Florida is once again under siege from an invasive species. This time, residents are facing a deluge of slime and droppings brought on by the giant African land snail. The mollusks, which were first spotted in the Miami-Dade area in September 2011, can grow as large as a rat and love to eat everything in their path, from gardens to stucco walls. The snails are also known to carry a parasitic lungworm that can cause a form of meningitis in humans. Fortunately, no such cases have been reported so far.
Authorities have had little luck trying to determine the source of the infestation. One possibility is a Miami Santeria group, a West African/Caribbean religion known for using giant land snails in their rituals, but it’s more likely they were simply unintentional hitchhikers in some tourist’s luggage. "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 discard it, at some point, things can emerge from those products," warned Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Roughly 1,000 snails are being caught each week, 117,000 in total since they first appeared, but it’s unlikely to halt their march of destruction. A single snail can produce over 1,200 eggs in a single fertilization cycle. The last snail infestation, which occurred in 1966, took 10 years to quell and cost the state $1 million.
Experts gathered in Gainesville last week to discuss ways to eradicate the snails. No conclusions were reached, save for bombing the state into dust and “seeing how the snails liked that.”
Read more about Outside's encounter with Florida's other invasive pest, the Burmese python.