Fearing the risk posed to Down Under agriculture, the Australian government recently destroyed a Giant African Land Snail, an invasive species that can produce as many as 1,200 offspring annually. Approximately the size of a baseball when an adult, the giant snail - also known as Achatina fulica - is five times the size of an average land snail (which in France is known as escargot) and can be eight inches long and weigh as much as two pounds. It is the largest extant land snail species now known.
Ugly mollusc: The invasion of the African land snails
A thorough search by Australian authorities revealed no more adult snails or eggs, but the search continues near the Brisbane shipyard where the individual was found.
The beautifully marked mollusc has a voracious appetite and leaves behind disgusting slime in its path. Besides, it is known to harbor parasites, which devastate agriculture, ecosystems, commerce, and human health. The snail can carry a strain of deadly meningitis. It has been recognized as Number 2 on the list of top 100 invasive species in the world, according to the Global Invasive Species Database. It is known to eat hundreds of different kinds of ornamental and food plant species, such as eucalyptus trees, citrus and other food crops.
African land snails, among other exotic species are found especially in Florida and other states of America's Sun Belt. These range from piranhas, fire ants, Africanized bees, snakefish, iguanas, Asian carp, to various plants such as purple loosestrife and pampa grass.
"Giant African snails are one of the world's largest and most damaging land snails," Paul Nixon, acting regional manager at Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, said in a statement on March 11, "Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements and responsive system has so far kept these pests out of Australia and we want to keep it that way."
The African land snail can live up to 10 years. They are nocturnal. Most nations have banned the pesky critters. Nonetheless, they continue to be imported as exotic pets and some have been spotted in the wild, probably after their misguided owners release them.
After a thorough search of the area where the snail was found, officials did not find other snails or eggs, but inspections will continue over the next week, Nixon said.
In 2011, a Giant African Land Snail infestation was discovered in a residential area in Miami-Dade County.
As a result, Florida’s Department of Agriculture launched an aggressive campaign to extinguish the invasive species, disposing of more than 1,100 snails. Locals said the snails were not only devouring plants but also destroying stucco and plaster on their homes.
"They leave excrement all over the sides of houses. They’re very nasty," said Denise Feiber, the public information director of Florida’s Division of Plant Industry to ABC News. "These things are not the cute little snails that you see."
This is how a blog at the USDA website describes the snails:
"Big and slimy, the giant African snail is well-equipped to become an invasive species: they have voracious appetites, reproduce quickly, live a long time, and have no natural predators in Florida. The first snails were discovered and reported by a Miami homeowner in September 2011. In just six months, APHIS and FDACS have collected more than 40,000 of these giant creepy crawlies.
Originally from East Africa, the snail has established itself throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian Islands, and has been introduced into the Caribbean. Like other invasive species, giant African snails could enter the United States as hitchhikers on imported cargo. More often than not, however, the snails are smuggled illegally into the United States as pets or for food. When released into the environment, they can wreak major havoc on agriculture and the environment—much like what is happening in Florida right now."
African land snail
(unranked): clade Heterobranchia
informal group Sigmurethra
Species: A. achatina
Binomial name: Achatina achatina
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