Invasive species: Giant snails invade Miami subdivision

Miami HeraldSeptember 16, 2011 

The silent, slithery invasion of an army of Giant African Snails in a southwest Miami subdivision has federal and state agricultural officials launching a time-consuming expensive counter-attack to remove the large slimy creatures.

“It’s us against the snails,” said Richard Gaskalla, director of plant industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The snails, of the species Achatina fulica, can grow up to 10 inches long and four inches wide and are considered one of the most damaging land snails in the world. They eat at least 500 different types of plants, lay about 1,200 eggs a year, and can carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis. Prolific breeders, they contain both female and male reproductive organs and live as long as nine years.

They can be particularly devastating to agricultural areas and ecosystems and result in trade bans. Hailing from Eastern Africa, the snails are only allowed into the United States with special permits and for scientific research.

Two sisters alerted officials to the invasion last week, waving down a fruit fly inspector conducting a routine check. The siblings had tired of the pests, who love cool, dark spots, thrive in limestone, concrete and cement, and are drawn to recycling boxes, compost heaps, and cat food.

Standing on the corner of Southwest 28th Street and 34th Avenue Thursday, Gaskalla and his team were meticulously combing through the neighborhood he termed “Ground Zero” in the attack. About 50 state and federal officials are going house-by-house, removing the slimy pests by plastic-gloved hand. The process is slow and time-consuming.

So far, officials have found about 1,000 within a one-square-mile radius. The mollusks are transferred to freezers in an effort at “humane death,” Gaskalla said.

Read the complete story at miamiherald.com

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