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 caved into a dare to swallow a slug. Tragically for Ballard, the slug came with the roundworm parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, AKA the punk-rock-sounding rat lungworm. While 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.As Mindy Weisberger writes for LiveSceince , "In Ballard's case, the parasite caused a serious brain infection. He fell into a coma for 420 days and was paralyzed from the neck down when he was released from the hospital three years later...." Ballard remains paralyzed and requires full-time care.

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 real and awareness certainly can't hurt. Weisberger writes that rat lungworm infection has most prominently been documented in the Pacific islands and parts of Asia, but is now established throughout Florida. "What's more," she writes, "cases of the parasitic infection on Maui in Hawaii are also on the rise, with four people infected and four suspected infections reported in April of last year."

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.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that Sam Ballard died on November 2, 2018 – eight years after eating the slug. Our condolences to his loved ones.