Giant African Land Snails Invade Florida

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Giant African Land SnailA fellow veterinarian recently remarked on the unique ecosystem we enjoy down here in South Florida. As a lifelong Northeasterner, she couldn't seem to fathom the biological extremes our weather makes possible, a list that has grown from alligator-eating snakes to include - get this - giant African land snails.

"Have you seen any of those giant snails?" she asked. "Jeez, it's like South Florida is some kind of biosphere gone awry!"

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Yes, I happen to have seen my share of these. Luckily, however, none have thus far seen fit to invade my personal space. In fact, I've only ever witnessed these things in the context of a "what'll-this-thing-do-to-my-dog?" vet visit.

Which is bad enough. Because in case you haven't yet heard tell of these strange invertebrates, let me describe: They look like fist-size slugs encased in a crunchy striped shell. Think escargot in the Land of the Lost, where everything is at least a thousand times bigger than you'd expect it to be. Not appetizing.

Florida Crops Threatened

Giant African land snails have even been compared in size to New York rats. Which is kind of apropos, seeing as they're about as welcome as any sewer-dwelling rodent. After all, National Geographic Magazine tells us these creatures have been known to eat 500 species of plants here in South Florida - a big deal for our native flora, our agricultural economy and, potentially, for the U.S. food supply, too.

Ahhh, the spoils of globalization. It's as if the entire world conspired to set loose its creepiest crawliest in our backyard. Like one big science experiment run amok:

"Hey, Mom, let's take it to Florida! It'll be happy down there with all those slithery things in the Everglades. Maybe it'll make friends with the pythons!"

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One Way To Deal With Them

Yet it's no idle curiosity that brings these animals here from way over in Nigeria. Seems the snails are part of some religious ritual, a distinction that apparently earned them lots of covert plane tickets to Miami, among other choice destinations.

Indeed, these giant African land snails also managed to make landfall in Brazil, too. But that's where its globetrotting similarities to South Florida's end.

There, the Brazilians worried less about the impact on household pets and the environment and took to solving this invertebrate dilemma one meal at a time. Which makes me think we South Floridians should learn to hold our noses long enough to adopt their motto: "When all else fails, just call it a delicacy."

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