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Rat-sized snails are taking over South Florida

The state authorities have warned that the giant snails are the most damaging in the world and can pose a serious risk to human health.

Giant African land snail.
Giant African land snail.
Image: Hannah Shelton via Flickr

SNAILS AS BIG as rats are menacing residents of the sunshine state as the large creatures chomp their way through everything in South Florida from plaster to concrete, devouring a wide variety of plants and getting underfoot.

The oversized nuisance is a giant African land snail or GALS for short. Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told Reuters’ Barbara Liston that the snail was first spotted in Southern Florida in September 2011, and that close to 120,000 of the slimy creatures have been caught in Miami-Dade County since then.

More snails are expected to crawl out from under the earth as Florida’s rainy season kicks off over the next two months, Feiber told Reuters.

“Scientists consider the giant African land snail to be one of the most damaging snails in the world because it is known to consume at least 500 different types of plants, and can pose a serious health risk to humans,” the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warns on its website.

parasite known as rat lungworm can be found in the snail’s mucus, which could lead to meningitis in humans if it makes its way into your digestive tract — usually from putting your hands in your mouth after coming in contact with the snails. People are strongly advised not to pick up or handle the snails, which can grow up to 8 inches in length and 4 inches wide.

It’s illegal to import African land snails into the United States without a permit, but the snails can make their way into the country through luggage or agricultural products.

There was also one instance, in 1966, when “a boy smuggled three giant African land snails into Miami as pets,” according to Florida’s department of agriculture.

The snails were released outside. Seven years later those three snails became 18,000 and Florida had to launch a $1 million eradication program.

If Florida residents come across a giant African snail, they are being urged to contact authorities by emailing a photo for identification.

- Dina Spector

Read: Demand for exotic pets pushes species to brink>

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