Giant African snail spotted in Florida: What we know about most damaging snail in the world
Giant African snails can lead to giant problems.
A giant African snail sighting in Florida enacted a quarantine over parasite concerns. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed a giant African land snail was spotted in New Port Richey on June 23. Here are some things to know about the creature, which can grow to be the size of an adult hand.
What are giant African land snails?
Giant African land snails, also known as giant African snails, are an invasive species that are a threat to plants, homes and people's health. The snails have no natural enemies in the U.S., and they're most active at night and often burrow underground by day. They prefer tropical climates (scroll down to see why they're such a problem for Florida) but can endure cold and snow.
What do giant African snails eat?
The giant African snails are one of the world's most invasive species. They are the most damaging snails in the world.
They eat leaves, flowers, bark, plants, vegetables, cucumbers, peppers — even dead animal bones. When they run out of their own food, they will eat the paint and stucco off a house. This type of snail is a major agricultural pest, eating more than 500 different kinds of plants. It feeds on stucco as a source of calcium.
Florida quarantine:Master gardener spotted a giant African snail. Here's why it caused an alarm
Why are giant African snails such a problem?
Besides the massive list of things they can eat), they reproduce rapidly — they have both male and female reproductive organs. This type of snail can lay up to 1,750 eggs per year.
The problem is this: These types of snails could carry a rat lungworm parasite that can cause meningitis in humans and animals. They can transmit disease and have damaged crops in Florida, Georgia and other states.
How big is a giant African snail?
This type of snail can grow up to 8 inches long and weigh 1 pound. They can be about the size of a fist.
How old can giant African snails live to be?
Giant African snails can live for up to 9 years.
Can you eat giant African snails?
African snails are considered a delicacy in Nigeria, according to a 2018 story in USA TODAY. The 2018 story reports: "African snails can be legally exported to the United States if they’re cooked or frozen. Margaret Lanier buys them frozen for her African restaurant in Miami Gardens. 'They’re from Nigeria,' she said. 'I just have to cook it.'”
Were the giant African land snails eradicated from Florida?
Yes ... and no.
Before a master gardener reported seeing one in New Port Richey last month, the slugs were first reported in Florida in the late 1960s and early '70s. At the time, it cost $1 million to eradicate them.
In 2011, they were brought back to the state. The snails were being used in religious ceremonies. It took 10 years — at a cost of $24 million — to eradicate them.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, "the giant African land snail has been eradicated twice in Florida. The first detection was in 1969 and was eradicated in 1975. The most recent eradication of this pest was in 2021 from a detection in 2011 in Miami-Dade County. Prior to the recent detection, the last live snail in Florida was collected in Miami-Dade County in December of 2017."
When the giant African snails invaded forests in Havana, Cuba, in 2018, authorities believed they were brought to Cuba for religious practices.
Cuba's giant African snail battle:In 2018, the giant snails ate their way across Havana. It was a BIG problem
How do we stop the outbreak of the giant African land snails?
After a master gardener reported seeing a giant African snail in New Port Richey, authorities set up a quarantine area where the snail was found.
If you see a giant African snail in your yard or on the side of your house, do not touch it. Contact authorities (scroll down for the phone number and website).
Where is New Port Richey, Florida?
Located in Southwest Florida, New Port Richey is about 38 miles north of Tampa and is part of Pasco County. According to the 2020 Census, the population of New Port Richey was just under 17,000.
If I find a giant African land snail, what do I do?
If you find a giant African snail, do not touch it! This type of snail may carry the rat lungworm. Call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 888-397-1517 or visit fdacs.gov/gals.
Contributing: Saleen Martin, USA TODAY; Tracey Eaton, special to USA TODAY
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