Pooping live garden slugs? Call Science

Fear itself. Image via Bad/Good.org

In anticipation of this week's interview with Mary Roach I've been reading her latest book, "Gulp." As expected it's an hilarious, insightful scientific journey through the digestive system. But when I ran across mention of J.C. Dalton's 1865 paper "Experimental Investigations to Determine Whether the Garden Slug Can Live in the Human Stomach" (here's the link), I had to blog about it.

Because you know me and slugs. They revolt me to the core, but the gagging horror inevitably spills over into morbid fascination.

See, back in the late 19th century people pooped live slugs and lizards -- or at least those were the absurd stories going around. To be clear, people WERE NOT accidentally ingesting slug eggs and then defecating live gastropods. Yet the accounts even found their way into medical journals, so New York's Dr. Dalton stepped forth to cast the light of science upon the matter.

So Dalton went next door, grabbed some garden slugs from the neighbor and sent them one-by-one down a dog' throat (no chewing!). Then an hour later he grabbed a scalpel to the dog's belly and took a rummage round inside. Presumably he uses a flashlight because we all know how dark it is in there.

The result? No slugs. And later experiments found only partially-digested sludge. Leave the gut diving to the intestinal parasites because garden slugs aren't built for it.

But still, when you find a garden slug hanging out by the toilet or in your swimsuit, I suppose it's easy to jump to illogical conclusions. Was I infected or do I just live this sort of lifestyle?

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.