Giant Snails Invade South Florida

Published On: Oct 12 2011 03:48:45 PM EDT   Updated On: Sep 16 2011 04:58:28 AM EDT

The giant African land snail, which is one of the most damaging snails in the world, has been found in Miami-Dade County.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the giant African land snail, Achatina fulica, can consume at least 500 different types of plants, can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco and can carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.

"If you get the slime into your eye or in your mouth, or in some places they do eat the snail, and if it is undercooked, you can contract the parasite that way," said Dr. Trevor Smith, of the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"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.

The snail can grow up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in diameter.

Suzanne Howland lives in an affected area in southwest Miami bordered by 27th and 37th avenues between Coral Way and Bird Road.

"There were literally hundreds in my yard," Howland said.

Howland said the snails reproduce "faster than rabbits."

"It's truly amazing. I saw them within a month and a half just take over my yard," Howland said.

"One female can lay 200 eggs at one time, so in a year, they can lay up to 1,200 eggs. So it doesn't take long to have an infestation grow," Smith said.

The last reported outbreak in Florida occurred in 1966 when a boy smuggled three giant African land snails into Miami as pets. The boy's grandmother released the snails into her garden, and seven years later, more than 18,000 snails were found.

It took $1 million and 10 years to eradicate the pest from Florida.

If you see a giant African land snail, call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 888-397-1517.


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