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Miami-Dade County faces slimy snail situation

Miami-Dade County has been invaded.

The giant African land snail, Achatina fulica, has been spotted in five different areas across the county.

These areas include Southwest 33rd Court, Bird Road and 65th Avenue, Hialeah, Northwest Miami and the Kendall Hammocks region.

“We know there are a lot of snails out there,” said Mark Fagan, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “Where? We just don’t know for sure.”

Originally from eastern Africa, this species of snail can grow up to 8 inches in length and 4 inches wide.

The snails have both male and female reproductive organs.

“These snails are hermaphrodites and they usually lay 100 eggs per mating session, and then roughly a total of 1,200 eggs per year,” Fagan said.

The main problem is the species’ destructive power. The snails dine on 500 different varieties of plants.

“Agriculture in Dade County is still a very huge part of the economy, as it is throughout the state,” Fagan said. “Agriculture is second only to tourism as per economic impact in the state of Florida. So, if this was to get out into an agriculture landscape, it could be disastrous.”

The species has also been known to eat plaster and stucco, which are commonly used as building materials.

“We find them on the sides of houses and other buildings, and they’re munching on the stucco in order to get the calcium to build their shells stronger and thicker,” Fagan said.

The snails can also infect humans with meningitis. This rare strain is not curable, but also not fatal, Fagan said.

The meningitis is caused by a nematode parasite that carries the rat lungworm disease.

The last outbreak in Florida occurred in 1966 and took 10 years and more than $1 million to eradicate.

“A 10-year-old boy brought back three snails from Hawaii,” Fagan said. “He was fascinated with them. His grandmother, however, wasn’t. She tossed them in her backyard. After 10 years, we had collected 18,000 snails that came from just those three snails.”

As for the current outbreak, investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are still unsure of  its origin.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Fagan said.

These snails should not be touched. If you come in contact with them, do not touch your eyes or mouth until you  have washed your hands.

If you spot a snail, call the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 888-397-1517.

October 2, 2011

Reporters

Ariele Gallardo


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