Question: What’s slimy, weighs up to two pounds and eats stucco off houses?
Answer: The African Giant Snail.
The African Giant Snail is the world’s largest. While their native territory includes tropical areas in western Africa, the snails were smuggled into the U.S. illegally and set loose in southern Florida.
In 2011, officials in Miami-Dade County started a major eradication program to eliminate these crawling pests. More than 125,000 have been collected in that county alone. Despite these efforts, the snails have slowly expanded their territory. In September 2014, more snails were spotted in neighboring Broward County.
These creatures can quickly grow up to 8 inches long and weigh over a pound. The world’s largest specimen measured more than 15 inches long and weighed about two pounds.
These snails aren’t just creepy, they’re also a major nuisance. Florida officials fear these snails could destroy agriculture and natural areas with their voracious appetites. They are not picky eaters, and will readily devour over 500 kinds of vegetation – including crops and ornamental plants. They’ll even eat the stucco off houses to get the nutrients needed to fortify their shells.
Giant Snail Dangers
Giant snails also pose a health risk. Snails can carry the rat lungworm parasite on their bodies and in their slime. If ingested, this parasite can cause meningitis.
Giant land snails are illegal to import into the United States without a permit. In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted 70 snails brought into the country as food.
Keeping these critters in check will be difficult: Snails are hermaphrodites that can readily reproduce. One snail can produce over 1,000 eggs a year. Some suggest adding a culinary approach to aid removal efforts: When prepared and cooked properly, these snails can be eaten in a variety of ways.
How to Spot a Giant Snail
Apart from their enormous size, the snails’ shells are brown and feature light bands across the spiral. State officials are urging people not to touch snails and contact the department of agriculture and consumer services at 1-888-397-1517 to report snail sightings.