New slug species discovered in Wales

Ghost slug

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of ‘ghost’ slug discovered in Wales

July 2008. It is never that much of a surprise when a new species is discovered in the Amazon or on Papua New Guinea, but when previously undiscovered species turn up in gardens in Wales it does make people think. If the discovery of a new species of bird-eating frog in a well studied area in Thailand (Click here) surprised experts, the discovery of a previously unknown species of slug in South Wales must have them really scratching their heads. The bizarre subterranean Ghost slug has been named Selenochlamys ysbryda by experts at National Museum Cardiff, Wales.

This type of creature is usually found in Turkey and Georgia, but the origin of this particular slug and how it got to Britain is unknown. It is possible that this slug has somehow recently arrived in Britain as part of a ships cargo, but we will probably never know how, or even if.

“The Ghost Slug belongs to an obscure and almost unpronounceable group of slugs – the Trigonochlamydidae,” said Ben Rowson, a biologist at National Museum Cardiff. “We had to thumb through lots of old publications in Russian and German to find anything like them – but then discovered they were something entirely new.”

First noticed in a Cardiff garden in 2007 by a member of the public, biologists at National Museum Cardiff and Cardiff University were amazed when shown specimens, which has never been seen before in Europe. The Ghost Slug has also been spotted in a garden in Caerphilly, South Wales.

Carnivorous slugs

Unlike most slugs, the Ghost Slug is carnivorous and kills earthworms at night with powerful, blade-like teeth, sucking them in like spaghetti. It has no eyes, is completely white, and lives underground, squeezing its flexible body into cracks to get at the worms.

Unlike others from the group of creatures which are larger, have no eyes and a different internal anatomy, the scientists realised it was an undescribed species that had no scientific name. They decided to name the creature Selenochlamys ysbryda, partly from the Welsh word ysbryd meaning ghost, a name which appears with the species’ description in June’s edition of the Journal of Conchology. Ben explained:

“Selenochlamys ysbryda seemed appropriate for this spooky, nocturnal hunter and indicates where it was first found. We think this is the first time a Welsh word has been used in an animal’s scientific name.”

Alien species

Bill Symondson, an ecologist at Cardiff University also studied the slug. He added:

“The lack of eyes and body colour could indicate the species evolved in a cave system. It was probably introduced to Britain in plant pots, making it an ‘alien’ species, although we can’t be certain. We’re concerned that it might become a pest, but we need to find out more about it first.”

ID Guide

To monitor the Ghost Slug’s spread, the Museum have produced a simple identification guide available from their website. Museums with natural history collections and staff such as National Museum Cardiff are often the best place to identify unusual animals or plants, and most welcome enquiries from the public.

Admission to Amgueddfa Cymru is free thanks to the support of the Welsh Assembly Government.

A scientific description of the species was published this month in the Journal of Conchology (a British zoological journal dedicated to molluscs, established 1874) (Journal of Conchology – volume 39 – page 537 – 552).

The English Conservative Daily Mail really thinks it should report on this new species with the xenophobic chocolate letter headline:

Alien ‘Ghost Slug’ blazes slimy trail through British gardens

Sigh … Even though, as reported here, scientists are not by any means sure whether this mollusk originates from Wales or from elsewhere.

A comment on this:

I didn’t know that [ex New Labour Deputy Prime Minister] Prescott had come to Wales.

Spanish slug in Iceland: here.

Scientists discover UK’s common earthworms are many different species: here.

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