Giant African Snails Stow Away On Cargo Ships, Land In U.S.

Giant African Snails Stow Away On Cargo Ships, Land In U.S.

From SanFranciscoChronicle. Story by Chip Johnson.

There’s a new, slow-moving threat inching its way onto California’s shores that’s so serious it has attracted the attention of the Department of Homeland Security.

It has successfully stowed away aboard U.S.-bound cargo vessels and can eat your house. Literally.

It’s the giant African snail, a ravenous land snail that can grow to 8 inches in length and 5 inches in diameter, and authorities say that if they get loose on California soil, we’re in trouble. Not only do they eat 500 types of plants and would threaten agriculture, they eat paint and stucco and carry disease that can cause meningitis in humans.

Two live giant African snails were found at the Port of Oakland this month — with a bunch of eggs — by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who were inspecting the docks. They were found on wooden pallets that originated in American Samoa, said Frank Falcon, a spokesman for the federal agency.

The specimens were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for tests, Falcon said. The container carrying the snails was sealed and sterilized before being off-loaded, he added.

The giant snail is considered one of the world’s most invasive pests — and has spread from the shores of Eastern Africa across two oceans and onto the Pacific islands. It lays up to 1,200 eggs a year and carries rat lungworm, a disease that can cause a brain-eating form of meningitis, said Prof. Robert Cowie, a researcher at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the University of Hawaii.

The disease can be spread through domestic pets that come in contact with infected snails or a predator.

“They are widespread in Samoa and Hawaii, and it’s not unreasonable they would get on pallets and arrive in Oakland,” Cowie said.

Federal officials are taking the incursion seriously, Cowie said.

“The federal government doesn’t want them in the mainland U.S. — and they’re already in Florida,” he said.

The first time they were found in Florida, in the 1960s, they were traced to a Miami boy who smuggled three snails in after a trip to Hawaii. His grandmother let them go in her garden, and seven years later, there were more than 18,000 snails and thousands of eggs. It cost the government $1 million to eradicate them — and it took 10 years.

But there were rediscovered in Florida in 2011, and Cowie, who studies the species, says it’s unlikely government efforts to contain and erase the snail will be successful this time.

“There are already too many of them, and they could extend their range throughout the Southeast and other warmer climes, not the arid southwest but parts of California for sure,” he said.

In spite of the health concerns associated with the species, in July 2014, USDA inspectors busted a Long Island man with 200 snails and traced them back to the seller in Georgia, who had launched a illegal scheme to sell them. Customs officials have also found various species of snails carted in luggage by people who consider them a culinary delicacy.

More often, infected slugs in the folds of leafy green vegetables have been known to spread disease.

The big concern is that there has not been an effective method to curb the spread and that the snails have no known predators in the U.S.

Read more at SanFranciscoChronicle.


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