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Giant African Land Snails Invade Florida!

Updated on September 15, 2013

Giant African Land Snails in Florida

They're the size of rats, they eat through stucco walls, and they spread fatal diseases. Could it get any worse? Giant snails from Africa the size of your hand are spreading across Florida, and there's little anyone can do to stop them. Since coming into this country, they have become one of the worst invasive species problems in Florida, even worse than the python problem. Giant African snails have been a serious pest for years in other parts of the world, and now it looks like we're next. Whether or not this invasive species does manage to become a serious issue in the states, it's still a fascinating animal, and one worth getting to know. In many parts of the world people keep them as pets, while in other parts of the world people eat them for dinner. Whether you would name your snail and take it for walks or broil, butter, and serve it for lunch, these giants snails are a cool part of the planet's amazing biodiversity.

Snail Anatomy


What You Need to Know About Giant African Land Snails

These animals are among the simplest creatures on earth, but they are also extremely well adapted to their environment. The snail's main weapon is the speed with which it reproduces. If you kill ten snails but leave one, and it's a female, you may soon have hundreds more to contend with.

The animal's diet gives it another evolutionary edge. It eats basically everything, including building materials, which it digests and utilizes to build its shell. Although it's slow, it's also steady, and will remain constantly on the move, looking for food and a mate.

Control of African land snails is difficult, given its array of adaptations.

Giant African Snails -- Can They Be Stopped?

It's a good question. There are some control methods, but they have generally failed to stop an infestation once it has begun. The most important way to control giant snail outbreaks is to not have them in the first place.

Methods of control have included everything from picking them off by hand to deploying flame-throwers. As you might imagine, both of these methods have their drawbacks. In other areas, locals have been encouraged to use the snails as a food source. If this sounds like a terrible idea, consider the fact that snails LOVE to eat sugar but can't digest it -- after a few days of gorging on sugar, they'll die of anaphylactic shock from all of the undigested sugar in their systems. At this point, one recipe suggests, you slice them up and make a delicious snail appetizer from the sweet slugs.

Giant African Land Snail!

Cannibal Snails!

One attempt in the South Pacific involved importing carnivorous snails to eat the giant snails. This program, which really sounds more like a horror movie than a scientific project, resulted in the destruction of local snail species as the cannibal snails turned on those species instead of the Achatina fulica.

Giant African Land Snails -- What Do They Look Like?

Giant African snails are BIG -- up to 8 inches long! They sport a conical shell like most snails, only the shell on Achatina fulica are huge -- so big that car tires have been punctured by the shards when they run over them. Their shells are brown with variable bands of darker grown and yellow-orange, depending on the animal's diet. The living part of the snail is a boneless mass of organs that includes reproductive organs and feeding mouthparts. the animal is really quite beautiful. It's orange and yellow, with red highlights. Unfortunately, if you're a homeowner, you're unlikely to see the beauty...

Giant African land snails are really just a normal snail expanded to epic proportions. Essentially, if you know what a snail looks like, you know what Achatina fulica looks like -- but you probably haven't encountered a snail of this size before.

Giant African Snail Feeding on Cat Food!
Giant African Snail Feeding on Cat Food!

Giant African Snail -- Achatina fulica

The scientific name for these huge snails is Achatina fulica. There are other snails in this genus, but they have yet to become an invasive species threat the way their congener has. Native to East Africa (and often called the "East African giant snail), Achatina fulicahas habits that make it especially destructive.

It's believed that the species was introduced to other parts of the world by several means. Believe it or not, these big snails are popular pets in some part of the world, and arrive on foreign shores in that way. But when the owner moves or grows tired of their big slimy pet, they let them go into the wild, where they reproduce and become a pest.

In some areas such as the Caribbean, giant African snails have been imported as a food source. But they transport very easily in the tiny egg stage, and can come into other countries in shipments of vegetables, or even on muddy boots.

Giant African Snail -- Where Are They?

Apart from Africa, the giant snail has been turning up in various parts of the world for the better part of a century. It's been found in China since the early 1930s, and from there spread throughout the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. It turned up in Hawaii, and a movement to eradicate the pest has been started.

There is a small population of the giant snail in Bangalore, India, that has in interesting backstory -- researchers used the animals as part of a science experiment, and then, when the experiment was over, released the remaining snails into the gardens around the research station. Big mistake! The snails immediately began reproducing and eating everything in sight. This situation has the potential to turn into a serious invasion of the entire Indian subcontinent.

In South America, the snail has been reported from Paraguay and other areas. In the CAribbean, it's used as a food source, fishing bait, and even as pets.

Giant African Snails Also Spread Disease...

There are a number of parasites that ride along with the giant snails, including a worm parasite that can cause serious illnesses in humans. Just when you thought they couldn't get any more disturbing!!!


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