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Florida says giant snails must escargot

Toronto Sun logo Toronto Sun 2022-07-05 Liz Braun
The giant African land snail carries a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans © Provided by Toronto Sun The giant African land snail carries a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans
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I’s like a bad Hollywood horror movie, but it’s true: giant African land snails have left part of a Florida county in quarantine.

CNN reported that the huge snails, some as big as rats, are an invasive species that are a health threat to humans.

They carry a parasite called rat lungworm — just to keep up the revolting rodent metaphor — which can cause meningitis.

( Forbes kindly reported that snails get rat lungworm by eating the feces of infected rats.)

The abominable escargots can produce as many as 2500 eggs a year, so the snail population is very difficult to control.

And that’s a big problem. They’ve been called one of the most damaging snails on the planet by the  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) because of their capacity to chew through acres and acres of important crops.

This is not the first time Florida has dealt with giant snails. They first turned up in 1969 and took years to eradicate.

And they were in Miami-Dade in 2011, and it took a decade (and $23 million) to get rid of the shady shelled shrews.

Now they’re in the New Port Richey area of Pasco County.

Christina Chitty, spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), told CNN that it’s likely the snails got here in the first place through the illegal pet trade.

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The malignant mollusks are kept as exotic pets, but people sometimes let them go in the wild or lose track of them, and the critters are quick to set up housekeeping — there are   more than 500 different plant species they are happy to eat.

They will even eat paint and stucco off houses to get calcium.

Although the FDACS is just now finding out about the size of the snail population in the county, the area has been under quarantine since June 25.

That means residents must not move the snails or any related items, such as plants and soil, out of the designated quarantine area.

Anyone who sees one of the giant snails, and they’d be hard to miss, is to call the FDACS. Residents are advised not to touch these critters without gloves on, because of the meningitis risk.

The current plan is to treat the soil in Pasco County over three years with the pesticide metaldehyde to get rid of the snails.

Besides giant snails, the sunny state of Florida is currently also coping with a big increase in COVID-19 cases, a meningococcal disease outbreak , a jump in monkeypox cases, and a Listeria outbreak linked to ice cream.

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