I have never seen lions hunting wildebeest on the open plains of the Serengeti. I have never seen grizzly bears fishing for salmon in an Alaskan stream or vast schools of leaping manta rays off the Baja Peninsula.
But I have witnessed the love embrace of Limax maximus, the leopard slug.
Megan Paustian hasn’t. “I’ve only seen footage of it,” she told me. “I’m kind of jealous.”
Paustian is a research biologist who specializes in mollusks, specifically slugs. She’s a contractor for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and just the person to explain exactly what it was I saw on my driveway one morning not long ago.
My Lovely Wife had called me outside while she was walking the dog. There, hanging from a brick wall, was. . . . Well, it was the strangest dream catcher I’d ever seen, consisting of two slugs of the sort I usually find creeping along the edges of my yard.
Paustian said it was a pair of leopard slugs in the process of making more leopard slugs.
“They make a mucus thread and then dangle down on it,” she explained. As they hang there, the hermaphroditic slugs extrude their translucent penises — out of their heads.
“They swap sperm,” Paustian said. “That’s the end point of it. It’s a very unusual type of reproductive strategy, but it’s very pretty, isn’t it? It’s sort of a glowing, beautiful structure that forms a spiral shape.”
When they’re done, each leopard slug goes off and lays hundreds of eggs.
Paustian got into slugs through other types of mollusk: the animals that create seashells.
“I was about 10 years old at the library looking at a picture book,” she said. “I thought the shells were beautiful from an aesthetic perspective.”
Seashells led to snails. Then, when she was in graduate school at the University of Maryland, Paustian worked in a laboratory with a bunch of entomologists who were studying forest moths. On nighttime trips to the woods to catch moths, she would see interesting slugs climbing the trees. Each could grow to about 10 centimeters long, or about four inches.
“I was rather fascinated by these large native slugs I’d never seen before,” she said.
That would be a group of slugs called the Philomycidae. The name means “mushroom-loving,” for that’s what the slugs eat. They are mottled and resemble the sort of leaf litter you’d find on the floor of a forest.
“I love studying slugs,” Paustian said.
And I love meeting people who love studying slugs — or anything else that’s hidden or arcane; modest, you might say, but when in the mood, capable of great immodesty.
My column Tuesday about TV glitches reminded Rockville’s Murray Schweitzer of one of the worst moments in his 42-year career in local television.
When he started in the 1960s at WDCA-TV, Channel 20, Murray sometimes had to run master control on the weekend late-night shift. Things were done manually then, and one Saturday night Murray noticed that he had somehow run the third reel of a three-reel movie before the second reel.
“Odd thing is I thought everything was going fine until I saw the movie credits come on about an hour early,” Murray wrote. “And then I noticed I had a reel left to go, which I ran.”
When Murray went in Monday morning he fully expected to be fired. “But nothing happened,” he wrote. “No boss was watching, no viewer called in to complain. Nothing. And so I was granted another 40 years to continue my TV career, 28 of those years at WRC-TV. However the angst of that night lives on, I guarantee.”
One of the first TV jobs Silver Spring’s Sheva Farkas had was as an assistant director, and her job included cutting movies down to fit the allocated time slot and putting in commercial breaks.
“My biggest challenge was to cut 20 minutes out of ‘Bells are Ringing,’ ” she wrote. “I finally realized that each song was an opportunity to cut some time. By the end of my edit job, no musical numbers remained. The movie fit the time slot. It was shown. No one ever complained.”
Given that “Bells Are Ringing” is a musical, that must have left a pretty interesting program.
Say, what’s the biggest, most bone-headed mistake you ever made at work — and didn’t get fired for? Send the details — with “Oops” in the subject line — to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.