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Giant African Land Snail Invade South Florida

Giant Snail Florida

Florida is battling the growing infestation of a giant African land snail.

When the Florida Department of Agriculture first discovered the outbreak in Miami-Dade County, they found "massive amounts of these snails at every property we visited," said Mark Fagan, a spokesman.

Fagan estimated officials have captured more than 120,000 snails since September 2011. The largest reported shell was 6.1 inches.

"We have a staff of 50 that's dedicated to nothing but snail hunting," Fagan said. They examine the areas with the most target for the giant snails, spread bait and cart the snails they find back to the lab for a freeze death and further testing.

Even though the work is hard and very time-consuming, the bait mixture and removal methods are paying off, Feiber said. "We're still collecting 400 to 500 (snails) a week," Feiber said, "but the good news is, more and more are deceased when we find them."

Giant African land snails carry the parasitic rat lungworm, which the Centers for Disease Control said is the most common cause of human eosinophilic meningitis.

According to Fagan, the snails can produce 1,200 eggs at a time and live more than 8 years. They also flourish in the area because they do not have any natural enemies to fend off. "They're a trifecta,” Feiber said. "They're a risk to property, health and agricultural resources and landscapes."

People can spot giant African land snails in their backyards and on the sides of homes. Not only do the snails eat leaves, they also eat stucco and concrete searching for calcium content they need for their shells.

"If you spot one in your backyard," Fagan said, "don't smash or otherwise destroy it. Call an agricultural official to dispose of them." He added that officials are making headway in their battle against the giant African land snail.

It can be hard to tell the difference between a giant African land snail and other kinds of snails, it gets easier as they grow larger. "The stripes on their shell are a dark, caramel brown, with vertical rather than horizontal stripes," Fagan said. "They have a definite spiral."

So far, the species hasn't advanced to other metropolitan areas like Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers.

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