Thursday, April 18, 2013

Florida Battles Giant African Land Snail Invasion

Posted 2013-04-16 05:21:24

(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- The giant African land snail may fit in the palm of your hand, but it is posing a big threat to Florida residents.

State officials are worried because the snails carry disease and eat most of the agricultural crops grown in the state, an official said.

When the Florida Department of Agriculture first discovered the current outbreak in Miami-Dade County, they found "massive amounts of these snails at every property we visited," said Mark Fagan, a spokesman.

Barely more than 18 months later, Fagan estimated officials have captured more than 120,000 snails.  The largest had a 6.1 inch shell.

"We have a staff of 50 that's dedicated to nothing but snail hunting," Fagan said.

Giant African land snails carry rat lungworm, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said is the most common cause of human eosinophilic meningitis.  The snails often contract the worms by eating rat feces.

Florida's food supply is threatened too, said Fagan.

"They eat 500 different plants," he said.

Florida has more than nine million acres of farmland.  The Florida agriculture industry employs 750,000 people and contributes more than $100 billion to the state's economy.

At least 20 neighborhoods are battling the snails.

According to Fagan, the snails can produce 100 eggs per month and live more than eight years.

Fagan said the giant African land snails first came to South Florida in the 1940s as overseas military equipment was returned home.  Even today, he added, "they're hitchhiking on cargo."

That could mean they're coming in on something as small as a potted plant.

"When they're really small, they're easily undetected," Fagan said.

People usually spot giant African land snails in their backyards and on the sides of homes.  In addition to leaves, the snails also eat stucco and concrete searching for calcium. Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


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