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BIG problem: These GALS aren’t the kind you take home to momma

September 20, 2011

So we all know Florida has lots of people, theme parks, beaches and agriculture. But did you know that Florida holds the title for some pretty interestingly large things?

Florida has one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, more golf courses than any other state in America, and holds the record for the most “champion” trees (the biggest trees of their species in the country).

Florida has recently obtained another interestingly large thing, but this particular item is not a trophy and does not travel alone.

A population of giant African land snails (GALS) has been identified in Miami-Dade County. These snails are among the largest in the world, reaching up to eight inches in length and four inches in diameter. Click here for photos of these massive creatures.

These GALS aren’t quite as friendly as the group your mother hangs out with. Nor are they as strict to their diet. They’ll eat plaster, stucco and anything green. In fact, they’ll consume at least 500 different types of plants, and they are a major health hazard.

This species can live up to nine years and each snail produces about 1,200 eggs per year. Do the math – each snail can contribute 10,800 additional GALS to our environment in their lifetime. This would be incredibly hazardous to Florida.

These incredibly large gastropods are not only among the largest in the world, but they are also some of the most damaging. GALS can cause structural damage as they eat building material, agricultural and natural resource damage due to their undiscriminating plant diet, and they are harmful to human health because they carry a parasitic nematode, known as the rat lungworm, that can lead to meningitis in humans. Keep in mind that all snails, even those that are legal to possess, may carry salmonella and other bacteria so caution is recommended. For more information about this and other health concerns, please contact the Department of Health.

The last reported outbreak of GALS in Florida occurred in 1966 as a result of a boy smuggling three snails into the state as pets. The boy’s grandmother released the snails into her garden. Seven years later, this release resulted in 18,000 GALS and over $1 million in eradication costs. It took ten years to successfully eradicate this pest.

The introduction of invasive pests and diseases which are harmful to our environment can be prevented with your help. Don’t pack a pest! When traveling to another county, state or country, whether you’re on a boat, in a car, or on a plane, do not transfer agricultural products. Unseen pests may be hiding in your bag of citrus, in the firewood loaded in your pickup, or even in the soil on your shoes. The transportation of these species introduces them to a new, foreign environment where they have no natural predators – often deeming the new species as invasive. Invasive pests and diseases threaten our food supply, natural resources and our ecosystem.  DPI works hard to detect invasive pests and diseases. But do your part and spread the word – don’t pack a pest.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is working to continue to identify and eradicate the giant African land snail. If you believe you may have seen this pest or signs of its presence, please contact the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 888-397-1517.

To preserve a snail sample, use gloves to put the snail in a zip lock bag, seal it and place it in a bucket or plastic container. Please do not release or give these snails away.

Learn more about this invasive species from DPI.

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