A giant snail species prone to carrying a meningitis-causing parasite has been found in an area of Florida that is under quarantine as experts work to eradicate the invasive creatures.
The giant African land snails were found in the city of New Port Richey, Pasco County, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) confirmed on June 23.
The giant African land snail matures to 8 inches long and lays 2,500 eggs a year. Snails are an invasive species and can be harmful to ecosystems as they are known to eat more than 500 different plants including paint and plaster.
But one of the biggest reasons for concern is the danger they pose to humans. FDACS said on its website, “These snails can be devastating to Florida’s agriculture and natural areas, causing significant damage in tropical and subtropical environments.
“Snails also pose a serious health risk to humans, a rat lung parasite known to cause meningitis in humans,” FDACS added.
People are advised to wear gloves or other protective gear if handling giant snails.
A quarantine zone was put in place on June 24, and FDACS said its Division of Plant Industry would start treatment for “this harmful pest” on Wednesday, using metaldehyde, a pesticide for snails and slugs. Pesticides will slow the snails ability to move and digest food through dehydration until they start to die.
The fortnight will last two years. Those inside the designated zone may not take any plants, soil, yard waste, debris, compost or construction materials outside the area, FDACS said. He added that anyone who has seen a snail should call the Division of Plant Industry’s hotline at 1-888-397-1517.
The snail species was present in Florida in the 1960s and 1970s before becoming extinct in 1975, FDACS said. They were captured in Miami-Dade County in 2011 and extirpated again in 2021. To get rid of the snails, Florida has spent 24 million dollars in research.
FDACS said Newsweek Florida is the only place in the world where snails have been eradicated.
“If left unchecked, the giant African land snail could have major export and trade consequences for our already struggling growers,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said last October.
Snails wreaked havoc in the Caribbean in 2018, spreading ratworm to tourists.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has previously warned that contracting ratworm can occur in rare circumstances. “In some cultures, snails are commonly eaten. Some children, in particular, have become infected by ‘daring’ swallowing snails/slugs. People can also become infected by accident by eating raw produce containing a small or part of a snail or slug (e.g. lettuce),” says the CDC on its website.
In one case, an Australian man ate a garden slug on a dare and died of rat lungworm in 2018, eight years after ingesting the creature.