News Column

Florida Invaded by Giant House-eating Land Snails

May 2, 2013

With its beaches, sunshine and amusement parks, Florida can be a wonderful place. Lately, however, one giant and often misplaced organism after another has been invading the state.

First, it was the snakes ...


And Now Giant Snails ... That Eat Homes

1. Why do you think Florida has been the state with so many outbreaks of giant, invasive organisms?

2. Approximately how many eggs does a Giant African snail lay in its lifetime?

3. What are snail shells made out of? How do you know?

4. Why are Giant African snails so much more dangerous to plants than the regular snails?

5. Why do you think invasive species tend to grow out of control when they enter a new area?


Check next week's Did You Know -- Kids for the answers to today's quiz.

Giant pythons invaded Florida after being brought here as pets and then discarded in the wild. Conditions were perfect, and they reproduced rapidly. The pythons have wiped out many small animals in Everglades National Park.

Then it was the mosquitoes ...

If giant snakes were not enough, Florida is now having a problem with giant, quarter-size, aggressive mosquitoes. Their populations have increased because of flooding caused by last year's tropical storms.

And now, giant snails ...

While maybe not as frightening, the tiny and slow snail has now found a way to attack Florida, and it is not so tiny anymore!

Giant African snails can reach 8 inches long and seem to eat almost everything. Most snails eat decaying plant material that is already dead. Giant African snails are known to eat at least 500 different kinds of live plants, including beans, peanuts, cucumbers, melons and entire trees and bushes. Even scarier, if their preferred plants are not available, the snails will eat house paint and even the concrete walls of houses to get calcium for their shells.

The snails are also a health risk, as they eat rat droppings, which can contain a parasite. If humans come in contact with an infected snail, the parasite can enter the human body and make it up to the brain.

The snail is native to areas near Nigeria. Eventually, the snail spread to the Pacific Islands, including the islands of Hawaii. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this is not the first Florida outbreak of the giant snails. In 1996, a Miami boy hid three giant snails in his bags when coming home from a trip to Hawaii. After his grandmother released the snails into her garden, they began to multiply. In just seven years, more than 18,000 of the snails were found. The snails were finally removed from Florida after 10 years and a cost of $1 million.

Authorities say that people try to smuggle in the snails, most often wishing to keep them as pets. The snails lay about 100 eggs a month, and they live for eight years. People can't handle all those snails, so they release them.

This latest outbreak also has occurred in the Miami area. Authorities are hopeful they can control it, as they have developed a poisonous bait that the snails like but other natural animals don't like. It will be a long battle, though. This time it appears it is much worse. They have collected more than 100,000 snails in the past 18 months from this latest invasion.

Source: Copyright Columbia Daily Tribune (MO) 2013

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