NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) — An invasive giant snail species, that can also lead to outbreaks of meningitis, has been found in New Port Richey, Florida. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has mapped out a quarantine zone in Pasco County as they work to eradicate them in the area.
According to FDACS, the snails were detected in New Port Richey on June 23. Officials launched the quarantine effort, complete with a Giant African Land Snail quarantine zone, the following day.
Starting Wednesday, FDACS said it would work to “eradicate this pest” using metaldehyde, a pesticide for snails and slugs. FDACS said after putting the treatment out in the quarantine area, the snails will have their ability to digest and their mobility slowed down through dehydration. The snails should “begin to die within days.”
The giant gastropods measure between 2 and 8 inches long as an adult, and can lay up to 2,500 eggs per year. The snails also pose a threat to local environments and ecologies, eating over 500 different plants, in addition to potential health risks.
“These snails could be devastating to Florida agriculture and natural areas as they cause extensive damage to tropical and subtropical environments,” FDACS said. “The snails also pose a serious health risk to humans by carrying the parasite rat lungworm, known to cause meningitis in humans.”
The Giant African Land Snail previously had a presence in Florida in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, according to state officials, but was eradicated.
The last time the snails were found in Florida was during a 2021 eradication of the “pest” in Miami-Dade County, according to FDACS. The snails were first found in that location in 2011. Ten years later, the population there was “eradicated.” FDACS said the last live snail was found in the area in December 2017, before the treatment.
It is illegal to import or own Giant African land snails in the United States without a permit. There have been two previous eradication efforts in Florida, in 1975 and 2021. The New Port Richey effort will be the third.
The USDA considers the giant African snail to be one of “the most damaging snails in the world. It is known to consume at least 500 different species of economically important agricultural plants, including breadfruit, cassava, cocoa, papaya, peanut, rubber, and most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons, as well as plants of horticultural, cultural and medicinal value.”
The snails are also known to carry the parasite rat lungworm, which is known to cause meningitis in humans. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms usually include headache, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and a pricking sensation. Heavy infestations can cause severe neurological symptoms, coma and even death.