There’s no denying that Florida has great tropical weather featuring a lot of sunshine that’s advantageous for Agriculture, tourism and outdoor recreation. However, all those weather and climate-related characteristics about the Sunshine State that reel in vacationers in droves also attract more than a fair share of nasty diseases and pests. Those pests then attack our state’s all-important crops and livestock, wild flora and fauna and human population. The Florida Agriculture Industry, the state’s inhabitants and visitors can rest easy knowing that at least one invasive pest—the Giant African Land Snail—is suffering a serious smackdown from the efforts of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
The Giant African Land Snail was first found in Florida in 2011. Growing up to eight inches in length, the snails were introduced as a curious exotic pet. However, the snails have voracious appetites and consumer over 500 different types of plant matter; the proof of the snail’s potential for havoc is in the pudding—the snails will also eat stucco and plaster off the sides of homes and buildings, causing extreme damage. To make matters worse, the snails also live nearly a decade and reproduce at as astonishing rate; one snail can create approximately 1,200 more snails a year! To add insult to injury, Giant African Land Snails also carry diseases that are harmful to humans, such as meningitis.
Once the snails were detected in Miami-Dade County four years ago, FDACS sprang into action with public advisories and dog-led response teams. The FDACS dogs—both rescue animals—were trained to detect the snails by smell much like other dogs sniff for drugs or incendiary materials at airports and other crucial locations. To date, FDACS has eliminated 159,000 Giant African Land Snails in southern Florida, keeping the invasive pests from penetrating further north. According to a release by Commissioner Adam Putnam, the weekly collection numbers that once numbered in the thousands have dropped to single digit numbers and teams are still refining detection and capture techniques. To report a Giant Snail sighting—keeping in mind there are other large native snails in Florida—call the department’s toll-free helpline at 1-888-397-1517. FDACS asks that to preserve a snail sample, pick the specimen up with gloved hands and put the snail in a zip-lock bag, seal it, and put in a bucket or plastic container. They warn people not touch the snails or release them in a different location.