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Invasive Snails Part of Landscape in Florida Novel

July 20, 2015

Giant African land snails slime their way into our summer reading

SharSkinSuiteHere at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (DPI), we spend a lot of time inspecting for, catching and studying the giant African land snail, and reaching out to the public with information about it.

The snail is a scary invasive pest. It can grow up to eight inches long. It threatens more than 500 plants, including important agricultural crops. It poses a health threat to human and animal health and even consumes concrete from structures to obtain calcium for its thick shell.

In our leisure time, some of us who read for fun have noted the massive mollusk has sliming its way into our summer fiction. Tim Dorsey’s newest book, Shark Skin Suite, places the invasive snails in the company of giant iguanas and Burmese pythons in the South Florida environment. In fact, they show up on the first page of Chapter One.

Dorsey’s books celebrate the foibles and occasional weirdness of Florida. Fans will not be surprised that this one, once again, features Florida amateur historian, movie buff and psychotic killer Surge Storms as he helps an attractive young female attorney obtain justice for ordinary people caught up in the aftermath of the housing bubble. The giant African land snails contribute to the mayhem by puncturing vehicle tires and occasionally chowing down on buildings.

While the plot is centered in Miami and Key West, Storms and his troubled sidekick  travel the state from the Keys to Tampa and Orlando and on to North Florida, where he delights in the ambiance and history of Micanopy and expounds on the unique ecology of Paynes Prairie. The prairie, incidentally, is where one of the villains meets his end in a way that could only happen there.

But let’s get back to those snails.

It is by fictive license that the snails are placed in the Keys’ landscape. In reality, the giant African land snails have so far been detected only in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. See a map of core areas where GALS have been found here.

But absent the continuing, intensive efforts of USDA, FDACS and other agencies to contain and eradicate them, they could indeed cause major damage to agriculture, the ecology, human and animal health and structures, elsewhere in the state.

That is why we continue to ask all Floridians to “Watch for Them and Report Them.”

Report suspects to our FDACS Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.

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