A town in Florida has been placed under quarantine measures after giant African land snails were found in the New Port Richey area of Pasco County.
The snails, which can grow up to 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) in length, are damaging to vegetation and agriculture given their massive appetites, and can even feed on carcass bones at a push when other calcium-rich foods are scarce. They also pose a threat to human health more directly, as they carry the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, or rat lungworm, which is known to cause meningitis in humans.
The species is particularly hard to get rid of, as Florida has already discovered several times over. Their first appearance in the state was in 1969, before their eradication six years later. The second detection in 2011 saw them stick around for a whole decade.
"They can reproduce as young as four months old, laying many thousands of eggs in its multiple-year life span," according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
"These snails can move long distances when they cling to vehicles and machinery, or in yard trash. During unfavorable environmental conditions, the snail can bury itself in soil and remain inactive for up to a year."
For the health risks, damage to agriculture and difficulty in getting rid of the species, it is illegal to own the animals without a permit in the US. However, it's likely the current situation arose from the illegal pet trade, according to FDACS public information director, Christina Chitty.
Chitty told CNN that when illegally imported snails are released into the wild by their owners, or else lost, they can quickly increase in numbers, surviving on over 500 plant species, or even eating the paint off houses as a source of calcium for their strong shells.
The quarantine began on June 24, and is still in effect in New Port Richey, Pasco County, Florida, as the FDACS attempts once again to eradicate the invasive animals. During this time, the agency states that it is "unlawful to move the giant African land snail or a regulated article, including but not limited to, plants, plants parts, plants in soil, soil, yard waste, debris, compost or building materials, within, through or from a quarantine area without a compliance agreement."
Anyone who suspects they have found one of the snails is advised to take a photograph and contact the agency.