Giant Snails Invade South Florida [Video]

Giant snails are invading south Florida, leaving a sticky mess behind. The growing infestation of giant African land snails is worrying, because the mollusks can gnaw through stucco and plaster.

More than 1,000 giant snails are being captured each week in Miami-Dade County. In total, 117,000 have been captured since the first snail was spotted by a homeowner in September 2011.

Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, stated that the snails attack “over 500 known species of plants… pretty much anything that’s in their path and green.” The giant African land snail has already wreaked havoc in some Caribbean countries.

Barbados is one country that has been overrun with the creatures. The snails have been known to blow out tires on the highway and turn into hurling objects of potential destruction by the blade of a lawnmower.

A typical snail produces about 1,200 eggs per year, creating a potential disaster if their population is not controlled. They pose a particular problem to homes because of their love of stucco. The home-building material is particularly satisfying because it contains the calcium content the giant snails need for their shells.

But beyond their destructive power, the giant mollusks also carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can harm humans. They can also carry a form of meningitis, though no cases have been identified in the United States yet.

The source of Florida’s giant snail infestation is not known. Investigators are still working to trace the source of the infestation, which could be almost anything. One theory is a Miami Santeria group. The West African and Caribbean-rooted religion uses the large snails in its rituals.

But the more likely explanation is an unintentional introduction via freight or tourists’ baggage. Fieber explained:

“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.”

One of those “things” is a giant African snail. The last known invasion of the pesky creatures in Florida happened in 1966. A boy returning to Miami from Hawaii brought three of them home with him. His grandmother eventually released the snails into the wild. Their population grew in seven years to 17,000 snails and the state spent $1 million and 10 years eradicating the pesky creatures.

Have you seen any giant snails in south Florida this year?

[Image via J.M.Garg]