Land slugs of Victoria


The term 'slug' refers to a body type and not a group of closely related animals. The slug form has evolved several times in both land and marine molluscs.

Photo of Leopard Slug, Limax maximus

A Leopard Slug, Limax maximus
Photographer: Alan Henderson / Source: Museum Victoria

Land snails and slugs belong to the Phylum Mollusca, the second-largest Phylum in the animal kingdom. They are all gastropods, and the slugs are all included in the order Pulmonata. In slugs, the shell that is so typical of most molluscs is lost or reduced to a small remnant buried in the soft tissue. The long, soft body of the slug is unsegmented and has tentacles on the head. It is capable of occupying very small spaces.

Distribution and habitat

Approximately 11 species of land slugs are found in Victoria. Most are introduced from Europe, however two native species, Cystopelta purpurea and Cystopelta astra, occur in forest & woodland areas of Victoria.

Slugs are generally found in cool, damp situations, with the introduced species preferring man modified areas, such as cultivated gardens and areas planted with crops and pasture. Because they have no shell, slugs are very susceptible to desiccation.


Most slugs feed on living plants, but some also eat decaying vegetable matter, and some will eat almost anything, including dog faeces and dog food. Some are regarded as serious pest in gardens, crops and pasture. Slugs are hermaphrodites and many species have complex courtship behaviour.

Further Reading

Barker, G. M. 1999. Naturalised Terrestrial Stylommatophora (Mollusca: Gastropoda). Fauna of New Zealand, volume 38. Whenua Press, New Zealand.

Beesley, P. L. et al. (eds) 1998. Mollusca, the Southern Synthesis. Fauna of Australia, volume 5. CSIRO Publishing, East Melbourne.

Runham, N. W. and Hunter, P. J. 1970. Terrestrial Slugs. Hutchinson University Library, London.

Smith, B. J. 1979. Field Guide to the Non-marine Molluscs of South-eastern Australia. ANU Press, Canberra.

Smith, B. J. 1992. Non-Marine Mollusca. In Houston, W. W. K. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Canberra: AGPS Vol. 8.

Comments (29)

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Craig Woods 27 November, 2009 07:57
Could you add a picture of cystopelta purea & cystopelta astra on the info page, this makes id easy. Thanks from, Craig Woods.
Discovery Centre 2 December, 2009 10:47

Hi Craig and thanks for your suggestion. Unfortunately the Museum does not have any images of C. purprea in its image database, however, our Marine Invertebrates Collection Manager notes that you will find an image of C. purprea in the Museum Victoria publication ‘Field Guide to the Fauna of Greater Melbourne’. We hope this helps!

Dianne 6 October, 2010 22:15
Is it true that leopard slugs eat other slugs and help the back yard gardener to control them
Discovery Centre 7 October, 2010 11:25
Hi Dianne, the Australian Museum website notes that leopard slugs feed on dead animal tissue and will also consume things like pet food and cat faeces. However, the London Wildlife Trust site states that the leopard slug will hunt other slugs.
Sabrina 28 November, 2010 22:36
Do leopard slugs live in rural areas south of melbourne? If so, where/when are some good places/time to look? I'm really fascinated by them.
Fab jones 30 January, 2017 23:22
I live in cockatoo and have seen many of them in the backyard at night.
Discovery Centre 29 November, 2010 12:33

Hi Sabrina, Limax maximus is distributed throughout SE Australia. They generally are associated with man modified areas among decaying areas in damp situations. As far as we are aware, they should occur south of Melbourne.




Jacinta 10 December, 2010 23:29
We live in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria and have these HUGE slugs in our garden. I did an online search and thanks to the photo above, have been finally able to identify them as Leopard slugs. They are amazing. We have learnt not to walk outside when it is dark and wet! I'm sure you can guess why.
Nigel Holmes 2 January, 2011 15:33
A friend walking in the Dandenongs yesterday saw a group of over a dozen large, black slugs (> 10 cm)with shiny, smooth heads and longitudinal ridges along the rear 2/3 of the body. Are these a variation of the Leopard slug? (Panther Slug...)
Carol Wilmink 17 February, 2011 10:37
Nigel, I believe they may be the introduced black slug, Arion ater. Look it up on this site for a picture. They do occur in the Dandenongs.
Nigel Holmes 17 September, 2012 12:35
Many thanks Carol. They were indeed Arion ater. Much fatter than the Leopard Slug and jet black. I found MV had replied to me, but posted it on the Arion ater page. Looks like they are well established in your area and around the Dandenongs. During the peak season (Nov.-March) I'll wander around with the trusty D40 & get some pics. These invaders need a higher profile to alert people to their status & appearance.
chris morton 2 October, 2011 13:13
these large slugs are coming into our kitchen after lights out and crawling over our food and washed dishes. what can we do to control them, please?
Cassie 26 November, 2011 08:38
Hi we had heavy rain last night, this morning I found what I think is a slug it's very skinny and has a yellowish brown line down its back the thing itself is black?? I have never seen this creature ever before I live in the mallee
Discovery Centre 26 November, 2011 09:21
Hi Cassie, Museum Victoria has a free identification service. If you send us a photograph of your slug, we'd be very happy to identify it for you. Alternatively, you could bring it to the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre for us to look at.
Diane Dawson 8 March, 2012 16:39
Can leopard slugs poison animals in any way, our goldfish died when one fell in their pond and died, we discovered it after only about 6 hours. Also one of our dogs has a toxin related illness and we wonder if these slugs could cause this as there has lately been a lot of activity around and in their feeding bowls by leopard slugs
Discovery Centre 17 March, 2012 11:22
Hi Diane,

Leopard slugs protect their bodies with foul-tasting mucus but this is considered to be non-toxic. If a reaction to the mucus is suspected you need to seek veterinary advice. Slugs do eat dog and cat food, so minimising the availability of this food source to them may reduce the number of slugs. Keeping the garden free of dog faeces may also reduce the number of slugs.

