The invasive mollusks are considered a major plant
pest and a potential public health threat. And now federal and state
authorities are seeking to prevent the large, slimy, shell-toting
snails from re-establishing themselves in
Once established, agricultural officials said, the mollusks "can create a giant swath of destruction."
"The idea is that these are prolific breeders,"
Known as Achatina fulica, the species is one of the world's largest land snails. They can grow to be 8 inches long and 4.5 inches in diameter.
In addition to destroying plants and damaging ornamental plants, they are a potential health risk because they spread disease, officials said.
It is illegal to import the snails into
The snail has not been an issue in
Over the next decade, government officials spent more than
Scientists say the snails consume at least 500 kinds of plants, including citrus crops, Fagan said.
They can also damage buildings by consuming plaster, stucco and other materials they need to grow their shells. Large numbers of these snails can cause extensive damage.
They also carry parasites and worse: "These snails are known to carry meningitis bacteria, so it's also a health concern," Fagan said.
The snails are identified by seven to nine "whorls" or spirals. They have a brownish shell, covering half the length of their bodies. They live up to nine years and have female and male reproductive organs.
After mating, each snail can produce 100 to 400 eggs. Mated adults lay about 1,200 eggs a year.
The snails originate from
Fagan said multiple snails were found in February at one property in
Last year, state and federal wildlife officials began a concerted effort to prevent the spread of python species in and around
Fagan said it is difficult to compare the two threats. "The snakes pose a completely different threat to nature," he said. "I don't think you can compare the two."
As for the snails, government officials are concerned about the damage they can do to plant life, people and even the structures in which they live.
"Absolutely there's an urgent need to make sure these have not gotten out into neighborhoods," Fagan said.
(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.