Giant African Land Snails Return To South Florida

CORAL GABLES (CBS4) – They’re back. Giant African land snails which once took a decade to eradicate from South Florida have returned.

Giant African land snails, considered to be one of the most damaging snails in the world, have been found in the Coral Gables area of Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Giant African land snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because they consume at least 500 different types of plants, can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco on houses, and can carry a parasitic worm that can lead to meningitis in humans. The snails transmit diseases to humans through consumption of raw or improperly cooked meat or by contact with human mucous membranes such as eyes, nose and mouth.

“Florida faces constant challenges from invasive pests and diseases that arrive through cargo, travelers’ luggage, air currents, and plant and animal agricultural products,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Enlisting the help of the public in the early detection of these pests and diseases is critical to containing and ultimately eradicating them in our state.”

For the last several decades, there was no known giant African snail in Florida. However, the state is no stranger to this massive mollusk. In 1966, a Miami boy smuggled three snails into South Florida from a trip to Hawaii as pets and his grandmother subsequently released them into her garden. Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails were found. It took 10 years and more than $1 million to eradicate this pest from Florida. This is the only known successful giant African snail eradication program on record.

The Giant African snail is one of the largest land snails in the world growing up to 8 inches in length and 4.5 inches in diameter.  When full grown, the shell consists of seven to nine whorls (spirals), with a long and greatly swollen body whorl. The brownish shell covers at least half the length of the snail. Each snail can live as long as nine years and contains both female and male reproductive organs. After a single mating session, each snail can produce 100 to 400 eggs. In a typical year, every mated adult lays about 1,200 eggs.

Jason Kesser saw the snails for the first time near his mother’s house in Miami.

“It was like a dream or something. It was like a mythic creature,” he said.

He says it wasn’t long before he saw many more of the snails “there’s a tremendous amount of them all over all of our plants.”   But agriculture experts say the snails don’t just damage plants.  Dr. Paul Skelley of the Florida Department of Agriculture says the snails “can actually become so numerous it becomes traffic hazards.   I’ve heard of the shells puncturing tires. You get them in your lawn you run your lawn mower over it you’ve got shrapnel.”

Teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture and USDA are going door to door in areas where the snails have been found, collecting and quarantining them.

The snails are originally from East Africa and established itself throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian Islands. This pest has also been introduced into the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe with recent detections in Saint Lucia and Barbados.

Giant African land snails are illegal to import into the United States without a permit and currently no permits have been issued.

Anyone who believes they may have seen a Giant African land snail or signs of its presence should call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 888-397-1517 to make arrangements to have the snail collected.

To preserve the snail sample, wear gloves and put the snail in a zip lock bag, seal it and place it in a bucket or plastic container. Do not release it or give it away.

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