Giant African Snail

Giant African Snail Infestation in Pasco County 

It was confirmed on June 23rd that a Giant African land snail was present in Pasco County. The recent snail sighting was discovered by a Master Gardener in the New Port Richey area near Massachusetts Avenue and Rowan Road [1]. This first snail confirmed was nearly eight inches long which is about the maximum size they will get. That being said, these land snails are known to be one of the most invasive pests on the planet according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Not only does this species create a threat to agriculture and natural vegetation, its presence also poses a health risk to humans in the area. Since the end of June, this area in New Port Richey has been quarantined and residents have been told to not move any soil, plants or yard waste from that area [1]. 

This invasive species is causing concern for residents because of the extensive damage to vegetation that they cause. They also are known to carry a parasite called “rat lungworm” which can cause meningitis in humans [1]. Thankfully, scientists have not detected the rat lungworm parasite in any of the snails caught in Pasco county. State employees are working extremely hard to capture these creatures. Greg Hodges, the assistant director of the Florida agriculture department’s Division of Plant Industry explained that crews are surveying yards around the New Port Richey area and collecting the snails in large buckets, killing the living ones and sending the carcasses to an appropriate facility in Gainesville [2]. 

A single snail is able to produce over 2,000 eggs per year according to the agriculture department which makes the immediate management of the species extremely important. Also, the snail consumes over 500 different types of plants while also causing damage to materials like plaster and stucco. These materials provide calcium to the snail which makes their shells stronger and more durable. 

Since identifying the first snail in Pasco county, over 1,000 snails have been captured [2]. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried explained on July 7th when she was addressing this issue that “we will eradicate these snails” [2]. With nearly 30 public workers on the state’s snail team and two dogs, Florida is working around the clock to eradicate this issue. In addition, some properties are being treated with a pesticide called metaldehyde which essentially dehydrates the snail completely [2]. This pesticide has been approved for use in numerous crops, fruit trees, berry plants and banana plants according to the department’s website. 

It can often be difficult to determine where something like this came from and why it is able to thrive in our local environment. Consensus holds that this latest outbreak of the African land snail is likely because of the illegal pet trade [3]. It is clearly another one of those increasingly negative consequences of globalization. With no natural predators and various defense mechanisms, an invasive species like this can often thrive in an environment like South Florida. And now with climate change dramatically increasing temperatures in Central Florida, it is no surprise that this creature is thriving here. This is not the first time this state has had to deal with this particular species.  The Giant African land snail was eradicated from Florida in 1975 and for a second time in 2021 [4]. The first introduction was said to be from a child who brought three of them back from a family vacation in Hawaii back in the 1960s [4]. Today, the public is urged to watch for snails and report sightings to the FDACS-DPE hotline at 1-888-397-1517. 

Monica Starr is the Public Communications Facilitator and Associate Editor of Ecology Florida News. Monica is a graduate student at the University of South Florida studying Global Sustainability.






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