Giant African land snails were found in a small area of Pasco County in June 2022.
A citizen found several unfamiliar snails and sent a photo to the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office in Pasco County for identification.
That led to the positive identification of the invasive pest – the Giant African land snail — considered one of the most destructive worldwide.
Giant African land snails (GALS) are mollusks native to east Africa and have been found in several Caribbean locations and Hawaii over the years.
They’ve been identified twice before in the state of Florida – once in the 1960s and again in the 2000s in the Miami-Dade area.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) eradicated the pests in both instances.
The June 2022 identification in Pasco County led to an agricultural quarantine being set up in a small corner of New Port Richey.
The quarantine is designed to prevent the snail from escaping the area, which is extremely important in the fight to rid the state of the snails once again.
The quarantine does not affect those living outside of the zone, and those living in the zone are directed by the Department of Plant Industry (DPI), a division within FDACS, not to move plants, plant materials such as soil and yard waste, or building materials out of the quarantined zone, to ensure the snail is contained.
People and pets are still free to move about as usual.
Containment will allow specialists to find and eliminate the pests, before they can do damage and spread to other locations.
Businesses, solid waste collectors, and route-based landscaping companies are advised by DPI on how to handle these materials to stop the snails from spreading.
Homeowners are playing a big role in identifying the pest. For those living in the quarantine zone, FDACS has been in contact and advising residents what to do if they see any.
These snails are harmful
These snails are capable of damaging our agricultural crops and many of our beloved ornamental plants in the landscape. They can consume over 500 different species of plants. In some cases, this can lead to the loss of habitat important to plant and animal species native to Florida, as well as causing economic losses.
The snails can eat stucco and paint on homes making them a structural pest.
They also can carry a parasite — rat lungworm — which is capable of causing meningitis in severe cases. While most cases are mild/moderate, handling these snails or the soil and plants they infest can be a point of exposure for animals, pets and humans.
Obviously, eradication of GALS is necessary to protect property, agricultural and ornamental commodities, and health.
The snails are hermaphroditic, which means each individual snail can produce fertile eggs — there are no males or females.
This fact increases the potential for more offspring and their subsequent spread. Adult snails can reach 7 inches in length, which makes them an exceptionally large snail species.
The snails are terrestrial, and while they can be found near water, they won’t be found in the water.
The snails are nocturnal, so they are mainly active at night. They prefer cool, damp areas, making the area under and around shrubbery a potential hiding spot. The Pasco County GALS have brown shells with creamy white colored flesh, which is unique to the other GALS found over the years in Florida.
Typically, the flesh is brown and basically the same color as the shell.
The Pasco County GALS were most likely introduced through the illegal pet trade, since the contrast between the brown shell and creamy white colored flesh makes them more appealing.
Thousands of GALS have been found within the quarantine zone in Pasco County. To date, none have been discovered outside of the zone.
The FDACS is working diligently with trained sniffer dogs to detect all life stages of the GALS, by scouting in and around the quarantine zone. FDACS is working closely with route-based landscaping companies and nurseries in the area to ensure those businesses are not negatively affected. It is illegal to possess, sell, or transport GALS anywhere in the United States
If you think you suspect you might have GALS, please contact DPI at 1-800-Help-FLA (1-800-435-7352), for help with identification.
The best weapon we have against invasive pests is a smartphone. Pictures be easily be shared by email, speeding up the identification process.
Pictures also are the best way to stay safe from the potential rat lungworm infection, because gloves and careful handling would be required to prevent infection.
Report anything out of the ordinary
Citizens often are the first to encounter invasive pests, and saying something when you see something unusual is key.
Florida has a conducive environment for invasive pests to survive, and the trade and travel into our ports, airports, rail, and illegal pet trade provide a variety of opportunities for a pest to find its way into our state and do damage.
Feel free to reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for help identifying things you find around the home.
Together, we can help prevent the spread of invasive plants, diseases, and animals.
To learn more about the quarantine zone and the efforts to eradicate GALS in Pasco County, visit tinyurl.com/ypkysp26.
Dr. Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County extension director and an urban horticulture agen IV.
Published August 18, 2022