Florida officials warn of danger of giant African land snails

kirby@bradenton.comJuly 16, 2014 

Keep a look out for the extremely harmful giant African land snail, warns Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, after it was reported Monday that inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport confiscated 67 of the invasive, destructive snails this month.

Giant African land snails, or GALS, are considered one of the most destructive species because they consume at least 500 different types of plants, cause structural damage to buildings and can carry a parasite that causes meningitis in humans and animals. They can live as long as nine years and are difficult to eradicate because they have no natural predator and can reproduce exponentially -- up to 1,200 new snails per year.

They were detected in Florida in 2011.

"Giant African land snails are a triple threat. Not only do they destroy plants and damage buildings, they are a risk to public health," Putnam said in a news release. "We're working hard to eradicate this invasive pest from South Florida, but it's just as important to prevent any more from entering our borders. I appreciate the diligence demonstrated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in safeguarding our nation from threats such as these."

Officials have only discovered GALS in Florida in Miami-Dade County but encouraged other ports to keep an eye out just in case.

According to Monday's re

port by the Associated Press, U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized 67 snails, which are prohibited in the United States. They arrived on a flight from Nigeria earlier this month and were incinerated once identified.

In the three years since the pest was detected in Miami, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors have collected and destroyed more than 140,000 snails.

Eradication efforts include dog detector teams, snail bait, regular survey and collection activities, development of experimental trap designs, modification of habitats to eliminate snail hiding places, requiring compliance agreements with lawn maintenance companies, inspections of solid waste facilities and continued public outreach and education activities.

Residents who believe they have found a snail should call the department's toll-free helpline: 888-397-1517. About 85 percent of new finds of GALS were from property owners who called the helpline.

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