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Miami's next dangerous threat: Giant African Land Snails

Giant snail Just when we've thought we'd seen it all, comes this alarming warning from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services today: A dangerous snail of gigantic proportions is gradually invading Miami Dade County, threatening to consume plants and plaster and infect humans along its way.

The creature, known as the Giant African Land Snail (GALS!), is "one of the most damaging snails in the world," the department says. The slow-moving sloth not only can consume at least 500 different types of plants, but "can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco and can carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.'' It was last reported in Florida in 1966.

“Florida faces constant challenges from invasive pests and diseases that arrive through cargo, travelers’ luggage, air currents, and plant and animal agricultural products,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Enlisting the help of the public in the early detection of these pests and diseases is critical to containing and ultimately eradicating them in our state.”

The large snail, originally from East Africa, can grow up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in diameter. "When full grown, the snail’s brownish shell consists of seven to nine whorls (spirals) that cover at least half the length of its long and greatly swollen body whorl,'' the department said.

What's worse, the snails can live as long as nine years and are abundantly prolific. Each snail contains both female and male reproductive organs and every mated adult lays about 1,200 eggs each year. The pest has been found in the Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe and has been recently detected in Saint Lucia and Barbados.

The last reported outbreak took 10 years to eradicate and cost more than $1 million, state officials said. The snails are illegal to import into the United States. If you've seen one of these giant snails, call DACS at  888-397-1517 to make arrangements to have the snail collected.