Perhaps one of the most colorful and unusual mascots of any University in the United States, is the banana slug, Ariolimax columbianus, of the University of California, Santa Cruz in California. The slugs live in the surriounding redwood forest and are a ground dwelling mollusk. It’s very distinctive because of its size and bright yellow color. Naturally, it takes its name from the banana since it looks like a little banana. They can grow to almost 10 inches in length. They eat leaves, mushrooms and seeds from the forest floor. They are decomposers, which means they consume the plants and then spread out the material in their waste, thereby recycling the materials. They help to keep the forest healthy.
Everyone knows how slowly slugs, like snails, move, but the reason usually isn’t well known. Because they only have one muscle driven foot, they can only creep along slowly. The muscle moves a bit at a time which also lets the slug crawl over pretty much anything, which comes in handy in a forest environment. In addition to the main muscle, the banana slug has two pairs of sensors on long, movable stalks that it uses to learn about its environment. These ‘eyes’ are used to pick up light, pheromones or movement around it. As everyone has seen at one time or another, the eye stalks can extend and shrink back again when they come into contact with any movement or touch.
The slime that is excreted covers the slug’s body to keep it from drying out. It has only one lung and the slime helps to pass air through the skin. Because the banana slug needs moisture to breathe, it prefers a moist environment. The redwood forest floor stays damp and after rain, the slugs tend to come out more. If the weather is dry or too cold, the slugs can go into a sort of hibernation called estivation. They secrete a covering of slime around their body to protect them and then go into the inactive stage. The slime also has a pheromone in it to attract mates and although the slug is a hermaphrodite, it still needs a mate to exchange sperm. Once the sperm exchange is done, it lays eggs under logs or leaves. The eggs hatch in about 3 or 4 weeks.
Predators include snakes and small mammals and like any snail or slug, salt can be fatal. The reason for this interesting and intriguing mullusk being named as the UCSC mascot is because the students decided that they wanted to rebel against the usual competetiveness of college athletics. The mild mannered slug that lived on and around the campus just seemed a natural choice. Since 1986, the banana slug has been the mascot and there seems to be no objection to keeping it there.