Invasive African snail taking over south Florida

    12:01 PM, Apr 23, 2013   |    comments
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    MIAMI, FL (CBS) -- South Florida is full of insects from other countries with one of the newest is a snail. It eats almost anything in its path, including houses. This creature has Florida officials worried.

    A team in Miami is trying to stop an invasion of one of the most destructive species on earth.

    They're giant African land snails. Adults grow shells as long as eight inches and what they do best is eat, and eat, and eat.

    They feed on 500 types of plants and pretty much every fruit and vegetable grown around here. But they also chew into people's homes. Florida Department of Agriculture spokesman Mark Fagan says, "The first six months of their lives, they primarily are going after stucco, concrete type things to get the calcium to build their shells strong and bigger."

    These snails got here from east Africa, but no one's sure exactly how. They've made a buffet of parts of Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. South Florida could be next. Fagan says, "This particular collection came from Core No. 1, which is one of our most infested neighborhoods. And you can see, this is just one day!"

    Twenty neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County have been invaded. More bad news: these snails can live for nine years and lay 100 eggs a month. Omar Garcia with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says, "This will be a brand new; property confirmed positive for the presence of the giant African land snail."

    South Florida's an international hub for travel and trade and no place in America has more invasive species such as pythons from Southeast Asia and lion fish from the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Fagan says, "We average one new pest a month in the State of Florida. Not every pest creates a huge problem like the giant African land snail. In this case there is no natural predator for the giant African land snail, except for us."

    Back in the 1960's a young florid boy brought home three of these giant snails from Hawaii to keep as pets. It took nine years, and $1 million, to get rid of 18,000 snails.

    This latest infestation started a year and half ago. Fifty inspectors have already captured 120 thousand snails.

    Some of them also carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans and dogs; that public health threat is one more reason why the battle to stop this invasion has to be aggressive.

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