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Giant Snails in Florida (Eradicated Twice!)

The fact that the world’s largest land snail has reached the state of Florida is truly incredible. However, it is important to note that these enormous mollusks are infamous for their invasive and destructive nature, which has caused the state to be more concerned than amazed. The state’s agricultural department is currently observing the giant snails in Florida and has successfully eradicated them twice.

In this article, we’ll examine several important information regarding this species and reveal the risks it creates to the ecosystems and agriculture of Florida. 

Giant snails in Florida

Giant African land snail

Giant African Land Snail
The Giant African Land Snail | image by Dick Culbert via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Lissachatina fulica

Adults of the Giant African Land Snail can grow to be up to 7.9 inches in length and 2.8 inches in diameter, making them the largest land snail in the world. You might also recognize them by the large shells they carry, which have a conical shape and a variety of colors that depend on the food they eat. 

In general, these species are described as being light brown in color with dark brown bands and stripes, though occasionally, they’re described as being reddish brown with soft yellowish vertical designs. 

Habitat

Originally from coastal east Africa, these large snails are now widespread throughout Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and the Americas, including Florida. Since they’re highly invasive, it’s easy for them to form large colonies, which is why it’s against the law in some countries to release them into the wild. 

They’re most likely to be found in tropical and subtropical regions because they do best in locations that have warmer climates and an abundance of agricultural resources.

Although they prefer tropical regions, these enormous snails can also endure cold and snowy climates, so it’s not unusual to find them in locations with winter weather. 

Diet

These giant mollusks are macrophytophagous herbivores, meaning they primarily consume a wide variety of plants. Their diet includes over 500 species of plants, including fruits, vegetables, crops, fungi, and even paper. 

On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to find the adults munching on other species of snails, snail eggs, or even dead animals. To obtain the necessary calcium for their shells, these creatures also consume stones, sand, bones, and even concrete. 

Behavior

You’ll most likely observe these creatures surviving alone in the wild as they’re solitary by nature and don’t show much care for their eggs once they hatch. However, they’ll come together during the breeding season because, unlike other snails, they can’t self-fertilize. These species have both male and female reproductive organs that allow them to mate with any giant African snail, given that both snails are of appropriate age and size. 

They produce a substance similar to slime to help with their movement. This substance lets them crawl more easily in search of food and makes it simpler to avoid and hide from potential threats. They usually hide under the soil and survive cold conditions by aestivating or remaining low and sluggish until warmer conditions arrive. 

How did giant African land snails get to Florida?

Giant African land snail
Giant African Land Snail | image by Dinesh Valke via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Because of a child who brought back three of these giant mollusks from Hawaii, this species was able to establish itself in Florida. They released them into their garden, and ever since, the snails have been reproducing at an alarming pace. 

You may also like:  7 Largest Pythons Discovered in Florida 

For seven years, the number of snails found in the state has risen to 18,000 and counting. Since then, Florida has been experiencing an invasion of these large species, which consume the crops grown in the state and even require a budget of one million dollars just to eradicate them. 

Effects of Giant African land snail populations

Over 500 plant species are part of their diet, so you’ll likely see them feasting on various crops, vegetables, flowers, and other decorative plants. Due to this, Florida’s farmers and gardeners are struggling to manage and even replant the damaged crops, adversely affecting the state’s economy. 

In addition, they appear to be hosts for a variety of parasites like rat lungworms, which can have a negative impact on a variety of plants and animals, including people. They can also transmit gram-negative bacteria, which can infect a large number of people. 

How did Florida get rid of the giant African land snail?

Giant African Land Snail crawling
Giant African Land Snail crawling | image by Dr. Alexey Yakovlev via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

In October 2021, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and the United States Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (USDA) made a major announcement, declaring the successful eradication of giant African land snails from the state’s southern region. It had cost the state upwards of 23 million dollars. 

This was the second time they eradicated the snail, with the first eradication occurring in the 1960s. It took them ten years and less than 1 million dollars to achieve the goal during that time.

However, as recently as June of 2023, news broke that these snails had made a comeback in Lee and Pasco counties, causing the state to declare a quarantine and treatment area over the affected regions. 

Sources:

  • “Giant African Land Snail Eradicated from South Florida”, M. Pinkerton, University of Florida, October 12, 2021, blogs.ifas.ufl.edu
  • “GIANT AFRICAN LAND SNAIL IN FLORIDA”, J. L. Capinera, University of Florida, August 2, 2021, edis.ifas.ufl.edu
  • “Florida once again has a giant African land snail problem”, L. Wamsley, NPR, June 23, 2023, npr.org