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Florida invaded by deadly giant African snails that can cause meningitis

The invasive Giant African Land Snail that has invaded Florida for the third time (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@Sciencenature14)

Though slow and sluggish movers, the giant African land snails seem to have taken a fancy for Florida. As per a report in smithsonianmag.com this invasive creature which causes the maximum damage around the world, has reached Florida for the third time in history. This information was shared by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The snails were discovered in June and till now 1,434 of these have been found dead and alive from 30 properties spread in Pasco County.

What makes these giant African land snails a problem and pest is the fact that it is a voracious eater and can consume more than 500 types of plants. Going beyond the plants, it also eats up plaster and stucco, thereby causing a risk to buildings and structures.

These snails become doubly dangerous as they are the primary intermediate hosts of rat lungworm. This parasite roundworm causes the lethal eosinophilic meningitis that can lead to death or permanent damage to the brain.

Capable of producing 1,200 eggs annually, it can grow to be the size of a human fist.

Stressing on the grave danger these snails pose to people, Nikki Fried, Florida Agriculture Commissioner, talking to the newspersons said: “If you see one of these snails, do not touch it. Most importantly, do not eat them. This is not a snail to be put on butter and oil and garlic.”

It was in the 1960s that the snails made their first appearance in Florida and then a sum of $1 million was spent over a period of seven years to exterminate them. They were back in 2010 and eradicated after 10 years at a cost of $23 million.

This time it is not certain as to how they landed in Florida as it is illegal to keep them at home or import them in the US without a permit.

Sharing details about the snails which have invaded Florida at present, Greg Hodges who is Assistant Director of the State's division of plant industry in his briefing stated that the creatures this time have light cream-coloured bodies and have a dark, spotted brown shell. They are unlike the ones seen in the earlier detections.

Explaining this, Hodges observed: “The populations that we dealt with in the previous two eradications had dark gray to brown bodies. This cream-coloured phenotype is very common in the pet trade in Europe and has been intercepted here in Florida previously with the illegal pet trade.”

The Florida authorities have adopted stringent measures to curb movement of these snails and a quarantine zone has been established in the city New Port Richey.

The places where these snails have been detected will be treated with slug and snail killer metaldehyde for a period of 18 months. Further the area will be checked for two years continuously even after the last of these creatures have been found.

The State is also using specially trained dogs to sniff out the snails.

Also read: Poisonous false widow spiders trap and feed on England’s protected bats