May 10, 2013
Giant African Land Snail Not In Texas After All, Says USDA
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Less than a day after a Houston-area gardener spotted what was believed to be a giant African land snail, a USDA spokeswoman reported Thursday (May 9) the creature is actually a rosy wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea). The rosy wolfsnail, also known as the cannibal snail, is a native North American species and is commonly found in Texas.
Tanya Espinosa of the USDA said there is no evidence that the giant African land snail is in Texas. However, she cautioned people who find unfamiliar snails in their backyard to not touch them but scoop them up in a container with a cover and contact the local agriculture department in their state.
Regional news outlets first broke the story earlier this week that a species of giant African land snail (genus Achatina) was on the loose in a Texas neighborhood. They warned people to not touch the massive mollusk due to possible infection from a parasite carried by the snail. Rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) has been known to carry a rare form of meningitis that can be transmitted through touch.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns in a FAQ sheet that rat lungworm can infect humans when the carrier snails are eaten raw or undercooked, a delicacy in some regions. While the rat lungworm only exists in the adult stage in rats, the larvae can be found in snails and slugs and can mature to some extent.
The CDC said the parasite doesn´t live long in humans, and often dies before treatment is necessary. “Even people who develop eosinophilic meningitis usually don´t need antibiotics. Sometimes the symptoms of the infection last for several weeks or months, while the body´s immune system responds to the dying parasites.”
Still, handling unknown snails can be dangerous health wise. According to Discovery News´ Tim Wall, one case in 1993 occurred after a boy swallowed a slug on a dare. The boy won the bet, but caught the parasite. The boy was ill for a few weeks before his body fought off the infection without treatment.
While the Texas mollusk has been deemed "not" a giant African land snail, areas of Florida have been overrun by the supersized slug. In the Miami-Dade region, officials reported last month the giant snails are being caught by the bucket load, as many as 1,000 per week.
Denise Feiber of the Division of Plant Industry in Gainesville, Florida, said a total of 117,000 snails have been captured since the outbreak was first reported in September 2011.
What makes the operation to remove the pest so difficult is the fact that the giant African land snail reproduces so quickly. And because the snails are hermaphrodites — having both male and female reproductive organs — they can continually reproduce, dropping about 100 eggs per month (1,200 per year).
Experts do not yet know if the giant African land snails that have invaded the US actually carry the parasite, but those with the Michigan Department of Agriculture said even if they do not carry the rat lungworm, they can still be dangerous to handle, as they have also been known to carry salmonella and other bacteria, reported Wall.
Giant African land snails are comprised of three species: the giant African snail (Achatina fulica), the giant Ghana tiger snail (Achatina achatina), and margies (Archachatina marginata). These snails have been known to grow up to 8 inches long. The rosy wolfsnail, on the other hand, is much smaller and typically grows to only 2.5 inches long.