Slug, or land slug, is a common name for any apparently shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc. The word slug is also often used as part of the common name of any gastropod mollusc that has no shell, a very reduced shell, or only a small internal shell, particularly sea slugs and semislugs (this is in contrast to the common name snail, which applies to gastropods that have a coiled shell large enough that the animal can fully retract its soft parts into the shell).
Various taxonomic families of land slugs form part of several quite different evolutionary lineages, which also include snails. Thus, the various families of slugs are not closely related, despite a superficial similarity in the overall body form. The shell-less condition has arisen many times independently during the evolutionary past, and thus the category "slug" is a polyphyletic one.
Of the six orders of Pulmonata, two – the Onchidiacea and Soleolifera – solely comprise slugs. A third family, the Sigmurethra, contains various clades of snails, semi-slugs (i.e. snails whose shells are too small for them to retract fully into) and slugs. The taxonomy of this group is in the process of being revised in light of DNA sequencing. It appears that pulmonates are paraphyletic and basal to the opisthobranchs, which are a terminal branch of the tree. The family Ellobiidae are also polyphyletic.
The external anatomy of a slug includes the following:
Tentacles Like other pulmonate land gastropods, the majority of land slugs have two pairs of 'feelers' or tentacles on their head. The upper pair is light sensing and has eyespots at the ends, while the lower pair provides the sense of smell. Both pairs are retractable.
Mantle On top of the slug, behind the head, is the saddle-shaped mantle, and under this are the genital opening and anus. On one side (almost always the right hand side) of the mantle is a respiratory opening, which is easy to see when open, but difficult to see when closed. This opening is known as the pneumostome.
Tail The part of a slug behind the mantle is called the 'tail'.