A giant species of snail recently launched a renewed invasion of Florida. In May, authorities in Miami-Dade County said they were fighting back and destroying up to 1,000 Giant African Land Snails each week.

Florida officials announced on September 1 that they are making great strides in their effort to vanquish the Giant African Land Snail, but they are now planning to add “four-legged technology” in the form of a black Labrador ‘sniffer’ dog named Bear.

GIANT SNAILS MAY HAVE BEEN REINTRODUCED THROUGH SANTERIA

Putnam told Reuters that $6 million has been spent so far to eradicate the munching mollusks, which they believe may have been introduced to Florida by a Miami Santeria group, with West African and Caribbean religious roots, that was found to be using the snails in its rituals.

Regardless of their progress in the battle against the giant invaders, authorities urge the public to remain alert and on the lookout for the brown, fist-sized pests that can chew right through stucco walls.

It was believed that these creatures had been eradicated from the area years ago, but in September 2011 a local homeowner spotted one in his garden in Miami-Dade. Since then state and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have collected more than 120,000 of the mollusks, but Putnam refused to speculate on when his department might declare victory, reports the Associated Press.

AUSTRALIA DISCOVERED A GIANT AFRICAN LAND SNAIL IN BRISBANE

Florida is not alone in its angst over the Giant Snail. Australia reports that, when just one Giant African Snail was discovered in Brisbane in a homeowner’s garden in May, it was immediately destroyed because of the threat they pose to bio-security.

The Australian Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned that the population will explode in seven weeks when the snails emerge from underground hibernation for the start of the upcoming rainy season.

Department spokeswoman Denise Feiber said the Giant African Land Snail can grow to the size of a large rat and some people think that they might make “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,” she told NBC news. Florida officials agreed that their size makes them attention grabbers, especially for children.

But, if they are released into the environment where they don’t have any natural enemies, they thrive and the species devours everything green and leafy in its path.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry warns that the species is capable of destroying 500 types of plants including vegetable crops, fruit trees and Australia’s native eucalypts.

These snails are hermaphrodites, having male and female sex organs. Each snail lays up to 1,200 eggs per year and can live up to a decade, experts say.

DANGER TO HUMAN HEALTH AND PHYSICAL STRUCTURES

The Giant African Land Snail poses a serious health danger because it carries a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause a form of meningitis in humans.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Putnam said the voracious snails are a threat to Florida homes and office buildings because of their appetite for stucco, which they consume to get the calcium quota needed to maintain their shell. But he also emphasized the danger to the state's $100 billion agriculture industry, “It is a very serious pest.”

Last time the snails invaded Florida was 1966, according to State Plant Health Director Paul Hornby. Officials believe that outbreak was caused when a boy brought back three of the snails from Hawaii as pets. His grandmother later let them loose in her garden. It took $1 million and about 10 years to eradicate the animals, reports the Associated Press.

A Miami homeowner spotted the snails again in September 2011, and they have since been found in several clusters throughout Miami-Dade County. Hornby said officials have tested thousands of sites elsewhere in the state but so far have found no evidence the snails have migrated outside the county.

According to Florida Agriculture Department data, the average number of snails found per day has dropped from more than 1,000 in 2011, to fewer than 100 in July. Now, more snails are found dead than alive, the Brandenton Herald reports.

Officials attribute the drop to the work of the 45 agriculture specialists, who physically hunt for the mollusks on their hands and knees, and to a new and stronger pest killer, metaldehyde.

BEAR, A BLACK LABRADOR, TO PROVIDE “FOUR-LEGGED TECHNOLOGY”

Miami-Dad says it is also now adding a new weapon, Bear, a 3-year-old black Labrador Retriever, to launch a pilot effort to bring in canine detectors that can sniff out the snails.

"They're very good at detecting the Giant African Land Snail," said Richard Gaskalla at the Florida Agriculture Department. It has no natural predator, posing a challenge to eradication efforts. But it can give off a strong odor that dogs can be trained to detect, he explains.

Bear will soon complete his three-month training and start accompanying the snail hunters. Two other Labradors are also expected to be trained, and join him, Reuters reports.

Sources: News.au, Bradenton, Reuters

Cowie, R. H.; Dillon, R. T.; Robinson, D. G.; Smith, J. W. (2009). "Alien non-marine snails and slugs of priority quarantine importance in the United States: A preliminary risk assessment" (pdf). American Malacological Bulletin 27 (1–2): 113–132.