Florida’s not having the best of luck when it comes to invasive—and in cases, unnerving—creatures. After giant Burmese pythons appeared in the state, there came warnings of super-sized mosquitoes set to descend this summer – and now officials are battling rat-sized snails. The African Land Snail has moved into Miami-Dade County, where up to 1,000 are being captured each week. Aside from looking like something from a b-movie, the slimy creatures pose a threat to human health, property and farming.
The last time the giant snails made their way to Florida, in 1966, it took $1 million and 10 years to eradicate them. This latest outbreak began in September 2011, and has escalated as the snails produce around 1,200 eggs each year. Unlike garden variety creatures, the African Land Snail can eat through stucco and plaster of residences, and will eat “pretty much anything that’s in their path and green,” totaling over 500 species of plants, according to Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Moreover their hard shells can cause tire blowouts on highways, and can form harrowing projectiles if hit by a lawnmower. And the slime—and excrement—trails are proportionate to the mollusk, making for awkward obstacles on sidewalks. But perhaps the most concerning problem is that the snails carry a form of parasitic rat lungworm that can cause a form of meningitis in humans—though no cases have yet been reported.
Last week the Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium gathered in Gainsville, Florida to discuss ways to step up the battle against the snail (they plan to use stronger bait). In the meantime officials are trying to locate the source of the invasion, and raise awareness of the creatures in an effort to stem any northward migration, with Feiber emphasizing that “many exotic species come into the United States unintentionally in freight or tourists’ baggage. If you got a ham sandwich in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, or an orange, and you didn’t eat it all and you bring it back into the States and then you discard it, at some point, things can emerge from those products.”
Things like giant snails.