Workers from Florida’s Department of Agriculture are fighting a slimy and dangerous enemy: giant African land snails that have invaded a residential area in Miami-Dade County.
“We have collected over a thousand so far and we have only just begun,” said Denise Feiber, Public Information Director for Florida’s Division of Plant Industry.
Investigators aren’t sure when or how the invaders slithered into town, but they are on a mission to eradicate the snails as fast as possible. Giant African land snails can grow to be as long as 8 inches and consume at least 500 different types of plants. They also destroy stucco and plaster.
“They leave excrement all over the sides of houses. They’re very nasty,” Feiber said. “These things are not the cute little snails that you see.”
They also pose a health risk by carrying a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans.
Officials realized they had a problem on their hands last week when two sisters flagged down a fruit fly inspector performing a routine check.
“A homeowner came out and said, I found these snails in my yard and she had one of them. He recognized it as potentially being a giant African land snail,” Feiber said.
Officials have been focusing on the one square mile area around the home in southwest Miami. They are only 30 to 40 percent done with their investigation and have already found 1,100 snails.
“We have gone back to some of these positive properties and cleaned up every one of these snails we have seen,” Feiber said. “We come back a few days later and we’re collecting more and more.”
The snails contain both male and female reproductive organs and typically lay 1,200 eggs a year.
Suzanne Howland lives in the affected area and told ABC Affiliate WPLG that the snails multiply “faster than rabbits.”
“It’s amazing, there were literally hundreds in my yard,” she told WPLG. “I saw them within a month and a half just take over my yard.”
Feiber said that they are investigating if the snails could have come from a smuggling incident that’s been under investigation since 2010.
In 2010, officials began investigating Charles Stewart, a man who practices the African religion Ifa Orisha, the Miami Herald reported. Stewart was accused of using the snails in his rituals and investigators claim an African woman brought them to him by sneaking the snails under her dresses on flights to Miami, the Miami Herald reported.
Floridians also battled the slimy mollusks in the late 1960s. A boy smuggled three snails on a flight and raised them as a pet. His grandmother grew tired of them and released them into her garden, Feber said.
“It took the state 10 years to eradicate and it was a million dollar eradication program and that was in the late 1960s, early 1970s,” Feiber said. “Eighteen thousand snails were collected.”