Despite millions of dollars spent on eradication programs, Florida is once again battling Giant African Land Snails.
An area of Pasco County is currently under a quarantine which prohibits the movement of plant materials in or out of the New Port Richey area. Giant African Land Snails were discovered there in late June. More than 1,000 snails have been captured since late June.
Giant African Land Snails are large snails that can consume over 500 species of plants, many of significant agricultural importance. They can grow as large as 8 inches in length and 5 inches wide. The snails can also carry pathogens, including a parasite that can cause meningitis in both humans and livestock. They also destroy stucco and plaster.
According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (UF/IFAS), the snails can travel long distances by clinging to vehicles. They are primarily active at night. They might bury themselves in the soil and remain inactive for up to a year. Giant African Land Snails are hermaphrodites, which means that they contain both female and male reproductive organs, although they usually mate with other snails. A single snail can produce up to 2,500 eggs per year.
According to IFAS, Giant African land snails often are large enough to be seen easily, so they can be collected by hand. It is advised to wear gloves, however, or to use an implement to pick up the snails because they can pose a serious health risk to humans. If you do collect snails, seal them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a bucket or plastic container. Contact FDACS at 888-397-1517 and a specialist will come to collect and properly dispose of them.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) along with the Division of Plant Industries (DPI) is the group handling the monitoring, application of appropriate bait, etc. If you have questions or need identification of a snail, contact DPI at 1-888-397-1517 or go to DPIHelpline@FDACS.gov.
It is illegal to import Giant African Land Snails into the United States.
Giant African Land Snails were first introduced to Florida in 1966 after a child smuggled three snails into South Florida when he returned from a trip to Hawaii. His grandmother released the snails in her garden, and they spread from there. Over a 10 year period, the state spent more than $1 million on eradication.
In 2011, Giant African Land Snails were found in the Coral Glades area of Miami-Dade County. After another expensive eradication campaign the snails were declared eradicated from Florida in 2021.
The recent spread of the snails in Pasco County is believed to have come from the illegal pet trade.
Do your part to stop the spread of Giant African Land Snails. UF/IFAS advises:
• Don’t be a part of the spread! Avoid moving plant materials (including firewood) across state or country lines. Do not travel with fresh produce. Check your vehicle, bag and clothes for hitchhikers when traveling. Clean your hiking/fishing gear, shoes, or other equipment when traveling. Select landscape plants that are native or non-invasive. Remove known invasive species (ie. plants, animals, etc.) from the landscape or other area. Buy plants from trusted sources. Don’t release pets or plants into the wild.
Be a detective and keep an eye out! You are another set of eyes looking for invasive species. If something seems unusual, it could be a new pest in our area. We highly encourage people to still be on the lookout for GALS. This pest could be reintroduced in the future.
• Submit suspicious samples! If you see a suspicious snail, you can report it to the FDACS-DPI hotline at 1-888-397-1517. You can also start the conversation about invasive species with your local county extension office. Find your local office here: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. Your local extension office can answer your questions and point you to the right place to submit samples.
• Stay connected! Be sure to check the news for invasive species issues in your local area. You can also attend invasive species trainings or volunteer round up events. There are lots of trainings and events on invasive species across the state. Online, there are tons of social media groups dedicated to stopping the spread of invasive species.