Florida Man Releases Snail Plague

Florida Man Releases Snail Plague



Giant African Land Snail / Photo taken by Sonel.SA

Luca Berberich’s long standing interest in the natural world is being brought to the Talawanda Tribune in their series: Luca B. the Science G. Their second piece in this thrilling series is about the most dangerous mollusc known to man…

Okay, so maybe not the most dangerous mollusc known to man. The Giant African Snail isn’t dangerous when it’s in its natural habitat- but it’s not in its natural habitat. This snail — which, upon adulthood, can reach up to 7.8 inches in length — is a horribly invasive species, and its relocation to Florida has been devastating to the state’s agriculture. 

These molluscs are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs. They usually weigh about 32 grams in adulthood, and have a “muscular foot” that releases mucus when they move. This is what provides snail slime! They also have a fascinating organ called a radula –– essentially a tongue with teeth — which is used to scrape up food to eat.  

The Giant African Snail isn’t picky when it comes to meals. In fact, this snail is known to eat over 500 different species of plant. And though they may be mostly herbivores, sometimes they can’t get the calcium they need from plants, so they feed on the bones of decaying carcasses. 

So how exactly did this ravenous snail get introduced to America? The story is actually pretty crazy. The snail infestation traces back to a religious leader in Miami who had the snails illegally imported from Africa to use in a ritual. This ritual was apparently performed in an attempt to cure worshipers with medical problems. According to a witness, the leader carried out the ritual by cutting open snails and pouring the fluid inside the snail into the mouth of the worshiper. The worshipers later went to the authorities, claiming that instead of curing their problems, the rituals made them violently ill. The religious leader who had led the ritual had later had his house raided and the police found about 20 leftover snails from the ritual. While none of them appeared to have gotten loose, reports of snail infestations started just a year later. 

Exactly how harmful is this snail, you ask? The Giant African Snail is on the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD) list of 100 most harmful invasive species and has been terrorizing Florida and neighboring states for years. Not only does it feed on native agriculture, but it also spreads diseases that are unfamiliar to the area. 

Although this snail is invasive, it is not an evil species, and is still an impressive creature! I have the utmost respect for this fabulous mollusc… but I would prefer if it stayed in its natural habitat. 

Coolman, R. (2017, April 14). Cult leader unleashes giant Snail Plague. The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/cult-leader-unleashes-giant-snail-plague 

Giant African Land Snail. Snail Facts and Information. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.snail-world.com/african-giant-snail/ 

Giant African snail. USDA APHIS | Giant African Snail. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat/giant-african-snail/giant-african-snail 

www.upane.it, U.-. (n.d.). GISD. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from http://www.iucngisd.org/gisd/100_worst.php