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Beer a boon when it comes to snail and slug conservation in North Idaho

SANDPOINT, Idaho - When it comes to the often overlooked species of snails and slugs of North Idaho, you won't likely find anyone more passionate than Michael Lucid.

A field biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game by trade, he, along with his research partners have given insight to not only a whole new species (more on that in a bit) but also the reality of the gastropod scene in the Panhandle--turns out, there had never been a major inventory done, and one of the slugs they found during it hadn't been seen in six decades.

Most people might automatically suggest a salt-treatment when you bring up the topic of these seemingly slimy critters, but excitement and now with a newly published research paper in hand, the recommendation of a beer or two from Lucid is all you're going get.

In a nutshell, the discoveries in what was a four year project (2010-2014)  have wide-ranging applicability to future snail and slug research, but it also provides the public with a serious chuckle factor.

To the first point, why snails and slugs? In his research, Lucid acknowledges that many of them are listed as species of greatest conservation need, and you can't conserve what you don't know is there.

In a broad study area that included parts of Northeastern Washington, North Idaho, and even into Northwest Montana, that is what he and his research team figured out.  What species are out there and what the best way to find them is. 

They tested several methods, the most successful of which turned out to be a simple "go-out-and-look-for-them". That method, which spanned almost a thousand survey sites turned up almost 2000 critters, accounting for over 60 species of gastropods. In total, their survey turned up more than 6000 snails and slugs!

The next most successful method was baiting cover-boards, flat boards laid down in prime snail and slug habitat, and the best bait confirmed the age old advice. Snails and slugs like beer! They aren't picky though.

Lucid and his team tested two different types of beer, Natural Ice for its cheap cost, and a micro-brew called Laughing Dog which was donated by a local brewery.

While Natural Ice did appeal to more slugs and snails species wise, as far as sheer numbers go, they are thirsty for beer, and it would appear that it doesn't matter what kind. Water was also tested as a bait.

During this survey, which helped update the status of species in the state by removing seven species from the species of greatest conservation need list, and adding four others, an entirely new species was also discovered.

Known now as the Skade's jumping-slug, there's a touching story behind the naming. Speaking with KXLY Lucid said that Skade is the name of a goddess in Norse mythology who is associated with winter, mountains and skiiing, areas with the cool air temperatures the snail likes and that is being put at risk by climate change, but it is also the name of his oldest child.

How'd he get that by the wife you ask? More easily than you might expect. Turns out his wife is also a biologist with a passion for snail and slug conservation.

For more information on the research paper, click here to go the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website.


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