DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The battle to get rid of invasive and destructive Giant African Land Snails just got a little harder after the disease-carrying, stucco-eating mollusk was located for the first time in Broward County.
The discovery was made when a Davie resident called in a tip one day after extensive media coverage of Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s press conference on the state’s snail eradication program.
“Although we are very concerned about locating Giant African Land Snails outside of the core areas of Miami-Dade County, this find only underscores the importance of the role of South Florida residents to help us successfully eradicate these snails,” said Commissioner Putnam. “We also appreciate the quick action of the individual who called in the report once he realized the major threat these snails are to agriculture, the environment and human and animal health.”
Mark Fagan, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said state workers descended on the Davie neighborhood on Wednesday and removed more than 75 snails. He says the snails eat 500 different kinds of plants, including everything grown for food in Florida.
“We provide this nation’s food supply from October to May,” Fagan said. “It’s not just a Florida problem. It’s not just a South Florida problem. It could be a nationwide problem.”
Fagan said that, if touched, the Giant African Land Snail can release a worm that gets into a person’s bloodstream and could cause meningitis.
“A rare form of meningitis of which there is no cure for and can also cause other neurological issues such as going blind or losing your hearing,” Fagan said.
Sean Cononie owns the home where the snails were first spotted by a worker. He said he’s had meningitis and wants the community to protect themselves and their children.
“I know kids can die in an emergency room just waiting to see a doctor when it comes to bacterial meningitis,” Cononie said.
Fagan says the snails are prolific reproducers — laying hundreds of eggs each month. He also said they probably arrived in Davie by hitching a ride on a landscapers truck or a delivery vehicle from Miami-Dade.
“When you see these snails and you see just the vertical lines and no horizontal lines, get concerned,” Fagan told CBS4’s Carey Codd. “Call us, we’ll come out and get it. Do not touch it. We need your eyes but not your hands.”
Commissioner Putnam held a press conference in Miami on Tuesday to announce that more than 140,000 Giant African Land Snails, also known as GALS, have been eliminated in Florida since they were found here three years ago.
A new infestation of an estimated 2,000 snails, some up to five inches in length, also was recently found in Miami.
State inspectors have collected about 50 snails so far, with the largest being 4 inches in size. Many more snails are expected to be collected. Broward County officials have also been notified and are assisting in awareness efforts.
Scientists consider these snails to be one of the most damaging snails in the world. The snails cause structural damage to buildings by consuming plaster and stucco to get the calcium they need to grow their shells.
A team of snail-sniffing dog detectors has recently joined the fight to eradicate the giant snails.
In addition, teams continue to refine eradication techniques, including researching alternative bait treatments, inspecting lawn maintenance companies and solid waste facilities, continuing public outreach and education activities, and developing experimental trap designs.
Originally from East Africa, the GALS, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to 8 inches in length. Each snail can live as long as 9 years. GALS are difficult to eradicate because they have no natural predator and they reproduce exponentially, up to 1,200 more snails per year.
To report a Giant African Land Snail, call the department’s toll-free helpline at 888-397-1517. To preserve a snail sample, with gloved hands put the snail in a zip-top bag, seal it, and put in a bucket or plastic container. Do not touch the snails or release them in a different location.