Pasco County, Florida, is under an agricultural quarantine following the discovery of invasive giant African land snails in the Port Richey area.
Known as one of the most dangerous snails in the world, it feeds on at least 500 different plant species and can be devastating to the region’s agriculture. It also puts any humans in its proximity at risk because it can carry the rat lungworm parasite — which can cause meningitis.
The snails were discovered in the Port Richey area in late June, at which time Florida officials — the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) — cracked down on the transportation of snail-related items like soil and plants in an effort to prevent the quickly-growing snail population from spreading outside of Pasco County.
A Florida county is under quarantine due to the discovery of a fast-growing population of invasive giant African land snails.https://t.co/jqW1hx49Xf
— CNN (@CNN) July 4, 2022
“FDACS’s Division of Plant Industry has begun to survey the area, enacted a quarantine and will begin treatment for this detrimental pest on June 29, 2022. FDACS will treat properties with a metaldehyde-based molluscicide (snail bait). The treatment is labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for residential use,” the department’s website read.
Christina Chitty, the FDACS public information officer, explained to CNN that the snail population in Florida probably stemmed from illegal pet trading. The snails can grow up to eight inches in length and are illegal to own in Florida (they require a permit in other parts of the United States) but some exotic pet owners keep them anyway — and if they escape or are let go outside of someone’s home, the population can explode very rapidly. The snails can produce over 2500 eggs in the course of a year.
The snails thrive in Florida because they can feed on over 500 different plant species, using even the paint and stucco off houses as a source of calcium.
Previous invasions of the native East-African species have taken years to eradicate, according to the FDACS website. The first detection of the snails in Florida was in 1969, and the state was not declared snail-free until 1975. Another invasion began in Miami-Dade County in 2011 and ended in 2021, with the last live snail being collected in 2017.
Because of the meningitis risk, Florida residents have been warned not to handle the snails without gloves, and reports of “lockdowns” have circulated on social media.
But Christina Pushaw, press secretary to Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), explained that the quarantine applied only to certain items — primarily related to agriculture and construction — that could not be transported out of Pasco County until the snail population was controlled.
“FACT CHECK: Nobody in Florida is under quarantine or lockdown due to Giant African Land Snails. The snails were found in one area of Pasco County. People cannot bring soil, plants, and building materials out of that area because of the snails, but people are free to move,” Pushaw tweeted.
FACT CHECK: Nobody in Florida is under quarantine or lockdown due to Giant African Land Snails. The snails were found in one area of Pasco County. People cannot bring soil, plants, and building materials out of that area because of the snails, but people are free to move. pic.twitter.com/n86Y7ZqY1s
— Christina Pushaw 🐊 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) July 5, 2022