The African land snail, which can grow as large as a rat, is snacking its way though Florida gardens and carrying with it a parasite that can give meningitis to humans who come in contact with its mucus.
The giant gastropod carries rat lungworm, which is the most common cause of human eosinophilic menegitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So far no one has been infected with the disease.
Stay away from the giant snails and thoroughly wash all produce that may have come in contact with it, advises the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
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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.
The snails, which can lay 1,200 eggs yearly, will eat tires and stucco, but they target gardens where they can feast on 500 types of plants.
"Just about anything you grow in the garden is on their menu," said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Native to East Africa, the invasive pieces can live as long as nine years and can reproduce after four months. They cluster in moist areas such as the base of plants, near hoses and under air conditioners. They may be present, but out of sight as they burrow underground. The upcoming rainy season may help drive the snail out and make it easier for trained county workers to capture.
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The state last dealt with a giant African land snail infestation in 1966, after a child smuggled a few from Hawaii to keep as pets. It took nine years and $1 million in 1960s dollars for the state to eradicate the snails.
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