Florida: Miami Slimed by Giant Snails


B. McPherson


Miami is being slimed by giant snails. It will do no good to call on GhostBusters. This job is too big for them. Giant African land snails have invaded the tropical state and are wreaking havoc on the vegetation.

Miami is making a concerted effort to corral these molluscs before they can do more harm. They feast on at least 500 plant species; their slime trails and feces are unsightly; and they can even munch through stucco to get the calcium they need for their shells. Over 1000 are caught and destroyed in Miami each week. More than 100 000 have been gathered since the fall of 2011. It may be like trying to bail out a boat with a teaspoon. The double sex  snails can produce 1200 eggs four and five times a year. The hermaphrodites are both male and female so both of the mating pair produces offspring.

Some people look at them and see cute, mobile lawn ornaments but they are sadly mistaken. These invaders can be killers. They play host to the rat lungworm. It is a particularly nasty parasitic worm that people can catch when they handle or eat(yes eat) these creatures.

Normally the parasite infects rats where it invades the rat’s brain. When they invade a human brain, they cause a form of meningitis. When the worms die, they cause brain swelling. Infection can be accidental.

"He was kind of two-thirds recovered. He could walk again, but it was a stumbling walk. And he could talk but it wasn't quite right yet and he kind of didn't look you in the eye. It's just terrible."
It seems the unfortunate man had accidentally eaten a slug in lettuce. BBC News Magazine

The Giant African snails are considered enough of a serious threat that a symposium was held last week in Gainesville to discuss the best ways to eradicate them. Dealing with exotic species is an expensive undertaking. Invasive species are responsible for the extirpation of many native species and lead to loss of biodiversity.

These invaders originated in East Africa and have invaded nearly every wet, warm niche around the world. South America has been hard hit. Even the Galapagos Islands and Hawaii have been invaded.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a hit list of the 100 worst invasive organisms.

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