South Florida residents have begun a battle with public danger in the form of . . . snails. Giant Snails, to be exact. Precisely when the thousands of Giant African Land Snails invaded the Sunshine State is unknown, but the new neighbors are posing real problems for the local flora, fauna, and—architecture?
Not only do these snails grow to approximately eight inches in length and consume more than five hundred species of plants, but they can also eat through plaster and stucco, which provides the calcium needed for shell restoration.
Unknown to most, snails feed using a radulae, tiny (or in this case, not-so-tiny), toothy organs. No chewing necessary—the teeth on a radula (which can number in the thousands) are used to tear, grate, and grind, and are replaced as they wear down. Some species of snail also produce an acidic secretion to break down calcium sources like the shells of other mollusks.
Florida certainly has a knack for accumulating visitors. In fact, about one thousand people move there every day. Why Florida? Perhaps it is the promise of low taxes, competitive school districts, and affordable housing—perhaps it is the allure of the beach. For Florida’s most recent set of squatters, it is most certainly the weather.
Native to east Africa, the giant snails thrive in warm climates, and have already settled their brigade of mobile homes in Barbados, the Hawaiian Islands, and India.
What have the southerners done to combat the hungry home-wreckers? Enter the snail-hunters. The Agricultural Department of Miami-Dade County has a staff of fifty dedicated to nothing but slimey search-and-destroy.
“Nearly one thousand snails per week are being rounded up” using a bate made with iron phosphate, Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told BBC.
Is the mollusk mass-murder really necessary? This question has caused some conflict among the locals.
“They’re huge, they move around, they look like they’re looking at you … communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that,” Feiber said. “…But they don’t realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don’t have any natural enemies.”
A fertile Land Snail can lay up to 1,200 eggs per year, and can live up to nine years. One snail becomes over 10,000 before it bites..no wait…grinds the dust? It’s certainly a problem that needs solving, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of sending 117,000 (and counting) of them to an oozy grave.
This isn’t the first exotic invasion Florida has had to face. A recent invasion of Burmese pythons sparked “The Python Challenge.” Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the challenge presented locals with the opportunity to “competitively harvest” Burmese pythons. In other words? After paying the $25 entry fee, and signing the extensive waiver, locals plunged into Florida waters to wrangle and kill the exotic snakes—hoping to nab the $1,500 grand prize.
Sure, we’re thinking up creative ways to deal with new “pests,” but the underlying problem behind these exotic “invasions” lies within our own exotic pet trade, which makes up a multi-billion dollar black market industry in the U.S. alone.
The US Department of Agriculture has already confiscated illegal Giant African Land Snails from commercial pet stores, schools and private breeders Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio, and Michigan.
As officials continue to round up the sunshine-snails, the fate of the far-from-home mollusks and closer-to-home drywall remains to be seen.