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South Florida Deals With Giant Snail Infestation

Update Date: Apr 15, 2013 01:48 PM EDT

People residing in South Florida or plan on visiting the region might experience a scene from a horror movie as large African snails, that could grow up to the size of rats, invade the Sunshine State. According to officials, the African snail, when given access to large amounts of food, can grow up to the sizes of a rat, and these large snails are showing up everywhere. Although the snails are not new to Florida, the rate of their growth could be troublesome.

Ever since September 2011, the state has caught nearly 117,000 of these snails. Despite successfully removing these snails from the region, more and more seem to come back, and if the situation is not controlled, their presence could be deadly for the ecosystem. The African snails consume over 500 different species of plants and they love eating stucco, which contains a lot of calcium, which helps the snails' shells grow. Not only do these snails eat a lot of the plants, they can carry a parasite known as rat lungworm, which can cause meningitis in humans. There has never been a case of this parasite leading to meningitis within the United States.

Since the snails continue to populate the southern region of this state, a group of snail-hunters recently met up at the "Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium" to discuss this organism's invasion. The team of hunters plans on investigating where this new group of snails originated. Some of the people believe that the introduction of this species was due to the Miami Santeria group, who used the African snail as a part of their religious ritual back in 2010. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has warned people to the possible dangers behind these snails.

"They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you...communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that," the spokesperson for the Florida department, Denise Feiber stated. "But they [people] don't realize the devastation they [African Snails] can create if they are released into the environment where they don't have any natural enemies and they thrive."

The latest invasion, which started in 2011, is the first one in over decades of being snail free. The last recorded incidence occurred 47 years ago when a little boy brought back the species from Hawaii. In this previous incidence, the number of snails reached 17,000 after seven years and it took the state 10 years to get rid of all of them. Now, the state must undergo the same task of removing these snails.

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