The giant African land snail (GALS) is considered one of the most damaging snails in the world, known to consume at least 500 different types of plants and possibly pose a health threat to humans, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) website.
Since the snail was first spotted in September 2011, approximately 120,000 have been caught. The snails can produce up to 1,200 eggs per year, have a life span of up to nine years and are among the largest snails in the world, according to the University of Florida website.
The snail can carry a parasitic rat lungworm which can cause illness in humans, including a type of meningitis. In October 2012, scientists at FDACS Division of Plant Industry confirmed rat lungworm parasite in samples of the GALS collected during an eradication program in Miami-Dade County.
Homeowners beware - these snails can grow as big as rats and are known to chew through stucco, which provides the calcium content needed for their shells. In some Caribbean countries, which are swarming with the snails, the shells blow out tires on the highway and become projectiles from lawnmower blades, according to a story posted by Reuters.
Jacksonville District’s Invasive Species Management (ISM) Branch is not directly involved at this point. However, the ISM team is working closely with state and other federal agencies by assisting and monitoring the snails’ progression, according to Jon Lane, chief of the ISM Branch.
“If [the snails] get into the Everglades, we are developing a Rapid Response Plan and would become part of a rapid response team to see if [the snails] would have an impact on the Everglades,” said Lane.
Originally from east Africa, it remains unknown how the infestation began; however, this is not the first occurrence of the snails in south Florida. In 1966, a Miami boy brought home three giant African snails upon returning from a trip to Hawaii. His grandmother released the snails in the yard. Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails had been found, along with scores of eggs. Florida’s state eradication program took 10 years at a cost of $1 million, according to the FDACS.
With few natural enemies, the ability to reproduce naturally and a knack for gnawing on anything in their path, the road to eradication appears to be long. South Florida, due to its subtropical habitat, is a hotbed for non-native invasive species, such as the Burmese python.
“Natural environment groups are doing surveys in and near Everglades. They report facts back to us on a regular basis,” said Mark Fagan, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Florida’s rainy season is on its way and the snails will begin to emerge from winter hibernation.
To prevent infection with the rat lungworm parasite, do not handle the snails. Anyone who thinks they may have seen a giant African land snail is asked to call the Division of Plant Industry’s toll-free helpline at 888-397-1517 to make arrangements to have the snail collected. For more information visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com/pi/gals