In a recent interview I was asked which was more challenging — writing about sex or science? I replied both are great: sexy science or science-y sex is how I roll. As it happens, both are found in the racy romp of the leopard slug.

Leopard slugs are known for their lengthy penises and lithe lovemaking. Their scientific name, Limax maximus, which translates to biggest slug, says it all. This slimy species is large in body and phallus — each can be up to eight inches long.

Leopard slugs are hermaphrodites, as each individual has both male and female reproductive organs. However, mating is not guaranteed, and there are virgin slugs that go their entire lives without ever partnering up. Luckily, they can self-fertilize, so reproduction is possible for even the loneliest slug.

But back to the penis. It is blue and emerges from the back of the slug’s head and can exceed the length of the slug’s body. The phallus comes out after a very complicated mating ritual that involves acrobatics, slime and seduction. It takes a slug two years to reach sexual maturity, but once you see them in the act, you know it must have been worth the wait.

Slug sex starts with foreplay. If two slugs are lucky enough to find each other, the animals begin with licking and cuddling which can last for hours. If both parties are willing, they climb up a tree or other structure and, once at an appropriate height, entwine together and lower themselves on a rope of mucous or slime that can extend up to 16 inches.

The slime is a special substance that is neither a solid or liquid but fluctuates between the two.

When the slugs are at rest, the mucous rope is mostly solid, but when the slugs move and pressure is applied, the slime liquifies. Slimy slug sex isn’t for everyone. The idea of it all repulsed English comedian Jenny Éclair, who shared, “Well, I’m not good with sliminess. I hate the thought of creatures that have slime on them or creatures that leave a slimy trail. At home, the sight of a slug can bring up my breakfast.”

The slugs, once entwined, both extend their penises, which, like their bodies, find each other and twist together below the hanging slugs. The twisted organs open like flowers (though the tips stay together), and spermatophores are exchanged. After they both share their essence, the act of mating is complete and one slug falls to the ground. Sometimes the corkscrewing of the organs goes awry, and the two can’t get separated. In this case, one slug may bite off the other’s penis. That’s okay, because the emasculated slug can mate again as a female.

The ins and outs of slug love, not to mention the ups and downs, remind us that sex and science can intertwine just like those salacious slugs. Both involve finding new, ingenious methods in the natural world that keep the miracle of life busy moving forward.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.