Outdoor Activities for Kids: Banana Slug Backyard Science

banana slugWhat’s yellow, slimy and can move and 6 1/2 inches per minute?

The Pacific Northwest banana slug!

These air-breathing land slugs have been quite the source of fascination for my boys and I since moving to the Seattle area. They fall into the category of “disgusting-but-so-fascinating-I-can’t-stop-looking.”

I am unabashedly addicted to learning. Random facts about random topics are my delicious cherry atop a caramel sundae. Intrigued by our slow-moving backyard denizens, my boys and I did some research. Here are the little random nuggets we discovered:

  • The Pacific banana slug is the second largest species of land-slug in the world. (Don’t step on these fellas barefoot!)
  • Some banana slugs are a bright yellow color (hence the name banana slug). Our friends have been more brown and spotted than yellow.
  • Banana slugs are gastropod mollusks and are more closely related to an octopus than your standard, run of the mill worm.
  • Banana slugs eat mushrooms, algae, seeds, dead things and animal droppings (yep, poop and carcass eaters). They are amazing decomposers!
  • They grow to 6-10 inches in length. This is pretty impressive to watch scooting along your patio!
  • The banana slug is the mascot for the University of California, Santa Cruz. (I promise I’m not making this up).

The banana slug has four tentacles on its face. The top two are optical to “see” where it’s going. The bottom two are for both feeling and smelling.

But one of the most interesting/gross facts I learned about banana slugs is that their noses are by their butts. Ok, that may be a bit of a generalization, but check this out:

  • The hole on their side–the pneumostome– (which I thought was some horrible salt-inflicted wound when I first examined it) accesses the respiratory lung, reproductive organs and anus. So the opening where they breathe is snuggled up to the opening where they dispose of waste.
  • How do you tell if a slug is a boy or a girl? Well, they are both! These hermaphroditic creatures come equipped with both male and female reproductive organs.
  • Where do baby slugs come from? Slugs lay eggs. As for the actual slug mating process? It can be a bit graphic and may not be appropriate for younger kids. I’ll let you decide how much you’d like to disclose to your kiddos.
  • They make their own slime so they don’t shrivel up like a raisin, making it possible for them to cruise around on land.
  • Banana slugs are interested in pink yoga mats. I made the mistake of leaving mine on the patio to go in to help my kiddos. When I came out 20 minutes later, I had a slimy friend working it slug-style.  :)

anatomy of banana slug


Inspecting insects (and mollusks) is a great opportunity to teach your kids about the important role all little creatures play in the earth’s ecosystem. It’s also a great time to teach your kids to respect even the lowliest of bugs. I’ve seen my boys transplanting slugs from high-traffic areas where they might get squished to safer areas so these slugs can decompose in peace. Compassion is important–even toward bugs.

What kinds of critters are in your backyard? Grab your magnifying glass and Google and see what you can learn about your local ecosystem.

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