Chemical and biological control of slugs

Understanding how slug control options work, along with the use of monitoring and damage-risk thresholds, will help you target treatment effectively.

How to manage slugs in field crops (home page)

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The biological control of slugs

Due to relatively high costs, biological control of slugs is particularly suited to organic systems and high-value crops. It is also extremely useful in situations where it is difficult to target the slugs effectively with pellets, such as in mature lettuce crops.

Use of nematodes

A biological molluscicide, based on a nematode parasite of slugs (Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita), is available. Unlike pellets, nematodes can target soil-dwelling slugs, as well as surface-active slugs. However, slugs may not feed or rest on substrates treated with nematodes.

The nematodes enter the slug's shell sack (mantle) and release bacteria from their guts. The nematodes feed on the multiplying bacteria. Eventually, the slug's mantle swells and bursts. Although it usually takes 7–21 days for an infected slug to die, it stops feeding soon after the nematode enters the body. When the slug dies, the nematodes feed on it until the food source is depleted. They then leave in search of more slugs.

The grey field slug is highly vulnerable to the nematode but larger species are only susceptible when they are young and small.

Nematodes can be applied in advance of expected damage, at sowing or any time during the crop’s lifetime. However, they are best applied in dull weather, in the evening and before rain. Success is dependent on wet conditions after application.

In ideal conditions, nematodes provide a reduction in damage for about six weeks after application. To get the best out of the product, it may need to be used soon after purchase (always follow the instructions carefully).

Natural enemies include ground beetles, rove beetles, parasitoids, birds, amphibians and hedgehogs, so providing habitats for these species may help to control slug populations.

The chemical control of slugs

The chemical content of bait/pellets affects their attractiveness to slugs and their durability. Too much active substance may deter slugs from feeding before receiving a lethal dose. Too little may also prevent slugs receiving a lethal dose, especially in larger slugs. There are no records of resistance to plant protection products authorised for slug control.

Ferric phosphate

Ferric phosphate is particularly suitable for organic systems. Slugs quickly stop feeding, become less mobile and die within 3–6 days. As slugs often die underground, effectiveness of the treatment should be measured by the decrease of feeding damage in the crop.

Metaldehyde (withdrawn)

From 1 April 2022, it became illegal to sell and use metaldehyde products.

Metaldehyde slug pellets must be disposed of through a licensed waste contractor.

Find a licensed waste contractor

This active ingredient was a central component of the chemical slug control for decades. However, its detection in raw (untreated) water above the drinking water standard, along with environmental concerns, placed a great deal of scrutiny on this relatively cost-effective option. As a result, metaldehyde was withdrawn and integrated control, using various techniques, became more important.

Slug monitoring periods and damage thresholds

Monitoring periods and damage thresholds are crop-specific. The damage-risk thresholds only apply where conditions are suitable for slug activity.

Slug monitoring periods and damage thresholds