before, but still not wide enough to take the slug in.
The slug struggled, almost getting away. Then the snake opened its jaw further, so its bottom jaw was haling lose. Then it started to stuff the slug into its mouth with this weird peristaltic motion. Well, it took about 10 minutes for the snake to manoeuver the slug into its mouth. I was standing there, awe-struck. Wow! Crazy. Then the whole slug disappeared inside the snake, who then just lay there, either exhausted from the work or too tired to move from all the digestion ahead. Here are the photos:
Nooo.... the slug's too big for you.
Hmmm.... maybe not.
The slug struggled, trying to get away.
With its jaw fully loose, the snake made easy work of a big fat black slug.
Gone is the slug, inside the snake. Can you see it?
So the heading of this article could have been: How to Control Garden Pests like Slugs in the Garden. Well, of course, with garter snakes. Snakes love piles of stones and brush to hide under and warm surfaces like rocks to sun. We have lots of these in the garden and they encourage snakes to come and hang around (and eat slugs while they are here). However, I think this one black slug is it for the day, and we have hundreds if not thousands of slugs in the garden. So snakes by themselves can't keep up with the slug population. They are better than nothing.
But ultimately, the best way to deal with slugs is to fortify your garden with compost which builds up nutrients and soil structure over time. Plants grown on this rich soil are strong and can withstand many types of pest on their own.
We know we have all kinds of critters and creatures in the garden. We le them work out their own balance. We don't interfere with chemicals or anything toxic at all. We get plenty of harvests year after year from the garden. We've heard it said too that slugs don't like alkaline soil (which is what humus-rich compost soil is). Whatever the reason, we get along fine with snakes, slugs, and any other creature that would deign to visit our wild garden.