Out and About with Banana Slugs

Laure Latham - San Francisco Bay Area
November 13, 2017

You've seen them on the trail and barely realized they were moving - banana slugs may be slow but they're also pretty darn cool animals. Sporting wild colors such as vibrant lime yellows or brown-spotted ripe-banana coats, banana slugs are the easiest animal to find in the wild and kid favorites. Their bright color definitely gets every kid's attention, along with their long slimy tracks on redwood forest floors. Of course, it helps that banana slugs remind the junior crowd of their favorite snack food too. Here are some places and tips to enjoy the mascot of UC Santa Cruz a.k.a. the banana slug!

Banana Slugs Hot Spots

Down in Half Moon Bay, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is probably the best place to take kids hiking and find banana slugs. While the upper parts of this preserve can be very steep, the Purisima Creek and Harkins Ridge trails accessed from the trailhead off Purisima Creek Road near Half Moon Bay are relatively flat for the first half mile or so. With young kids, simply follow the flat portion of either trail among a beautiful redwood forest along Purisima Creek. Surrounded by towering redwoods and big leaf maple trees, kids can start looking for slugs right away next to the creek. For extra fun, find one of the cool spots where kids can get down at creek level and watch the clear waters ferry leaves and pine needles downstream. When you are done, simply walk back.

In the East Bay, Redwood Regional Park in Oakland is the absolute hot spot for banana slugs. The easiest access for families is the Canyon Meadow Staging Area where the flat Stream Trail passes a playground and several picnic areas before entering a majestic redwood forest. Walk slowly! This is where kids should look and if they are lucky, the areas along the creek shall provide ample banana slug viewing. For a naturalist perspective on banana slugs, check the activity schedule of the bi-monthly "Hikes for Tykes," special hikes offered every other Tuesday at select East Bay parks including Redwood Regional Park.

In Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument combines one of the most beautiful redwood forests of California with the perfect habitat for banana slugs. From the entrance log gate, simply walk along the main trail and follow a half mile flat loop across Redwood Creek on Bridge 1, through Bohemian Grove, past Bridge 2 and straight to Bridge 3. Return on the main trail.

Tips to Enjoy Banana Slugs!

  • Use a small laminated piece of plastic to pick up the slug. Do not touch it. You can use this piece of clear plastic to examine the slug from underneath and see its muscular foot that it uses to move.
  • Get down on your knees and don't move. See the banana slug move, retract and extend its two pairs of antennas. The upper two are the eyes, the lower two how it smells.
  • Silent walk in the forest (make it a challenge!)
  • Join hands in a circle—pretend you are the base of a big redwood tree. You can pace it out, too. Then lean back and look up and experience the magic of being in a "cathedral" of trees.
  • If you see another animal or plant in the forest, think about how it might depend on the slug Might it eat the slug? Might slug "eat" it after it dies? Does the slug live in it? Take the example of leaf litter. Trees are important because they provide the leaf litter but also provide the moist, shaded environment the slug needs.

Laure Latham is the author of The Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area. Laure grew up in New Caledonia, a remote island in the South Pacific between Australia and Tahiti. Along with her spirited brothers, she spent her childhood years playing in bushes, building forts, climbing trees, fixing kites, and snorkeling around coral reefs. Then one day she really had to grow up. After a stint as a tax attorney in France, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about the outdoors and travels with her two young daughters and husband. A complete chocoholic and tea-addict, she needs her daily fix to breeze through the day, luxuries she always packs along in her backpack for her hikes.

You can read more about her on her blog Frog Mom.

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