Giant African land snails are intruding on South Florida turf: as many as 117,000 were caught since September 2011. Considered the world's most invasive species, these snails can also cause destruction. The mollusks were first spotted by a homeowner two years ago and since then, over 1,000 of them are captured weekly in the Miami area.
The snails can cause damage to homeowners by chewing their way through stucco and plaster. The calcium found in stucco is needed by the snails for their shells.
They can grow to become as big as rats and are a threat to humans, as they are said to carry rat lung parasites that can cause paralyzing illness, including a form of meningitis.
Florida residents are likely to come into contact with the snails more often within the next seven weeks. The rainy season begins during this period and the snails will come out of their hibernation beneath the ground.
"The snails attack over 500 known species of plants ... pretty much anything that's in their path and green," spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Denise Feiber said.
Florida hasn't had a giant African snail invasion since 1966, when a kid brought three of them to Miami, returning from a visit to Hawaii. His grandmother released them into her garden when she discovered them. Within a period of seven years, the snails reproduced and became a population of 17,000. One snail alone can produce approximately 1,200 eggs in one year. Florida spent 10 years and $1 million getting rid of the pests.
"They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you ... communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that. 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," Feiber said.
Experts attended a giant African land snail science symposium last week to determine ways to get rid of the snails. They discussed possibly using a strong form of bait recently approved by government officials.