Florida Spent Over $24M Eradicating Invasive Snails That Damage Homes

An invasive snail species known as the giant African land snail has officially been eradicated in the state of Florida after years of attempts and $24 million worth of research. The invasive species which is known to spread harmful parasites and eat houses was first spotted in a city outside Miami in 2011.

On Wednesday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced that the snail was fully eradicated in the area. Fried said the accomplishment was due to years of research and collaboration between the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the United States Department of Agriculture.

"Without eradication, the giant African land snail could have resulted in major export and trade implications for our growers already struggling," Fried said in a statement Wednesday. Eradication means that the species hasn't been spotted in at least three years, and the last time the species was spotted was in 2017. It is illegal to own or import the species according to the USDA.

To eradicate the species, Director of the FDACS Division of Plant Industry Trevor Smith said they had to make sure every last snail was destroyed. Since snails are hermaphrodites, when two of them mate, they can both produce thousands of eggs each. In the past decade, the state has spent over $24 million researching and locating over 168,000 snails.

The African land snail can grow up to eight inches long and produce about 2,000 eggs a year. These snails also have a lifespan of approximately eight years, according to the FDACS. The invasive species is also harmful to the ecosystem because it feeds on over 500 plants and is also known to feed on stucco, a common material found in houses in Florida.

According to the Division of Plant Industry, these snails consume stucco to "obtain the calcium necessary to build shells and can carry the rat lungworm parasite." This parasite can cause a form of meningitis in both animals and humans. The Division of Plant Industry called the snails a "significant threat to landscapes, crops, buildings and human and animal health."

A key in eradicating the species was utilizing trained canines who could identify the snails' scent even from underground. Two labrador retrievers named Casie and Mellon were trained to detect the snails after completing a six-month training course funded by the USDA. According to the Department of Plant Industry, the canines have carried out over 5,400 surveys since 2011.

Giant African Land Snails Erradicated in Florida
The giant African land snail can grow up to eight inches long, live up to eight years and can produce thousands of eggs each year. The first snail was spotted back in 2011 outside of Miami and yesterday the state announced the invasive species has been fully eradicated. FDACS DPI

But this isn't the first time the state has eradicated the invasive species. In 1966, three giant African land snails were smuggled into Miami, Florida. According to the Division of Plant Industry, the first outbreak was discovered in 1969 and the state immediately launched an eradication program. It took about seven years and over $1 million to eradicate the species for the first time.

"I'm happy to say there's still only one place on earth where the giant African snail has been eradicated. It's right here, and now we've done it twice," Smith said at a press conference Wednesday.

It is still unclear how the snails found their way back into Florida in 2011, but experts believe it was through cargo ships or planes.

"Agriculture is the second-largest economic driver in Florida, and we must do all we can to protect this vital industry and the safe and secure domestic food supply it supports," Fried said in a statement. "I am so proud of the vital work of our Division of Plant Industry for your dedication to protecting Florida from invasive threats, and congratulations on this monumental achievement."