Society

African Land Snails Creating a ‘Slick Mess’ For South Florida Residents

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More than 117,000 African land snails have been caught in South Florida since a Miami-Dade homeowner first saw one of the pesky mollusks in September of 2011. About 1,000 of the annoying snails, which can chew through plaster and get as big as a rat, are caught each week.

Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said that even more of the snails will start to make their prescience known as they emerge from hibernation. South Florida will also start its rainy season in about seven weeks. Feiber said the snails will go after "over 500 known species of plants ... pretty much anything that's in their path and green."

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The snails can typically produce about 1,200 eggs a year. This is problematic because the snails are particularly fond of munching on stucco because it has high levels of calcium, a vitamin that they need for shells. "It becomes a slick mess," Feiber said.

Although authorities are not sure how the snails first got introduced to the Miami area, it’s possible that they were brought in unintentionally by unsuspecting tourists. "If you got a ham sandwich in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, or an orange, and you didn't eat it all and you bring it back into the States and then you discard it, at some point, things can emerge from those products," Feiber said.

Many Floridians don’t realize the danger that the snails present and view the slow-moving mollusks as cute pets. "They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you ... communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that," Feiber said. "But they don't realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don't have any natural enemies and they thrive."

Sources: NBC News, Reuters