Jo 4 March, 2014 00:32
These slugs are amazing! Except, I don't like the bit where I get up in the night and squish one between my bare toes on the way to the loo! Some sites say they don't eat live plants, others say they do. Which is correct? I love my garden, and don't take kindly to pests eating it. Should I break out the Snail Bait, or just let them be? And, I have free-range ducks - will the odd slug here and there be hazardous?
Alesha 5 April, 2014 00:25
I was just wondering if anyone can tell me how big slugs usually get? I have found one in my yard that is really fat and is about 20-30cm long.. I've only ever seen them 10cm long at the most, this thing is massive.
daisy 14 April, 2014 14:53
In my Tasmanian garden I have found what I think from looking at pictures is a dusky snail- is this likely?
Rob Barber 4 April, 2015 10:48
I have photographed a large dark, [nearly black], coloured slug found on Mount Dandenong Vic. I have never seen one like it. It was about 20mm thick when contracted and stretched out to perhaps 70mm. It has an attractive tiger like striped orange and black rim around its foot. I would like to supply a macro image for ID and wondered how best to do that.
Discovery Centre 4 April, 2015 11:47
Hi Rob, please feel free to send your email to and we will get our expert to try and identify it for you.
Loi Magill 1 March, 2016 15:47
Hi Museum Victoria I found a Leopard Slug abt 12 cms long up in northern Victoria - so great pics, even showing the slimy path it leaves. Would you like a copy for your collection?
Discovery Centre 2 March, 2016 13:35

Hi Loi

We would love to see the photographs of the Leopard Slug that you found! Please send them through to

We already have a comprehensive collection of photographs of the Leopard Slug in our collection but we can share yours with our scientists in case they'd like to use it on the website or on the Field Guide.

You could also share your photographs with fellow slug enthusiasts on

Thanks again Loi!

Simone 24 April, 2016 23:57
Hi, I would love to know how the slugs know where to go every night to get to my dogs left over dry food! I feel sorry for them when they trek accross the concrete for what must seem like an eternity to them and find the bowl empty! Is there any understanding about slugs intelligence or is it instinct? I see a race every night on who will get there first haha
Discovery Centre 26 April, 2016 09:53
Hi Simone,

Slugs, like most other molluscs, use their sense of taste/smell (called chemoreception) to find their way around. They pick up chemical traces from the ground, and to a lesser extent in the air, to find food or mates, avoid predators, locate themselves in space and find their way home. The chemoreceptors (taste and smell buds) that they use to pick up these traces are found around the mouth, on the ‘tentacles’ at the front of the body, and on other selected parts of the outer skin. Slugs will only come out at night and are more active during or after rain, when they don’t have to work so hard to avoid drying out. So the slugs in your backyard are picking up traces of protein left by the dog food on the ground, as well as smaller traces in the air, and orientating themselves on the strength of both to find the source of the smell. 
Sarah 28 September, 2016 12:30
Hi, how long do these slugs usually live? My daughter is keeping one as a pet and we are wondering :)
Discovery Centre 1 November, 2016 13:41
Hi Sarah - we checked with our Live Exhibits team, and they've said that the introduced Leopard Slug Limax maximus takes about two years to reach maturity and lives another 12-18 months after that. Other slug species, including native Australian slugs, are known to live between 1-6 years.
Alex 23 November, 2016 14:24
Came home late last night to find dozens of small thin leopard slugs on the kitchen floor, on the sliding glass door etc. Never seen more than maybe 1 or 2 before. They seemed determined to get in and head into the kitchen. For maybe 1.5 hrs I hunted and removed them but a steady stream were working their way in from the garden. Eventually found 2 much larger ones (15 cm long, relatively thick) together under a table in middle of the kitchen. Close together so assumed they had had a 'meeting'. Removed them, and a few others, quick clean of the floor and sprayed some eucalyptus around the door frame. 20 minutes later there were none coming in, none on the outside of the door and could see a few stragglers heading away into the garden across the deck.. Assume there was some form of mating/attraction going on with the big ones drawing the little ones in?
Discovery Centre 6 December, 2016 15:16

Hi Alex,

The behaviour you describe is unusual and difficult to explain. Leopard Slugs (Limax maximus) are quite advanced in their behaviour and their perception of the environment compared to many other invertebrates, so there may be things going on we don’t understand, or there may be something about the kitchen on this night that you didn’t perceive but the slugs did. Leopard Slugs are not a gregarious species, so the presence of one slug would not attract any others, but whatever attracted the first slug would probably also attract the rest. The most likely reason would be food (something spilled on the floor with a lingering odour), as Leopard Slugs have keen senses and are particularly attracted to any element that’s deficient in their diet.

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