The Giant African Land Snail Has Been Spotted Again in Florida

MIAMI — The large African land snail, which may develop to the dimensions of a fist and carry a parasite that causes meningitis, was declared eradicated from South Florida final yr after a decade-long battle of individuals versus pests.

They’re baaack.

The dreaded snails — recognized to invasive-species connoisseurs as GALS — had been noticed in June by a gardener in Pasco County, north of Tampa, the primary time a inhabitants of them has been detected outdoors of South Florida.

To attempt to comprise them, state officers positioned a portion of Pasco County in the New Port Richey space beneath quarantine this week. No vegetation, yard waste, particles, compost or constructing supplies can lawfully be moved out with out permission, for concern that the clingy mollusks will unfold. The quarantine extends from a radius of a couple of half-mile from the recognized snail inhabitants and will change or develop if extra snails are discovered.

The snails’ return was a shocking and unwelcome growth in a state the place the wildlife routinely makes headlines — a record-breaking, 215-pound Burmese python was caught in the Everglades late final yr — and the place invasive species routinely wreak havoc. During an particularly wet spring just a few years in the past, exterminators in Palm Beach County obtained a surge of calls about Bufo toads, whose toxin is so toxic that it might kill canine, discovered mating in swimming pools.

“Pasco County is quite a bit drier than South Florida because you’ve got that large area of scrub habitat,” stated Bill Kern, an affiliate professor on the University of Florida who specializes in nuisance wildlife administration. Giant African land snails usually “like humid, and they like dense vegetation.”

“Of course, in areas that are irrigated, like in nurseries or in home landscapes, they will be perfectly happy,” he added.

Giant African land snails are “one of the most invasive pests on the planet,” in keeping with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. They eat greater than 500 varieties of vegetation — and likewise feed on stucco, “as a source of calcium.” They cover in cool, damp locations throughout the day, feed at night time and lay many 1000’s of eggs over their lifetimes. Some snails can develop to eight inches lengthy and 5 inches large.

They may carry a parasite, rat lungworm, that causes meningitis in people and animals — if, say, individuals eat unwashed lettuce or different produce that the service snail has slid throughout, abandoning a path of slime.

“DO NOT HANDLE SNAILS WITHOUT WEARING GLOVES!” the agriculture division warned.

Dealing with invasive species which are damaging and never only a nuisance could be very pricey, Dr. Kern famous. Floridians spend an estimated $100 million a yr to battle a single pest: the West Indian drywood termite.

On Wednesday, the state started treating the quarantine space in Pasco County with a snail bait that accommodates metaldehyde, a pesticide authorized to be used in vegetable and decorative crops, fruit timber and different vegetation that disrupts the enormous African land snails’ digestive methods and kills them.

Mellon, a rescue Labrador educated particularly to detect large African land snails, has been “actively surveying” the realm, in keeping with the agriculture division, which owns a number of pest-sniffing canine. (They sit after they odor a snail.)

Florida has twice eradicated the snails earlier than: final yr, after they’d appeared in Miami-Dade County in 2011, and in 1975, following their preliminary detection in the state in 1969. The agriculture division introduced in 2021 {that a} large African land snail had not been discovered in Miami-Dade County since 2017, following an eradication effort in which greater than 168,000 snails had been collected.

The snails recognized in Pasco County look completely different from those beforehand seen in Miami-Dade County: Their flesh is creamy white, quite than grayish brown.

The coloring makes state officers suspect that the Pasco County snail inhabitants could have begun from a pet snail launched into the wild. The creamy white flesh “is the more desirable trait for the illegal pet trade,” stated Christina Chitty, the general public data director for the agriculture division’s plant business division. Giant African land snails are unlawful to import into the United States and not using a allow.

Still, that’s only a hunch. “We probably won’t know how the Pasco County population came to be,” Dr. Kern stated.

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