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Destructive Giant African Land Snails Spotted in Florida

2:52 PM, Sep 19, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Keep your eyes peeled for a snail; the state needs your help.

The snail in question should be easy to recognize; it fills up an adult human's hand.

It's the Giant African land snail (GALS), and, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, it is one of the most damaging snails in the world.

The GALS have been spotted in South Florida and are capable of destroying not only hundreds of species of plants, but also homes with plaster or stucco.

Plus, the snails, which can grow up to eight inches long, can carry a parasitic nematode that can cause meningitis in humans.

How did the GALS arrive in Florida?

"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.

GALS can live nine years, and each one is both male and female, so an adult can lay about 1,200 eggs in a year.

Scientifically known as Achatina fulica, the snails originated in eastern Africa and expanded their presence to the east.

They have been spotted in Hawaii and on several Caribbean islands.

According to the DOACS, the last known outbreak of the GALS in Florida was in 1966 when a child smuggled three of them to Miami to keep as pets.

That boy's grandmother put the snails in her garden.

Fast forward seven years, and more than 18,000 of the snails were leaving destruction in their slow-moving wakes.

Fast forward an additional 10 years, and the snails were eradicated, at the cost of $1 million, which made the occasion the only known successful eradication program of giant African land snails.

Putnam wants anyone who spots a giant snail to notify the DOACS, who will arrange to collect the snails.

Preserve snails in a bucket or plastic container, and wear gloves when handling them, Putnam said, adding that it's a bad idea to release them or give them away.

First Coast News

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