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Portion of Pasco County quarantined over giant African land snail sighting

It is one of the most damaging snails in the world and gobbles up at least 500 types of plants.

PASCO COUNTY, Fla — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirms the detection of a giant African land snail in the New Port Richey area of Pasco County.

If you're wondering what harm a snail can do — it's a lot. 

This species of snail is known to consume at least 500 different types of plants. Not only will they eat through your backyard, but they could also be nibbling at your home too. The snails can eat the paint and stucco off of a home. 

These mollusks can also bring serious health risks to humans. They can carry a parasite rat lungworm, known to cause meningitis in humans. The snails shouldn't be handled without gloves or proper sanitation procedures in place.

RELATED: Meningococcal disease outbreak among 'worst' in history, says CDC

According to the state department, the giant African land snail has been eradicated twice in Florida: once in 1975 and then again in 2021. 

Along with damaging your garden and health, these snails have the potential to majorly impact Florida's agriculture industry. 

"If it was to become established, the entire state would be under a full quarantine for shipping agricultural products out of the state," Bryan Benson said, the deputy director of Florida Agriculture's Division of Plant Industry.

A quarantine has been enacted to prevent the snails from popping up in other areas. The quarantined area is in a portion of the southwest region of the county.

Credit: FDACS

Benson says his office caught this early. Even still, a quarantine will remain in place for at least three years. "Previous GALS eradication programs ranged from 6-10 years," Benson said.

On Wednesday, the agriculture department will begin treatment of the area for the giant African land snail by use of metaldehyde-based molluscicide, which is snail bait. The treatment is meant for residential use. The state department says property owners inside the treatment area have been notified.

That's not all. The state also has snail-sniffing dogs that are deployed when giant African land snails are identified.

"We have a detector dog program in Florida that's been in place for almost 10 years and we have K-9s that are assigned to mollusk survey. We've had K-9s assigned to the GALS eradication program that existed and was completed about a year ago in Miami."

Benson said one dog was brought into Pasco County on Wednesday to sniff for snails. 

Treatment can be tricky. The snails can bury themselves in soil and stay there for up to one year. They are primarily active at night and hide away in cool, damp places. Giant African land snails can reproduce as young as 4 months old and are able to lay thousands of eggs in its multiple-year life span. 

The snail's eggs are pea-sized. Adults can grow more than seven inches in length. 

Credit: FDACS-DPI

Benson said residents are impacted very little by this quarantine. Agriculture crews will visit residencies inside the quarantine zone to spray molluskicides and survey for snails. 

The businesses that are impacted by the quarantine include nurseries, nursery distributors, and landscape companies. All of these businesses have the potential to move snails to other locations, worsening the problem. Businesses are required to inspect their equipment and/or plants before they change locations.

If you think you've seen one of these snails, email a photo of it to DPIHelpline@FDACS.gov to confirm identification. 

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