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After giant African snail sighting, Florida enacts quarantine over parasite concerns

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/26/2022 Saleen Martin, USA TODAY
WAIALUA, HI - MAY 18: A Giant African Snail, native to east Africa, eats vegetation on the Kealea hiking trail May 18, 2004 in Waialua, Hawaii. The Invasive species of snail, also found in parts of Asia, has been known to eat up to 500 different types of plant life, destroying much of the native Hawaiian snail species' habitats. USDA health officials have seized several of the species from Wisconsin classrooms and have started a national search for the creatures as they can spread meningitis trough their mucous. (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 50849365 GTY ID: 50849365PM004_Snails © Phil Mislinski, Getty Images WAIALUA, HI - MAY 18: A Giant African Snail, native to east Africa, eats vegetation on the Kealea hiking trail May 18, 2004 in Waialua, Hawaii. The Invasive species of snail, also found in parts of Asia, has been known to eat up to 500 different types of plant life, destroying much of the native Hawaiian snail species' habitats. USDA health officials have seized several of the species from Wisconsin classrooms and have started a national search for the creatures as they can spread meningitis trough their mucous. (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 50849365 GTY ID: 50849365PM004_Snails

It's big, it's back and it's causing quite the ruckus: The giant African land snail has been spotted in a Florida county, sending the area into quarantine and officials out to reel the pests in.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed a giant African land snail was spotted June 23 in the New Port Richey area of Pasco County, about 38 miles north of Tampa. The snail was reported by a master gardener, the  department said on its website.

Giant African land snails can carry a parasite called rat lungworm, known to cause meningitis in humans and livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They can also reach almost 8 inches long and 5 inches in diameter, the organization said.

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The snails also have been spotted in Hawaii and parts of the Caribbean over the years. Scientists have declared them "one of the most damaging snails in the world," according to the USDA. They can consume at least 500 species of economically important agricultural plants, including cassava, cocoa, papaya, peanut, rubber and most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers and horticultural, cultural and medicinal plants, the USDA said on its website.

And this isn't the snail's first appearance in Florida.

In 1966, the giant African land snail was introduced in downtown Miami.


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By 1973, more than 18,000 snails had been found and destroyed along with thousands of eggs, and the snail was declared eradicated by 1975, the USDA said

In September 2011, the snail was reintroduced to Miami, but it was eradicated again by September 2021.

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As a result of the snail's most recent sighting in Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture's division of plant industry surveyed the area and set a quarantine into place stretching nearly 6 miles starting at the northwest corner of U.S. Highway 19.

A spokesperson from the FDAC said the organization's work will continue for three years.

State officials started treating the area Wednesday using a metaldehyde-based molluscicide, or snail bait. Metaldehyde disrupts the mucus production ability of snails and slugs, the state's  website said. Snails that eat metaldehyde die within days, the website said. 

"The snails should not be handled without proper protection and sanitation," the website warned.

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After giant African snail sighting, Florida enacts quarantine over parasite concerns

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