Researchers are warning Houston residents to be on the lookout for potentially deadly, giant African land snails after a woman reported seeing one in her garden.
A west Houston woman reportedly spotted one of the giant mollusks in her backyard garden recently, snapped a picture of it, and notified workers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which deals with invasive plants. The workers then contacted researchers at Sam Houston State University.
Researchers recognized the snails as African land snails, which can carry a deadly strain of meningitis.
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"Unfortunately, humans are picking the snails up,"
Dr. Autumn J. Smith-Herron, the director of the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at Sam Houston State University, told NBC Houston affiliate KPRC. "They carry a parasitic disease that can cause a lot of harm to humans and sometimes even death."
This is the first spotting of a giant snail in Texas. Officials aren't sure how it got there, but believe there may be more.
Originally from East Africa, the snails reproduce rapidly, sometimes laying up to 1,200 eggs a year.
Anyone who comes into contact with a giant African snail is encouraged to wash their hands immediately, researchers said.
"That's crazy," Jack Fendrick, who lives near the woman who saw the snail, told KPRC. "I think most people, kids especially, will see a big snail and want to touch it. With meningitis as one of the side effects, that's scary."
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Last month, these snails were reportedly seen in Florida.
The snails are currently contained in certain neighborhoods of Miami-Dade County and officials are working to completely eradicate them. Trained workers are capturing 1,000 snails each week. Since the snail surfaced two years ago, officials have caught 117,000 of them.
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