The Giant African Land Snail (Achatina Fulica), which can grow up to eight inches in length, is threatening to expand its presence beyond the Florida borders. This is bad news for the American public because in addition to being an agricultural pest, the giant snail carries with it the parasite known as the rat lungworm. This parasite can burrow into humans and cause salmonella and meningitis, a condition that causes painful headaches, vomiting and stiff joints.
United States geological Survey biologist Deborah Iwanowicz recently collected several snails in one-third of the locations where Florida agriculture officials stated the snails were concentrated in 2013. Unlike samples that were collected in prior studies, Iwanowicz collected two samples from each snail she studied. By using this method, she found that “[c]ollecting just one additional sample per snail increased the number of snails testing positive for the rat lungworm by 13 percent.” Iwanowicz’s research was published in the Journal of wildlife Diseases.
The Giant African Land Snail was introduced to the United States in 1966, when a Miami boy smuggled three snails into the country. His grandmother eventually released the snails into a garden, and in approximately seven years, there were greater than 18,000 snails found in Florida. The Florida state eradication effort took over 10 years at a cost of $1 million. However, an emergence of the snails was discovered about four years ago in southern Florida. By going door-to-door in the Miami area, Florida officials found approximately 150,000 snails and two properties alone contained over 700 snails.
Giant African land snails are illegal in the continental U.S. because of the health risks and because they are highly invasive, and can cause widespread damage to important food crops and other agricultural and natural resources. They eat at least 500 different types of plants. If fruits or vegetables are not readily accessible to the snails, they will eat a variety of house plants, tree bark and even paint and stucco on houses.
These giant snails also reproduce rapidly, laying as many as 100 to 400 eggs in a single session. Snails are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. They can lay up to 1,200 eggs per year.
These hardy creatures can also live in colder temperatures, which allows them to spread to northern parts of the United States. In cold weather, the snails become slow and sluggish, practically hibernating, until warmer weather returns. Therefore it seems like the Giant African Snail is not ready to leave the United States.