Friday, September 07, 2012

78,000 African land snails caught in Florida

An eye-opening reminder about the Giant African Land Snail -

From the Herald Tribune:

Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.
MIAMI - In an aggressive effort to keep an invasive snail species from making a permanent home in Florida, 78,000 giant African land snails have been captured in the past year, state agriculture officials said Wednesday.

The infestation was discovered in September 2011. Officials hoped they could keep the snail from joining other exotic plant, fish and animal species that have found havens in the state.
"After one year of battling the giant African land snail with every tool currently available to us, we are still confident we can win this fight," said Richard Gaskalla, director of the Department of Agriculture's Division of Plant Industry. "However, we need the continued help of the public if we are to successfully eradicate this dangerous pest."

The snail has been found only in Miami-Dade County, but it poses significant risks to Florida's landscape.
The giant African land snail is considered one of the most damaging snails in the world because it eats at least 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage. It also can carry a parasite that can lead to meningitis in humans.

A program aimed at wiping out the snail's population has cost $2.6 million in state and federal funds so far, said Denise Feiber, spokeswoman for the Division of Plant Industry.
The last reported outbreak in Florida was in 1966 when a Miami boy smuggled three snails as pets. His grandmother released them into her garden and they multiplied. It took a decade and cost more than $1 million to eradicate more than 18,000 snails.

It's not known how the snail arrived in Florida this time, and there's no estimate for how many remain.

"We know they lay eggs, up to 1,200 a year, and they live for nine years. We're just one year into this," Feiber said.

Officials credited homeowners for identifying and reporting most of the main infestation sites. The snails were collected from 350 properties, mostly in urban areas, Feiber said.

Hundreds of the snails, which can grow up to seven inches in length or more, are collected each week, officials said.

Giant African land snails originally come from eastern Africa. They are illegal to import into the U.S. without a permit. No permits have been issued.

The snails also have established a population in Hawaii over the last 40 years, but eradication efforts are focused on Florida to keep the infestation from spreading across the mainland, said Andrea Simao of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

African Snails, shown in an April 21, 2004, file photo, can reach a length of eight inches and can carry a parasite that causes meningitis in humans. After school administrators at a Northern Illinois school realized that the giant snails could pose a health risk for 28 fourth graders caring for them, they asked students to bring them back to school where they were seized this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bobbi Zimmerman)


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