Giant snails invade Florida

Since late June, Department of Agriculture workers in this sunny South American state have been surveying the gardens of New Port Richey, a small town on the west coast where the snails live.

The mollusk, which can measure up to 20 centimeters in length, is “an agricultural plague that feeds on more than 500 different types of plants,” explains Jason Stanley, a biologist with the public body. “So we’re concerned about its presence in our environment.”

Mr Stanley adds that a giant African snail can lay up to 2,000 eggs a year, a staggering reproductive rate that threatens the state’s vital agricultural sector.

Snail hounds

A few yards away, Melan, a Labrador trained to follow a snail, walks with his master. He goes under a tree, searches in the grass … Finally, when he finds his goal, he sits on it.

With the help of Mellon and another sniffer dog, 1,200 specimens of this invasive species have already been captured in Pasco County. Officials are also using metaldehyde, a type of slug killer that is harmless to humans and animals, to eradicate this destructive slug, the government assures.

New Port Richey is even placed under quarantine: no plant can come out of it to prevent a snail from escaping with it. If the mollusk from East Africa managed to make it to Florida, it could have been brought as a pet, officials said.

Its color is light, unlike other snails of this species, with a brownish color, which makes it “very popular,” notes Jason Stanley.

Sniffer dogs help catch these snails.

Chandan Khanna/AFP

Already destroyed twice in Florida

However, this snail is dangerous to humans. He’s a carrier of “a rat lungworm that can cause encephalitis,” Jason Stanley continues.

The parasite, found in shellfish caught in Pasco County, enters the lungs of mice when they eat snails and is spread through their coughs. The biologist explains that if a human ingests one of these worms, it travels to the brain, where it can cause meningitis. The giant African snail has already been extirpated twice from other parts of Florida, in 1975 and again in 2021.

The last eradication campaign in Miami-Dade County took ten years of effort and cost $23 million.

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