Giant African Snails, "one of the most damaging land snails in the world," have invaded a southwest Miami subdivision and are now the focus of "a time-consuming expensive counter-attack" by authorities, the Miami Herald reports.
The creatures "can grow up to 10 inches long and four inches wide ... eat at least 500 different types of plants, lay about 1,200 eggs a year, and can carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis," the Herald writes. About 1,000 have been found in just the past week or so.
The first few may have been smuggled into the country by a man who "practiced the traditional African religion Ifa Orisha, and authorities said he persuaded his followers to drink the snails' juices as part of a healing ritual," says the newspaper. "Several practitioners became violently ill."
According to the Herald: "In 1966, a boy visiting Hawaii brought back three to Miami and his grandmother released them into her garden. Soon, there were at least 18,000 slithering about. It took authorities a decade and $1 million to remove those snails."
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services advises that:
"Anyone who believes they may have seen a Giant African land snail or signs of its presence should call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services toll-free at 888-397-1517 to make arrangements to have the snail collected.
"To preserve the snail sample, Floridians should use gloves to put the snail in a zip lock bag, seal it and place it in a bucket or plastic container. They are advised not to release or give these samples away."