Beware The Slow-Moving Slimy Invasion Of Giant Snails

By JoshMogerman in News on Apr 14, 2013 9:00PM

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Giant African Snail [Thomas Brown]

A lot of energy and attention is lavished on the most infamous invasive species in our neck of the woods. But Florida is battling an invader that certainly has Asian carp beaten on “eww” factor alone. Snails are cute, but fist-sized Giant African land snails that devour hundreds of plant species and even the walls of some buildings are just plain nasty. And they are over-running Dade County where 1,000 of the massive mollusks are being yanked off the streets every week in a desperate bid to stem the tide of a slimy invasion.

Sure, Asian carp are bigger and have been known to knock unlucky boaters unconscious when the freaked out fish leap out of the water. But Reuters paints a pretty scary picture of the toll these slow-moving snotty giants are bringing:

In some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, which are overrun with the creatures, the snails' shells blow out tires on the highway and turn into hurling projectiles from lawnmower blades, while their slime and excrement coat walls and pavement.

"It becomes a slick mess," [said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services].

A typical snail can produce about 1,200 eggs a year and the creatures are a particular pest in homes because of their fondness for stucco, devoured for the calcium content they need for their shells.

The snails also carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause illness in humans, including a form of meningitis, Feiber said, although no such cases have yet been identified in the United States.

And, unfortunately, the invasion is not limited to Florida. The State of Michigan notes:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently discovered and confiscated illegal giant African land snails from commercial pet stores, schools and one private breeder in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. Some of these snails have also been discovered in Michigan. These snails are being used increasingly for science lessons in schools by teachers who are unaware of the risks associated with the snails and the illegality of possessing them.
It seems that some of the mountainous mollusks are kept as pets. Undoubtedly some of these ticking environmental time bombs are sitting in terrariums around town. We don’t know if they can survive Chicago’s winters (even a wimpy one like this year), but the idea of adding "a slick mess" to the toll carp, quagga mussels, buckthorn, garlic mustard, fish ebola and the scores of other invasive species are already taking on this region is maddening. Most any critter that finds itself in a new environment without predators can create havoc, but adding slime and lungworms to the mix is just...well...blech.