Giant African Land Snails — an invasive species that can destroy homes and infect humans and grow as big as rats — will soon have four-legged foes.
Trained dogs will sniff out the destructive snails to help Florida officials fight an infestation in the Miami area.
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"They're very good at detecting the Giant African Land Snail," Richard Gaskalla, the head of plant industry at the Florida Agriculture Department, told Reuters.
"So we're building four-legged technology into this program as quickly as we can."
Over the last two years, a full-time crew of 50 workers has collected 128,000 snails in the area, according to the Miami Herald. Over that period, the program has spent $7.8 million, with $1.4 million coming from the state and $6.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which breaks down to $61 per captured snail.
“We are making great strides in the eradication of this pest,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday told the Miami Herald.
The snails eat calcium-rich plants, stucco, and plaster to grow their big shells and can cause extensive structural damage to buildings and bring illness to humans. The mollusks carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause a form of meningitis. To date, no such cases have been reported in the U.S.
How exactly the snails arrived in South Florida is unclear.
“We see a lot of strange things in this state of Florida but this is at the top of the list,” said Putnam.
Snail hunters use chemical treatments, bait, and traps on the snails. Officials hope the dogs will be effective as well, as they will be able to smell the strong odor the mollusks emit.
A black Labrador retriever named Bear has been added to the arsenal. The dog is wrapping up a three-month training program. Two other Labradors are also expected to be trained.
“The population is starting to nose dive,” said Gaskalla.
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