Animals

Giant Snails in Florida: Where They Came From and Risks They Pose

Important Points

Large terrestrial snails known as African Giant Land Snails (GALS) are encroaching on Florida and severely damaging a number of homes and crops.

GALS eat more than 500 different kinds of plants, including fruits, vegetables, tree bark, decorative plants, and plaster used in building.

Owners should report sightings to the local authorities as it is against the law to own or sell African giant snails in the United States.

A non-native organism that is brought to a region where it spreads unchecked and has the potential to harm the environment, the local economy, or public health is known as an invasive species. Diseases, parasites, plants, and animals can all be considered invasive species.

Numerous invasive species pose a hazard to Florida’s wildlife and population. The most frequently reported snakes in the news are Burmese pythons, however there is another species that is more destructive than pythons and is making its way into people’s yards. Remarkably slowly, this invasive species is repopulating more quickly than local authorities are able to control on their own.

This invasive species is even more unexpected—it’s a snail!

Invasive Snail in Florida

Large land snails, known as GALS (Giant African Land Snail, Lissachatina fulica), are indigenous to East Africa. These snails have a three to five year lifespan in the wild on average. With regular hibernation, some snails can survive up to nine years. GALS can hibernate for up to a year while they wait for the right weather and environmental circumstances.

Massive African snails are resilient creatures that can survive in a variety of settings. They can withstand some dry seasons by hibernating, but they prefer chilly, damp environments to keep their bodies wet. These snails are nocturnal; they sleep during the day and eat at night.

GALS are capable of asexual reproduction since they have both male and female reproductive organs. One Giant African snail can produce 100–500 eggs annually. Within 11–15 days, the progeny hatch, and within 8–12 months, they achieve sexual maturity.

What Do GALS Look Like?

The largest land mollusk in the world is the giant African snail. They have a cone-shaped shell on their backs and can grow up to eight inches in length. The majority of GALS shells contain spiral-shaped whorls with cream-chocolate streaks.

The enormous African snail eggs have a yellow-cream hue and are around ¼ inch in diameter. Laying of eggs occurs underground or in dense vegetation.

How Did GALS Get to Florida?

The 1960s saw the beginning of the first GALS invasion. Most likely, they were brought in illegally and then released into the wild. The snails overflowed numerous counties because to their high reproduction rates and lack of natural predators. At the time, the invasive species was eliminated by the government and local authorities.

A religious group claimed the snails healed medical issues, so they brought them over in 2011 to conduct a religious rite. After the group was captured, a large number of snails had to be moved.

Nonetheless, further data from June 2022 and June 2023 suggest that Broward, Lee, and Pasco counties are seeing snail infestations. Quarantining the three zones stops the snails from spreading while the appropriate authorities get rid of the mollusks. Theories suggest that the illegal pet trade is to blame for their reappearance.

Are GALS Dangerous to Humans?

Although they may not directly threaten people, giant African snails do provide a serious risk. When consumed by people or animals, the parasitic rat lungworms carried by these snails might transfer to them. If safety precautions are not taken when handling snails, such as donning gloves or properly cleaning your hands, you run the risk of inadvertently consuming the parasite. On the other hand, illness can also result from eating food that a snail has contaminated. Pets that eat a snail containing the parasite will also contract the infection.

Meningitis, or inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is a complication of angiostrongyliasis, also known as rat lungworm.

Meningitis symptoms include:

Nausea
Vomiting
Abdominal pain
Headaches
Stiffness
Fever
Fatigue
Pain
Blurred vision
Bladder problems
Seizures

Humans have a minimal chance of catching the sickness, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s sickness Outbreak and Control section. The parasite eventually becomes extinct because it cannot thrive in human hosts. Another state that is being negatively impacted by snail invasions is Hawaii.

In any case, people who think they may be contaminated should get medical help.

How Dangerous Are GALS To the Environment

Crops and vegetation can be severely damaged by the Giant African snail. They pose a serious danger to agriculture since they consume 500 different kinds of plants. Additionally, they have the potential to spread rat lungworm outbreaks in pets or humans due to their parasitic infection of other crops.

They can hibernate for months without being seen and lay hundreds of eggs in a single year. In a few of months, a single Giant African snail can erase the arduous hours and meticulous labor of several hundred.

GALS will consume stucco, plastic, and attractive plants when food is scarce. A building substance called stucco is applied to surfaces that have dried and become moist. It works really well on ceilings, sculptures, walls, and architecture. If a home or office has too many snails nibbling on the stucco, the interior may get damaged.

Counties where there have been confirmed sightings of the snails must enter quarantine until the outbreak has been stopped in order to stop the snails from spreading.

Dealing with GALS in Florida

People working with or around these snails need to exercise caution because of their fast population increase and vulnerability to disease transmission. In addition to the previously mentioned quarantined counties of Broward, Lee, and Pasco, there is apparently an infestation in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

When you come across a giant African snail, abide by these rules:

Avoid touching them. Steer clear of the snail if you think it might be infected with rat lungworm.

Speak with the state’s department of agriculture or conservation or the local government. Residents of Florida, for example, can email [email protected] or call a hotline at 1-888-397-1517. Please provide the location of the snail along with any accompanying images when sending a sighting for verification.

GALS should not be bought from pet stores or online. Due of the harm they do to agriculture and the health concerns they pose to people, giant African snails are prohibited for possession. Since these snails are being sold illegally, any location that is sheltering them needs to be immediately notified to the relevant authorities.

Find animal shelters or exotic animal amnesty days if a person wants to give up possession of their Giant African snail. On amnesty days, local authorities seize unusual or illegal animals from their owners without worrying about facing legal consequences. The animals will be moved to a suitable environment by the officials.

Never let GALS that are owned unlawfully go free. This goes beyond only snails because it is harmful to humans, the ecosystem, and the animal itself to release any kind of animal into the wild.

Other Invasive Species in Florida

Sadly, Florida is home to a number of invasive species that harm the state’s ecosystem.

In Florida, a few instances of invasive species include:

Burmese pythons

In Florida, Burmese pythons are the most well-known and dangerous species. They are between 15 and 22 feet long, and since there are no predators to control their population growth, they eat all local fauna.

Lionfish

Fish called lionfish have long, red and white stripes all over their bodies. To protect themselves against handling or predator attacks, they have 12 long, poisonous spines bordering their dorsal fins. If therapy is not received, the excruciating, throbbing agony from these spines can continue up to 12 hours. Off the shores of Florida, lionfish are consuming native reef life, causing damage to the coral reef and a decline in the number of native fish.

Cane Toads

Although they can be legally owned without a permit in Florida, cane toads can be deadly if they are allowed to wander the wild. Any animal attempting to consume the very dangerous chemical bufotoxin that is secreted from their skin will become ill. According to several reports, the poison is fatal to both household pets and wild animals. Bufotoxin is another substance that makes toad eggs hazardous to eat. Managing them without the right equipment could aggravate people.

Brazilian Pepper Tree

In the 1800s, the Brazilian pepper tree, an evergreen shrub or small tree, was introduced to Florida for ornamental purposes. However, because of its quick growth, high germination rate, and wide tolerance to many environmental conditions, the shrub has now expanded throughout the state, pushing out other trees.

Water-hyacinth

These plants float and group together to create thick rafts or dams. Although the plant is quite lovely, the local wildlife is harmed by its extremely fast growth rate. Dissolving the oxygen content in streams, water hyacinths damage fish populations, raise the risk of floods, and bring in more mosquitoes.

When dealing with an invasive species, report any unlawful pet trade operations to the US Department of Agriculture in order to protect the local fauna.

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