Giant African land snails have invaded Miami-Dade county, according to the state Department of Agriculture. The snails are one of the largest species in the world and have nasty habits like eating almost any type of plant in their path, causing destruction to homes, and making humans sick. To make matters worse they multiply fast. The snails haven't been seen in the wild in Florida since 1966. Back then they caused $1 million in damage and took ten years to get rid of.
"The Giant African land snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because they consume at least 500 different types of plants, can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco, and can carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans," says the DOA's press release.
The snails, which can grow up to 8 inches, also have both sex organs and can lay 1,200 eggs each a year. Once hatched the snails can live for nine years.
The 1966 outbreak was caused when a boy tried to bring three back to Miami from East Africa as pets. His grandmother released them into her garden, and then the snails began multiplying. The outbreak caused $1 million in damage, and it took Florida ten years to completely eradicate the population.
The snails are illegal to import. Though, this may be the first time the snails have been spotted in the Florida wild, a man was caught keeping the snails for religious purposes in Florida last year.
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Charles L. Stewart of Hialeah smuggled the snails into the country, and made his religious followers drink the snails' mucus. Authorities were tipped off when his followers started showing up at hospitals complaining of violent illness.
If you happen to see one of the snails in the wild, the DOA asks you take the following steps:
Anyone who believes they may have seen a Giant African land snail or signs of its presence should call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 888-397-1517 to make arrangements to have the snail collected.
To preserve the snail sample, Floridians should use gloves to put the snail in a zip lock bag, seal it and place it in a bucket or plastic container. They are advised not to release or give these samples away.