MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The battle to rid South Florida of the Giant African Land Snail is going well but not well enough.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam announced Tuesday that more than 140,000 Giant African Land Snails have been eliminated in Florida since the disease-carrying, stucco-eating invasive mollusk was found here three years ago.
But a new infestation of an estimated 2,000 snails, some up to 5 inches in length, in Miami underscores the importance of Miami-Dade residents’ role in the eradication of these snails, which are a major threat to agriculture, the environment and human and animal health.
“This new find of Giant African Land Snails proves that residents play an important role in our eradication efforts,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Only with the help of the residents of Miami-Dade can we be successful in eradicating this invasive pest, which threatens the crops, structures and residents of Florida.”
Scientists consider these snails, known as GALS, to be one of the most damaging snails in the world because they are known to consume at least 500 different types of plants. The snails cause structural damage to buildings by consuming plaster and stucco to get the calcium they need to grow their shells. The snail can also carry a parasite, known as rat lungworm, which can cause a form of meningitis in humans.
The department’s eradication program has been highly successful, and no snail has been found outside of Miami-Dade County. The majority of snail finds are identified through calls from the public to the program helpline, including the most recent identification of about 2,000 GALS earlier this month.
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.
Although the eradication program has stopped the spread in Florida on the ground, several recent seizures of snails at international airports in the U.S. cause concern. Since June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confiscated more than 1,200 live GALS, which are banned in the United States.
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.