National Geographic News
Confiscated Giant African Snails are shown in this handout photo.

A U.S. official holds a confiscated giant African land snail intercepted July 1 at Los Angeles International Airport.

Photograph by U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Handout via Reuters

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published July 15, 2014

In a case of illegal snail mail, officials at Los Angeles International Airport intercepted a shipment of 67 live giant African land snails from Nigeria earlier this month.

The mollusks—which can measure nearly 8 inches (about 20 centimeters) long and weigh more than 1 pound (500 grams)—are considered a delicacy in parts of their native Africa. But in the U.S. they're an agricultural pest that does extreme damage.

Authorities believe that the incident—the largest giant African land snail seizure to date in the U.S.—is not a case of smuggling, because neither the sender nor the recipient were aware that the snail is illegal in the United States, the Associated Press reported.

This species was first brought to the continental U.S. in 1966, when a boy smuggled three into Miami as pets. The boy's grandmother later released them into her garden. Just seven years later their population had exploded to 18,000, which cost the state of Florida more than $1 million dollars and took ten years to wipe out.

In 2011, Floridians began noticing a second outbreak of snails, which may have arrived in the state as pets or accidentally in cargo. The pests are well established in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Each hefty invertebrate can eat up to 500 kinds of agricultural crops and carry a parasite called rat lungworm that can transmit meningitis to people and pets.

The snails are also fond of munching on the Sunshine State's stucco houses to get more calcium for their shells, noted Richard Gaskalla, director of the Division of Plant Industry for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"It's like the trifecta of pests—it [can] eat your house, eat your plants, and make you sick," he said. (To date there have been no reported cases of rat lungworm in people or pets in Florida.)

Because the snails have no natural enemies in the U.S., "when they get a foothold, particularly in urban or suburban areas, they multiply quickly," Gaskalla said. The prolific breeders lay up to 1,200 eggs a year-and they live as long as ten years. (Related: "Giant Snails Invading Florida, 'Major Threat' to Crops.")

U.S. restaurants don't use African giant land snails as escargot, which typically comes from smaller land snails that are farmed in Europe and elsewhere, Gaskalla added. (See "Giant Snails, Once a Delicacy, Overrun Brazil.")

Getting Rid of Snails

The good thing, Gaskalla said, is that "because they are such a nuisance, people notice them pretty quick" and call authorities.

That vigilance is paying off. Since 2011, a snail-removal program in Miami-Dade County, run by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has collected over 140,000 invasive giant African land snails.

"We've made really good progress toward eradication," Gaskalla said.

RELATED: "Attack of the Alien Invaders"

But, he added, the recent intercepted shipment of snails in Los Angeles—which were later burned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—is of concern.

"We don't want them moving in the U.S. for any purpose. I've tried to get the word out that it's an invasive species" and that people should not eat them or keep them as pets, he said.

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

28 comments
莹珂 黄
莹珂 黄

I am curious about how they can move so fast!!

Bruce R.
Bruce R.

Sadly, this country as well as others too have been plagued with alien critters carried by man kind ever since they learned to sail the high seas exploring the world.



liang hao
liang hao

wow, Africa is a dangerous place!!!

Victoria C.
Victoria C.

Why choose an non-native/invasive species as a pet? Why not just keep the native species in their native homes, instead of letting them invading other parts of the world?

Michael Joseph
Michael Joseph

@dave keeler You already did, GMO, colonialism, pesticides etc...don't worry, you are safe now...Africa will never recover. Happy now?

Katie B.
Katie B.

@dave keeler... Really. So you think sending a North American species to Asia or Africa to "wreak havoc" is a good idea? I'm sorry, but, do you have an education? Flu, insects and ideologys can come from anywhere. It's very nieve of you to think that it only comes from these other countries that clearly you have no idea about... In the UK, the grey squirrel is an invasive species from America, so would it be right if the UK introduced one of its species to "wreak havoc" on American soil? You would say no. So why consider the same for another country?

Shimron Neol
Shimron Neol

please send dave keeler away from here. peace out.

Jean B.
Jean B.

Dave Keeler...it isn't as if those areas haven't trouble enough without us sending more.  I mean...really?  The snails were sent out of ignorance of our laws.  I'm grateful they were caught.  Makes me wonder how they haven't eaten all the flora from their indigenous homes.  Maybe they have.  At least they're edible.

Dave Keeler
Dave Keeler

Isn't there something native to North America that we can send to Asia and Africa that will wreak havoc on something in those countries? Seems like there is always some flu , insect, or ideology spreading from there to here.

Roger B.
Roger B.

@Victoria C. because that would be called "common sense" something the people don't do anymore naturally. It has to be beaten into them by force.

Darrell Ray
Darrell Ray

@Katie B. A LOT of species have been introduced to North America from The British Isles and and Europe and they have caused significant problems as well as significant gains. Examples:

Starlings which were introduced to NA because they were mentioned by shakesphere. There are now estimated to be over 200 million

Rock Pigeon this is the bird you see all over most cities.

Jean B.
Jean B.

Why do we hear so much hateful talk lately anyway?  It's ridiculous. It's like anything unfamiliar or nonlocal, or merely complex even is viewed as disgusting or harmful...for Pete's sake. 

Sim Keng
Sim Keng

You are an evil American, shame on you!

Felice S.
Felice S.

Perhaps you are thinking of fast food, huge portions or obesity? Or maybe the hunger for material possessions and brand names... and the consumer debt that feeds it? Or were you thinking about guns and military technology to support (and foment?) ancient and modern conflicts? Perhaps, more agriculturally, you are thinking of the genetically modified seeds which dominate and supplant local varieties, replacing them with single, patented super crops?

I would like to think that you also were writing tongue in cheek and did not intend your comment to seem so provincial and so disparaging of more than half of the planet. We are living in a world with global challenges in which we no longer have the luxury of simple there vs here thinking. It is a tedious and futile finger pointing exercise in which we all lose, as we waste time assigning blame instead of fixing the issues which ultimately affect us all. Havoc once wreaked knows no borders. Far better to wreak some good. Here and there.

Eric Paul
Eric Paul

@Roger B. @Victoria C. - Nearly every single pet you see in the pet store or at someone's house, including domesticated cats/dogs, are ALL "non-native" species.  Your common sense would completely eliminate the current Pet Trade...unless we want to limit people in New York to raccoon, possum, crows, or squirrels as pets? 

Eric Paul
Eric Paul

@Jean B. I gave you a 'like' just for saying "for Pete's sake" - Simply Awesome!

Flavia Bărar
Flavia Bărar

@Jean B. hi jean, i imagine that the reason why they haven't eaten their indigenous flora is because they usually have natural enemies (like another species that feeds on them) to keep the balance. It is really a delicate issue to "import" flora and fauna because it can affect the local one. for example: eucalyptus trees have been brought to the andes region, where they have spread very fast. a few decades later, local trees and vegetation has stopped growing (natural habitat for some species has been destroyed), being overtaken by wide-spread eucalyptus forests. also, the earth has become very very dry, which means faster erosion and landslides. i believe it's all about keeping the balance of local eco-systems. cheers!


Share

Feed the World

  • How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

Latest Photo Galleries

See more photos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »