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For the second time in recent years, Florida is facing the threat of an invasive species originally introduced as an exotic pet.
Florida's Pasco County was put under quarantine in late June amid reports that African land snails had been found in the county and were proliferating. The huge snails, which can grow to a length of 8 inches (20.3 cm), are a threat to humans because they can carry the meningitis-causing rat lungworm parasite. They will also destroy crops if allowed to grow in large numbers. Once they get a foothold in a location, the population is very difficult to control, as a single snail can lay 2,500 eggs per year. African land snails are versatile and adaptable to numerous environments, happily feeding on hundreds of plant species and even nibbling house paint and stucco for the calcium content.
Native to east Africa, the snails presumably made their way to west-central Florida through the exotic pet trade, even though it is illegal to import or own them in the United States. Due to the ease with which they breed, a few discarded or escaped snails are enough to cause a population boom.
The slimy business of invasive snails:
- Florida only recently eradicated an earlier African land snail invasion in Miami-Dade County. That invasion was reported in 2011 and successfully eradicated in 2021.
- The quarantine in Pasco County is expected to last for three years and involves treating the soil with the pesticide metaldehyde. Labrador retrievers are also being used to sniff out the invaders.
- The snails identified in Pasco County have white flesh, which is highly prized among exotic pet collectors.