Friday Weird Science: Can a slug live in your stomach?

May 24 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

It's always fun to hear about the rumors that were going around back in the day. Like, now, I'm sure people hear all sorts of rumors about their friend who knows a guy who ran from the cops over the state line or something.

But historically? Well, different times, different rumors.

And apparently the one going around in 1865 was that everyone knew this guy who knew a guy who...swallowed a slug and had it come out alive.

I suppose that escargot no longer looks quite so appealing.

Dalton, JC. "Experimental Investigations to determine whether the garden slug can live in the human stomach." April 1865.

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(Mmmm, tasty! Source)

I don't know about you, but my first question for these scientists is "WHO WOULD SWALLOW A LIVE SLUG". Seriously. You'd really think people would have the decency to cook it first. Or at least kill it.

And apparently, the guy who wrote this study was also more than a bit incredulous on the subject of live slug survival.

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 9.25.56 PM

Apparently people were always coming to the good doctor (the author of this study) with stories, and sometimes specimens, of slugs that had taken the road of Lemmiwinks and come out alive. One guy apparently brought him a specimen in a jar, which turned out to be a slug. The guy's friend (it's always a friend) had been having stomach problems, and had given himself an enema to make it better (enemas were disturbingly popular in the 19th century, apparently some people did them daily). Just afterward, he felt something moving around under his clothes and pulled out...a large slug. The guy assumed it had come out of his stomach, but you'd think he would have felt SOMETHING. But the man assumed it was his own fault, because he liked to drink lake water (nevermind that garden slugs do not live in lakes), and so he assumed the slug must have got in that way.

The second instance was actually a 2-year old boy, who's mother found not one, but TWO slugs in his diapers while he was suffering from an upset stomach. The mother was adamant that he must have picked them up two months previously while he was in the country eating veggies, because she never served them fresh veggies otherwise.

The good doctor was not convinced. As he pointed out in his paper, slugs are cold blooded, and don't really do well at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Secondly, slugs are soft. There's no bone there, they are (probably, I don't state from experience) the consistency of a chewy steak, which the stomach is perfectly capable of mashing up. Finally, a slug needs oxygen. There's not really much of that to live on in the gastrointestinal canal (particularly as you head down toward the nether regions of the colon).

I think I would have liked this guy. He heard these stories, he raised his eyebrows, and he said "let's TRY IT".

Sadly, he didn't do it himself. Instead, he collected a bunch of garden slugs, and handed them out to some dogs (carefully putting it down the throat to avoid it getting chewed by accident). History does not record what the dogs thought of this, but considering they got a few bits of steak afterward (to make sure they had swallowed fully), they were probably pretty chill about it.

With the slugs in, the doctor then killed the dogs and took a look inside. If you killed the dog 24 hours later? No slugs. One hour later? No slugs.

Fifteen minutes later? Slugs! The doctor administered four slugs, and found them all, completely dead and "somewhat softened", in the dog's stomach.

Finally, he took four slugs and put them in a jar of stomach juice from a dog, and kept it at body temperature. The long-suffering slugs lasted about 9.5 minutes. By five hours later, there was not much left to be identified as slugs (I really hope he kept that around to show to people. "What's the jar?" "Oh, nothing special, some slugs I've been keeping in dog stomach acid. Like you do".

He even tried water at various temperatures instead of acid, and while the slugs could remain underwater a good 5 hours and still make it out, by the end of 24, the slug was no more.

While the author admits that maybe people could digest slugs differently than dogs...well probably not. He hypothesized that the slugs probably came in on people's veggies (the first man was actually a porter for a hotel who frequently carried such items, and the child's mother apparently used cabbage to make a lot of saurkraut), and just happened to end up in the right place at the right time (as it were).

But I have to say, I'm sad he didn't go the extra mile, and swallow a slug or two for science. I mean, yeah, it'd be gross, but people eat escargot all the time! This is SCIENCE! You have to make SACRIFICES!

So, anyone out there willing to eat a slug or two for science?

Today's weird science comes to you courtesy of Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. If you haven't read it yet, you should.

2 responses so far

  • nixicat says:

    Given that the dogs were killed to check on the status of the slugs they had been coerced into swallowing, no, I am not willing to participate. I'm all for sacrifices in the name of science, but not human sacrifices.

  • Ashenafi says:

    Some one come to my institute with a slug in a bottle for identification. He claim the item to be a vomit from his mouth and alive?

    What do you say?

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