They’re destroying buildings, spreading disease and could be coming to a garden near you.
Snails in general are slow moving, but the Giant African Land Snail (or GALS) has spread at lightning speed across South Florida.
“They eat 500 different plants, including everything we grow in Florida as a source of food,” said Mark Fagan. “In addition to that, they’re a human and animal threat, because they carry a parisitic nematoad that could cause meningitis.”
Fagan and his team with the Florida Department of Agriculture have been fighting the snails 24/7 since the epidemic started in one woman’s house in 2011. GALS can eat right into a home and build up calcium.
Since then, the Department of Agriculture has collected 139,000 snails from nearly 30 different sites across Miami-Dade County. Once captured, the GALS are put into a deep freeze, or placed into a tank, where their behavior is carefully studied.
Experts are hoping these clues can help them wage the war against them. Giant African Land Snails can lay a hundred eggs a month and grow up to 15 inches long, normally distinguished by the spiral shell with clear stripes.
Although they’re now crawling around South Florida, they are native to Nigeria and most likely came here to be used in religious practices, according to experts.
The Florida Department of Agriculture is relying on dogs to help wage the war. They have become so effective that the federal government just granted an additional $5 million to fund more canines. These dogs are trained to sniff the snails out from their hiding places.
“The dogs are trained them to ignore all the native snails and all the non-native snails that are established here in Florida,” said Omar Garcia, an Environmental Specialist with the Department of Agriculture. Turns out a giant snail’s worst nightmare is man’s best friend.
Credit: Bradley Blackburn and Joanna Suarez