It is not often that a press release alert regarding a biological hazard evokes a snorted giggle, but this evening just such a response was my reaction to the following quote from a local Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services official regarding a recent crisis:
“It’s us against the snails.”
According to a release a few hours ago, the silent, slithery invasion of an army of Giant African Snails in a southwest Miami subdivision has federal and state agricultural officials launching a time-consuming expensive counter-attack to remove the large slimy creatures.
“It’s us against the snails,” said Richard Gaskalla, director of plant industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The snails, of the species Achatina fulica, can grow up to 10 inches long and four inches wide and are considered one of the most damaging land snails in the world. They eat at least 500 different types of plants, lay about 1,200 eggs a year, and can carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis.
Prolific breeders, they contain both female and male reproductive organs and live as long as nine years. They can be particularly devastating to agricultural areas and ecosystems and result in trade bans. Hailing from Eastern Africa, the snails are only allowed into the United States with special permits and for scientific research.
Would you believe they have their own Facebook page? (It’s true…they do!!)
In Florida, about 50 state and federal officials are going house-by-house, removing the slimy pests by plastic-gloved hand. The process is slow and time-consuming.
So far, officials have found about 1,000 within a one-square-mile radius. The mollusks are transferred to freezers in an effort at “humane death,” Gaskalla said.
When Victoria Loyacono and her family moved in last month, they noticed the snails on their wall, “all over, there wasn’t one clear spot.” Officials said they are investigating whether the creatures might have come from the previous resident, who recently moved out of the house.
Naturally, the question comes up, “How did the snails find their way to Florida?”. Was it the beaches? The sunshine? The economy?!?
Authorities are trying to determine if the outbreak of snails is tied to a smuggling case uncovered last year. In 2010, federal officials opened a criminal investigation into Hialeah resident Charles L. Stewart, who was accused of smuggling the creatures here. (news clip)
Stewart practiced the traditional African religion Ifa Orisha, and authorities said he persuaded his followers to drink the snails’ juices as part of a healing ritual. Several practitioners became violently ill. Stewart was allegedly aided by a woman claiming to be an African priestess who hid snails under her dresses on flights to Miami, according to search warrants filed in the case, which remains open.
Can we just stop right here and ask the obvious question that springs to mind? What was that TSA agent thinking when the snail wearing woman went through security? (These are NOT small snails!) Also equally mind boggling…imagine that you are sitting on a flight and you glance over to see a large snail slithering up the neck of a fellow passenger. :0
Source: RSOE EDIS
Tracy Lynn Cook is a writer in Gilbert, Arizona. She is active on Facebook, Google +, Twitter, or contact her via email at TracyLynnCook@gmail.com.