MIAMI, Florida (CBSMiami) - The Giant African Land Snail may not sound like a rapidly growing problem. But state officials have been trying to fight the invasion since September of last year.
Since September 8, 2011 when the snails were first found in South Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have collected more than 40,000 of the Giant African snails.
State agriculture officials said this invasive species of snail eats at least 500 different agricultural crops, can cause damage to plaster and stucco on homes and though rare, can carry rat lungworm, a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans, although no cases have been identified in the US.
The Giant African land snail is one of the largest land snails in the world, growing up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in diameter.
The last reported outbreak and eradication of the Giant African land snail in Florida occurred in 1966 when a boy smuggled three Giant African land snails into Miami as pets. The boy's grandmother released the snails into her garden.
Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails were found. It cost more than $1 million and took 10 years to successfully eradicate this pest from Florida. This is the only known successful giant African land snail eradication program.
It's not known how the latest outbreak started, but it's illegal to bring the snails into the US without a permit. Each snail can live as long as 9 years, and produce as many as 1,200 eggs a year. They can grow to be 8 inches long and 4 inches around, much larger than your average snail.
The state is collecting snails when they are found, and is working through a program to use a bait called "Sluggo" to kill the snails. The bait is said to be harmless to people and pets, but lights out for slugs.
Anyone who thinks they may have them in their yard or planting bed is urged to call the state's Division of Plant Industry Helpline, 1-888-397-1517.
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