UPDATE 9/16 -
Snails are known for being slow… but agriculture experts are working fast to stop these snails from spreading across south Florida.
Dr. Paul Skelley from the Florida Department of Agriculture says they believe they have caught this just in the nick of time. An invasion - of slimy, striped-shelled pests, that, at least by snail standards, live up to their name Giant African Land Snails.
But not everyone thinks they're gross. Jason Kesser says he thinks they're extraordinary, "I think they are beautiful but they populate at an incredible rate i mean exponentially is an understatement"
Jason Kesser saw one the for first time at his mother's house in Miami, "I thought it was like a dream or something it was like a mythic creature that walked it was about this big"
At the time he didn't realize the snails were dangerous.. But as soon as the Florida Department of Agriculture learned there were giant African snails in Miami, it joined with the USDA to launch an emergency response -- searching houses around SW 33rd court for the snails - they've already found about a thousand.
Skelley says, "These were just found shaking out some foliage and looking in some leaf litter" The snails quickly destroy vegetation, they'll eat stucco off a house.. And just one snail can lay 12-hundred eggs a year "It can actually become so numerous it becomes traffic hazards I've heard of the shells puncturing tires" says Skelly.
And the snails can carry a parasite that causes meningitis. Which is why Jason Kesser is thankful he didn't decide to get rid of the snails on his own. He says, "We got to the point where we were just going to maybe boil them up and eat them. We're just not that french so we didn't go for that thank god we didn't because i think that probably would've been unhealthy."
Tallahassee, FL – September 15, 2011 -
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has positively identified a population of Giant African land snails (GALS) in Miami-Dade County. 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, and can carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.
“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.”
The Giant African land snail, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in diameter. When full grown, the snail’s brownish shell consists of seven to nine whorls (spirals) that cover at least half the length of its long and greatly swollen body whorl (see photo below).
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.
Achatina fulica is originally from East Africa and has 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.
The last reported outbreak and eradication of the Giant African land snail 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 costing more than $1 million and taking an additional 10 years to successfully eradicate this pest from Florida. This is the only known successful giant African land snail eradication program.
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, Floridians should use gloves to put the snail in a zip lock bag, seal it and place it in a bucket or plastic container. They are advised not to release or give these samples away.