Why You Should Never Ever Eat a Garden Slug

slug crawling on lettuce

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Or, confessions of a young slug eater; a cautionary tale.

According to family lore, "someone" around here had a taste for slugs when she was a toddler. While she remembers being enamored with all things soil and critters and garden, she distinctly does not remember being enamored with slipping slippery slugs between her lips.

Fast forward a bunch of decades to today and said someone read about the sad case of a man in Australia who ate a garden slug on a dare. The story gave our former slug eater a bit of a shiver and she is here to tell you: Don't eat raw slugs. If you have a child grubbing about for slugs – or if you yourself have a penchant for the same – eating garden slugs can have devastating consequences.

Slug Eating in the News

According to news reports, 19-year-old Sam Ballard was dared to swallow a slug. Tragically for Ballard, the slug came with the roundworm parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, also known as rat lungworm. When mature these parasites take residence in rats, in their youth they sometimes call slugs and snails home, creating a potential menace for anyone consuming raw or undercooked creatures harboring the parasite.

The parasite caused Ballard to develop a brain infection. He was in a coma for 420 days and became paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2018, eight years after swallowing the slug.

People who become infected with rat lungworm often survive without any symptoms at all or even just mild ones like fever and headache, and the things often just die on their own without treatment. But the potential for more severe complications is very real. Rat lungworm infection has most prominently been documented in the Pacific islands, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia, but is now established throughout Florida.

Climate Change and Rat Lungworm

With a warming planet, the parasite's range will presumably spread – meaning that if you're considering accepting a dare or letting your kid indulge in adventurous eating in the garden ... just steer clear of the slugs and snails. And in the meantime, the slugs will thank you too.

View Article Sources
  1. "Parasites - Angiostrongyliasis (also known as Angiostrongylus Infection): Epidemiology & Risk Factors." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. "Parasites - Angiostrongyliasis (also known as Angiostrongylus Infection): About Angiostrongyliasis." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Stockdale-Walden, Heather D., et al. “Angiostrongylus Cantonensis in Introduced Gastropods in Southern Florida.” Journal of Parasitology, vol. 101, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 156–59., doi:10.1645/14-553.1.

  4. Kim, Jaynee R., et al. “Modelling the Distribution in Hawaii of Angiostrongylus cantonensis (Rat Lungworm) in Its Gastropod Hosts.” Parasitology, vol. 146, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 42–49., doi:10.1017/S0031182018001026.