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Snails As Big As Shoes Are Kind Of A Problem In Florida

Giant African land snails eat the stucco on houses and can sometimes carry parasites.

When HuffPost Weird first heard that giant snails were “invading” Florida, we had visions of this:

Unfortunately, that’s far from the reality for Floridians. Giant African land snails -- which can grow as large as a shoe -- reappeared in the Sunshine State in 2011, when they were spotted in Miami for the first time since the 1960s.

Since then, Florida has spent $10.8 million to eradicate the species, removing 158,000 of the giant snails.

Mary Yong Cong, a Florida Department of Agriculture scientist, holds a giant African land snail in her Miami lab on July 17, 2015. 

Scientists consider the giant African land snail to be "one of the most damaging snails in the world," according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. The snails eat around 500 types of plants in the region, as well as the stucco on houses. 

It’s also possible for the snails to transmit a parasitic infection that can cause a rare form of meningitis, though it’s unlikely. The snails become infected by consuming rat feces that contains the parasite -- which is commonly known as the "rat lungworm" -- and humans must consume the snail to get the infection. No giant African land snails in the continental U.S. have been known to carry the parasite, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Inspectors put up street signs to alert residents that a snail hunt is underway in Miami, Florida, on July 17, 2015.

The snails are difficult to kill. State workers initially tried offing them with organic pesticides, but when that didn’t work, they tried snail and slug-killing pellets that work 95 to 100 percent of the time -- except when the snails climb trees to evade them. The department even uses specially trained dogs to sniff out the snails.

Omar Garcia, a dog handler with the Florida Department of Agriculture, trains a chocolate lab named Sierra on July 17, 2015 in Miami, Florida, to sniff out invasive snails.

The snails are native to Africa, and no one is entirely sure how they got to Florida in the first place. Officials believe they may have initially stowed away in the soil of plants shipped to Florida, according to NPR. 

Sometimes, the snails are also smuggled into the U.S. for culinary purposes -- customs agents seized 67 live giant African land snails bound for Los Angeles from Nigeria last year.

Correction: This article previously stated that no snails in the U.S. carried the "rat lungworm" parasite. Rather, the parasite has not been found specifically in any giant African land snails in the continental U.S. That statement was also misattributed to the Department of Agriculture.



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