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Escargot? More like Escar-No!

Giant African snails can reach up to 8 inches in length and nearly 5 inches in diameter—about the size of an average adult fist—and can live up to nine years. In a typical year, mated adults lay about 1,200 eggs.

Giant African snails can reach up to 8 inches in length and nearly 5 inches in diameter—about the size of an average adult fist—and can live up to nine years. In a typical year, mated adults lay about 1,200 eggs.

For the past several months, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)  and its partners at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) have been fighting to stop the spread of the giant African snail—a nasty invasive pest that threatens Florida’s agricultural sector.

Big and slimy, the giant African snail is well-equipped to become an invasive species: they have voracious appetites, reproduce quickly, live a long time, and have no natural predators in Florida. The first snails were discovered and reported by a Miami homeowner in September 2011. In just six months, APHIS and FDACS have collected more than 40,000 of these giant creepy crawlies.

A homeowner reported seeing a giant African snail in her yard in September 2011. Since then, APHIS and FDACS officials have collected more than 40,000 of these massive mollusks.

A homeowner reported seeing a giant African snail in her yard in September 2011. Since then, APHIS and FDACS officials have collected more than 40,000 of these massive mollusks.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced this damaging invasive pest. Back in 1966, a boy smuggled three giant African snails into South Florida upon returning from a trip to Hawaii. His grandmother eventually released the snails into her garden. Those initial three snails grew into one giant family—after completing a 10 year, $1 million eradication campaign, we had collected and destroyed more than 18,000 snails!

Originally from East Africa, the snail has established itself throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian Islands, and has been introduced into the Caribbean. Like other invasive species, giant African snails could enter the United States as hitchhikers on imported cargo. More often than not, however, the snails are smuggled illegally into the United States as pets or for food. When released into the environment, they can wreak major havoc on agriculture and the environment—much like what is happening in Florida right now.

Alert homeowners are the first line of defense in reporting signs of snail infestations. Please do your part in the fight against invasive species—if you have a giant African snail or see the snails or signs of their presence, call FDACS’ toll-free helpline at 888-397-1517. We caution against handling the snails, but if you must, we recommend wearing gloves and washing your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Everyone can help protect our precious resources and preserve our agricultural heritage by leaving hungry pests behind. When people are boating, fishing, birdwatching, hiking or even just cooking out in the backyard, there is an opportunity to fight invasive pests.  To learn more about what state and federal agencies are doing to stop invasive pests and to learn of seven ways you can help leave them behind, please visit www.hungrypests.com.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has declared April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month. Throughout the month, APHIS will post a series of blog entries here and also share invasive plant pest and disease information through our twitter feed. APHIS and its federal and state partners are fighting to protect our communities, our public lands, and our agricultural resources from invasive species.

Giant African snails chow down on at least 500 types of plants and will even eat the paint and stucco off of houses, which could pose a major problem to Florida’s agriculture and environment.

Giant African snails chow down on at least 500 types of plants and will even eat the paint and stucco off of houses, which could pose a major problem to Florida’s agriculture and environment.

8 Responses to “Escargot? More like Escar-No!”

  1. Skipper Hammond says:

    There’s no mention here of where they are being found, except a Miami backyard, and what problems they create. What do they eat? What kind of habitat do they prefer? When do they breed?
    Thanks. I hope you will provide this information, I’d like to get it out on my blog.

  2. Annette Thomas says:

    Are these snails able to be cooked and eaten by humans? I see where you say not to touch them, so I assume they might be poisonous to us, so what about dogs, cats, chickens, etc?

  3. Tom Sanford says:

    Are they good to eat?

  4. Enrique Viciana says:

    I picked up a snail from my yard last night.

    Would like to know who could determine if it is the Afican variety. I am holding it in a glass jar subject to your examination.

  5. Marcia Moore says:

    Are the snails beneficial in any habitat or under certain restrictions? Are we finding them primarily in the states farthest south or just Florida?

  6. Su Brooks says:

    Sounds like a Florida Escargot Festival coming up soon in the future – Fried escargot, Gumbo escargot, Stir fry escargot, Marinated Escargot…etc..
    Maybe a Escargot Cafe!

  7. Rebecca [USDA Moderator] says:

    USDA’s Hungry Pests Web site has a ton of great information on the giant African snail: http://www.hungrypests.com/the-threat/giant-african-snail.php. You can also use the Hungry Pests Tracker to see where the snail is in Florida: http://www.hungrypests.com/the-spread/pesttracker/florida.php?pest=gas. It will show you that Miami-Dade County is under a partial quarantine for the snail. If you click on the county and then on the “More detail” link under “Partially Quarantined County,” it will load a map that outlines the exact areas within the county that are under quarantine. Another great place to learn about the giant African snail is on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Web site at http://www.freshfromflorida.com/pi/plantinsp/gals.html.

  8. Tammy says:

    They are delicious delicacies in Nigeria we call them congo meat!!!!

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