1,000 Giant Snails Invade FL City, Dogs Used To Sniff Them Out

NEW PORT RICHEY, FL — One New Port Richey resident said an invasion of disease-carrying giant African land snails sounds like the storyline for a hokey horror B-movie. But, in this case, reality is stranger than fiction.

According to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, more than a thousand fist-sized giant African land snails, declared one of the most damaging snails in the world by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, have invaded a quarantined area of ​​New Port Richey.

“Let’s go ahead and address the abnormally large snail in the room. The giant African snails are back,” Fried said during a news conference in New Port Richey.

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“Why are these giant African land snails, or as we like to call them, GALS, such a big deal? Because they are one of the most damaging snails in the world,” Fried said. “They can consume at least 500 different types of plants, making them a clear threat to our agricultural and natural areas. Agriculture is the backbone of Florida’s economy, and it is important to protect the vital industry from invasive pests like GALS that are recklessly brought into our state by illegal pet traders or other illegal means.”

That’s not the only reason for concern, she said.

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“GALS is dangerous to our health because they carry parasites called rat lungworm, which is also called meningitis in humans,” she said. “I would like to stress how dangerous these creatures are. Please, do not attempt to handle them yourself. Let’s leave this to the professionals.”

Fried said she’s mobilized a virtual army of 30 agricultural experts from her department’s Division of Plant Industry to eradicate the slimy creatures. The DPI is also using two snail-detecting dogs to ferret out the intruders.

To date, the DPI has captured 874 live snails and 142 dead snails on 29 properties in New Port Richey, DPI Assistant Director Greg Hodges said. Judging by the extent of the intrusion, Hodges estimates the snails could have arrived in New Port Richey a year ago or longer.

The first snails were detected by a New Port Richey homeowner on June 21, who alerted the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension center in Pasco County to the presence of the unusually large snails, Hodges said.

The report was verified by a master gardener with the UF/IFAS on June 23, who notified the state department of agriculture. Hodges said the DPI immediately sent out experts to survey the area.

The DPI is eradicating the snails using a metaldehyde-based molluscicide. Approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for residential use, metaldehyde is a pesticide used to control snails and slugs. Available products can be applied as granules, sprays, dusts or bait pellets. Applications are typically made to the ground around the plants or crops where the snails are spotted.

Metaldehyde works by disrupting the mucus production ability of snails and slugs. This reduces their mobility and mobility and makes them susceptible to dehydration. Snails and slugs that have eaten metaldehyde often seek hiding places, become inactive and begin to die within days.

How the giant land snails came to be in New Port Richey is anyone’s guess, Fried said. It is illegal to import or possess the snails in the United States without a permit.

Intermediate, US Department of Agriculture inspectors said they routinely find them in the baggage of international travelers from Asia, Africa, the West Indies and South America, smuggled into the US as part of the illegal pet trade or for use as food, folk medicine or in religious rituals.

Once released, the snails can survive in a variety of environments, hiding in cool, damp spaces during the day. During unfavorable environmental conditions, the snail can survive by burying itself in soil and remaining inactive for up to a year.

The snails spread by clinging to compost or yard waste that’s trucked away for use elsewhere or for disposal, and they’ve been known to hitch rides on transportation carrying produce long distances.

Fried said these pervasive snails can multiply at an alarming rate. They can reproduce as young as 4 months old, laying many thousands of eggs in their multiple-year life spans.

If allowed to multiply, Fried said they could cripple Florida’s agricultural industry. She said she’s not going to let that happen.

“We are so lucky to have an experienced team ready to prevent, detect and treat invasive threats,” said Fried. “Let me assure you, we will eradicate these snails. We have done it twice before, and we will do it again. It is not a question of if, but when. Together, let’s locate, communicate and eradicate, so Florida can again.” be GALS free.”

The first time the giant African land snail was found in Florida was in 1969. It quickly multiplied in an area in south Florida, and it took the department of agriculture six years to wipe out 17,000 snails at a cost of $1 million, Hodges said.

The snails were found again in Miami-Dade County in 2011, and it took until 2021 to destroy more than 168,000 snails plus millions of eggs at a cost of $23 million, he said.

Before it gained a foothold in New Port Richey, the last live giant African snail in Florida was collected in Miami-Dade County in December 2017.

“With our personnel, expertise and proven eradication methodologies, we are confident in our ability to obtain eradication once again,” said Hodges. “This effort will require a cooperative effort by FDACS, the USDA, UF/IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science), the city of New Port Richey, Pasco County, and most importantly, the homeowners.”

Hodges said scientists have not detected rat lungworm in any of the snails found in New Port Richey.

He said the snails found in Pasco County have a creamy white flesh opposed to the grayish brown flesh of the pest that was eradicated in the Miami area. The largest found so far in New Port Richey was 4.5 inches long.

Fried and Hodges were joined at the news conference by DPI Deputy Director Bryan Benson and Sparkey, one of the five dogs in the DPI Detector Dog Inspection Program.

Video footage shows the DPI’s mollusk detector dog, Mellon, searching for snails in New Port Richey. The DPI’s five mollusk detector dogs usually operate in 80 parcel shipping facilities around the state to sniff out plant and agricultural materials inside packages. But, like in this case, they are also used throughout the state to aid in pest eradication programs.

The detector dogs and their handlers complete extensive training at the USDA National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia, before being paired and to the field.

The rescued canines selected for the program are initially trained on five odors: citrus, mango, papaya, guava and stone fruit. Once the dogs are operating in the field, the target range expands very quickly because the dogs are exposed to new odors in the parcel facilities and because they receive continued training.

Hodges said the dog teams act as the first line of defense in preventing unregulated or contaminated products from entering Florida. The five dog teams are stationed around Florida and conducts inspections in about 80 different parcel shipping facilities throughout the state.

Anyone who spots what appears to be a giant African land snail should promptly contact the division of plant industry helpline at 1-888-397-1517.

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