The banana slug you don’t know: fascinating facts in the pop cultural history of Ariolimax columbianus

You might even think that Sammy the Slug’s cameo appearance—on John Travolta’s UC Santa Cruz T-shirt in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 movie sensation Pulp Fiction—was the only example of banana slugs infiltrating popular culture. But Pulp was only the starting point. Here are few well-populized highlights in the history of UC Santa Cruz’s favorite mollusk on and off campus.

Slug versus governor

In the summer of 1988, California’s then-governor, George Deukmejian, vetoed a bill that would have made the banana slug California’s official state mollusk, complaining the bill was not representative of the international reputation California enjoys.”

“I think the governor has thoughtlessly missed the point on this one,” said disappointed Assemblyman Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, who authored the bill at the suggestion of a children’s group, the Redwood Campfire Kids. Sher emphasized that four out of the five banana slug species can only be found in California, and called them an emblem of state wildlife diversity.

Opponents of the bill said it was silly. Never mind the fact that the state has an official insect: the dog-faced butterfly.

Slug versus kitty cat

Back in 1985, on the UCSC campus, Sammy the Slug squared off against a rival mascot—the sea lion—and won the contest handily, as Slug supporters far outnumbered backers of the sea lion in a campus-wide vote. But California Fish and Game once received a complaint that a banana slug fought someone’s housecat—not symbolically, but for real.

Here is the transcript of the conversation between a panicked caller and a Fish and Game official, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

“I have this vicious large slug in my house and he is attacking my cat,” the caller told the Fish and Game employee. “What should I do?”

The Fish and Game staffer replied: “It’s probably a banana slug. They grow as big as four or five inches.”

He also comforted the caller by saying: “This is a rare occurrence, but if it happens again, give us a call.”

Sexy beast

In June 2008, London’s Daily Telegraph ran an article about visiting Santa Cruz. Close to the bottom of the article, the author recommended buying a pair of silky underwear featuring Sammy the Slug, “the friendly mollusk,” adding, “You can’t get more intimate with Santa Cruz than that.”

Weird sex in the slug world

In October 2001, renowned banana slug expert Alice Bryant Harper sat down with Metro Santa Cruz newspaper to talk about some little-known facts about the banana slug’s unusual mating habits, some of which are so extreme that we cannot “reproduce” them in this family-friendly publication.

Since then, major authors have described some of the alarming aspects of our friendly local slug. In 2002, a popular book entitled Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson mentions the fact that male banana slugs often get their private areas gnawed off during copulation.

Not the weirdest mascot!

And you might want to clip and save this next time someone tells you that Sammy the Slug is a “weird” mascot, or goes as far as to call him the “weirdest mascot of all.”

Not true. Consider the Fighting Okra of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. (The greenish vegetable edged out a previous school mascot known as the Statesman.) And don’t forget the Poets of Whittier College (who have battled the Banana Slugs).

Other strange names include:

• The Fighting
Kangaroos at the University of Missouri

• The Anteaters of the University of California, Irvine

• The
 Boll Weevils at the University of Arkansas at Monticello

• The Fighting Camels at North Carolina’s Campbell University.

• New York University has
dubbed its men’s teams the Violets. Women are Violettes.

• The name of the Rhode Island School of Design’s mascot is so salacious that we can’t even print it here, though you’re free to Google it if you wish.

• The New College of Florida has an invisible mascot called the “Empty Set,” delineated by a pair of parenthesis.

• Let’s not forget the Dirtbags of California State University, Long Beach.

It also is worth mentioning that UCSC is not the only university whose mascot fended off a challenge from a rival mascot. Some years back, Scottsdale Community College students chose Artie the Artichoke as their mascot after knocking back a challenge from the rutabaga. And no, we’re not making this up.

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