TALLAHASSEE (FDACS) — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have joined together in a cooperative effort to prevent giant African snails (GAS) from making their way into Florida and are asking the public for help. Giant African snails are considered a serious plant pest and potential threat to public health because of their ability to destroy plants, damage ornamental plants and spread disease. Giant African snails are illegal to import into the United States without a permit, and currently no permits have been issued.
Because of vigilant federal and state inspections and public education efforts, Florida has been successful in keeping these dangerous mollusks from becoming established again in Florida. Once established, this pest can create a giant swath of destruction and an alert public can prevent that from happening.
For the last several decades, there was no known giant African snail in Florida. However, the state is no stranger to this massive mollusk. In 1966, a boy smuggled three snails into Miami as pets and his grandmother subsequently released them into her garden. Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails were found. It took almost 10 years and more than $1 million to eradicate this pest from Florida. This is the only known successful giant African snail eradication program on record.
Scientists consider the GAS to be one of the most damaging snails in the world because it is known to consume at least 500 different types of plants. The snails can also cause structural damage to buildings; they consume plaster, stucco and other calcareous materials needed to grow their shells. In large numbers, GAS can cause extensive damage.
Public health concerns also surround this and other types of snails because they can carry parasites. Because of these health concerns, it is recommended to use gloves when handling snails and to wash hands thoroughly afterward.
The giant African snail, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the world growing up to 8 inches in length and 4.5 inches in diameter. When full grown, the shell consists of seven to nine whorls (spirals), with a long and greatly swollen body whorl. The brownish shell covers at least half the length of the snail. Each snail can live as long as nine years and contains both female and male reproductive organs. After a single mating session, each snail can produce 100 to 400 eggs. In a typical year, every mated adult lays about 1,200 eggs.
Achatina fulica is originally from East Africa and has established itself throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian Islands. This pest has also been introduced into the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe with recent detections in Saint Lucia and Barbados.
The Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS), a USDA grant-funded program which is managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has stepped up inspections following a recent GAS interception but no additional giant African snails were found.
Anyone who thinks they have seen a giant African snail, or may have information on illegal snail smuggling or import activity, is asked to please call the Department’s toll-free helpline at 1-888-397-1517. Please do not release them or give them away. The cooperation of the public in identifying any of these pests will be greatly appreciated and will help prevent the establishment of a destructive creature.
For information on invasive snail species, visit http://www.fl-dpi.com.