Public Should Not Become Complacent About Giant African Land Snails
February 10, 2015
Florida‘s war against the giant African land snail won’t end until the invasive mollusk is effectively eradicated from the state.
An unprecedented effort by state and national agricultural agencies has resulted in a steady decline in the numbers of giant African land snails (GALS) in South Florida, but officials warn against public complacency.
“Teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) continue to search for these dangerous, invasive snails,” said Denise Feiber, public information director for the FDACS Division of Plant Industry, which coordinates eradication efforts. “Public awareness and watchfullness are vital program elements. Our work will not be over until the invasive snails are effectively eradicated from Florida.”
Feiber said 95 percent of snail finds have been the result of reports from the public since the snails were first detected in Miami-Dade County neighborhoods in September 2011. In September 2014, GALS were detected in neighboring Broward County, the first time they had been found outside Miami-Dade. Teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have collected almost 154,000 of the mollusks.
Giant African land snails can grow to be eight inches long and pose a serious threat to landscapes, crops, buildings and human and animal health. They are known to attack more than 500 plant species, many of them important agricultural crops. They damage structures by consuming stucco to obtain the calcium they need to build their shells. Scientists have confirmed some of the captured snails carry the rat lungworm parasite, which can cause a form of meningitis in humans and animals. Fortunately, no meningitis cases in Miami have yet been traced to the snail. The teams stress that no one should handle any snail or slug without gloves and everyone should remember to wash hands and fresh produce. (A good general rule is to avoid eating raw or undercooked snails, frogs or shrimp/prawns.)
The public should continue to watch for the snails and report suspects to the FDACS Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.
“Never move suspect GALS off-property, handle or consume them,” Feiber said. “And never move plant materials from properties in core areas where the snail has been found.”
Public vigilance and cooperation with the inspectors continues to be crucial. It is important for homeowners to allow inspectors access to their properties for continued survey and control efforts.
The “Look for It! Report It!” campaign continues to spread the word to South Florida residents, using billboards, bus benches, radio, television, print ads and social media. Members of the team in Miami also reach out to the public through personal contact, presentations to community organizations and a presence at civic events.