AFRICAN SNAILS SLIME FLORIDA – Can you imagine walking out onto your deck and seeing a snail the size of a rat? Homeowners in the Miami-Dade County of Florida are facing such a dilemma. As the weather warms the snails are coming out of hibernation and as one homeowner put it, “They multiply like rabbits and are taking over.”
The African snails are not native to Florida and are thought to have been smuggled into the country by those who practice the African religion Ifa Orisha. It is reported that in 2010 a woman was accused and questioned about her involvement in the religion after she was found smuggling snails into the country under her dress. It is believed that she would have not worked alone and that there are multiple smugglers involved. Some may have been brought in with crates of food or trapped in the cargo holds of cruise lines visiting the Central and Latin American countries.
If that isn’t enough to churn your stomach consider these facts:
- The snails contain both male and female reproductive organs and typically lay 1,200 eggs a year.
- A snail has a lifespan of approximately 9 years.
- They can grow to a length of 8-10 inches.
- The average snail is preyed upon by frogs, birds, lizards and snakes. Due to its size, the African snail has no natural predator more fearful than man.
Some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, are overrun with the creatures and the snails’ shells are strong enough to blow out tires on the highway, will turn into hurling projectiles from a lawnmower and their slime and excrement is found coating pavement and the outside walls of homes. Despite the agricultural concerns there are still “snail breeding farms” in operation.
In the United States it is illegal to have the African snail as a pet and there are hefty fines for anyone caught owning one or more. Common sense would tell us that it is also illegal to smuggle them into the country.
In early 2004, several giant African land snails (along with their eggs) were seized in Wisconsin by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). An investigation began shortly after a pet store inquired about the legal status of the giant snails as pets, and as a result APHIS eventually confiscated over 100 snails from pet stores, private owners, and exotic pet swap meets. When several schools were alerted to the collection of these snails, they turned over their snails which were classroom pets.
Back in 1960, a young boy smuggled three snails to his Florida home to raise as pets. After he grew tired of them, they were released outdoors and according to authorities, it took the state 10 years to eliminate them after implementing a million dollar eradication program and in all, over eighteen thousand snails were collected.
With increasing numbers comes an increase in destruction. Snails live mainly on vegetation, virtually eating anything that is green, placing both vegetable and fruit crops at risk. In addition they will chew through plastic and on stucco which they devour for the calcium content it provides and they need for their shells.
The snails are potential carriers of a meningitis-type virus, brought in on the back of a parasite known as the “rat lung-worm ” Several caught snails have been found to have the parasite, although no cases of the disease have been reported. The parasite can be transferred to humans by contact or through eating, so if you were thinking they would be great served as escargot, think again..
If you have a Giant African land snail, please do not dispose of it yourself and whatever you do, do not release it into the wild. Contact your nearest APHIS office.