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Florida is trying to eradicate the giant African land snail, again

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. Florida is again pitted in a battle with the giant African land snail. The invasive, disease-spreading - let's just say it - really gross snail was declared eradicated last year, but now they are back. WUSF's Jessica Meszaros reports.

JESSICA MESZAROS, BYLINE: The giant African land snail is not your garden-variety species. It can grow up to 8 inches long. It'll devour your plants. It can give you meningitis because it carries the rat lungworm parasite, and it can eat your house. Bryan Benson is with Florida's Agricultural Department.

BRYAN BENSON: They crawl up the sides of houses, absorbing calcium out of the stucco and leaving fecal matter under the eaves.

MESZAROS: Florida officials thought they'd done away with the snails in South Florida last year after a 10-year battle, but two weeks ago they turned up 300 miles away in a home garden. Since then, more than a thousand have been collected in an area of Pasco County, which is now under quarantine. Benson says one big worry is that these mollusks reproduce quickly.

BENSON: If they were established, your agricultural crops would fail. Snails would consume them as they were growing.

MESZAROS: It's not clear how these snails entered Florida again. They're different than the ones found previously. Those had gray-brown flesh. These are white, which is the more prized color in the illegal pet trade. It's against the law to import or possess these snails in the U.S. without a permit, though Benson says people do.

BENSON: They are intercepted throughout the country, I mean, at all major ports coming in from other parts of the world, usually intercepted on passengers.

MESZAROS: The quarantine in Pasco County will last about three years. Labrador retrievers trained to sniff out the snails are hot on their trail, and snail bait is being laid. Authorities warn people not to touch the snails if they find one and to contact them. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Meszaros in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Meszaros
Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media.