As one of America’s top vacation states, Florida welcomes all types of visitors. But giant African land snails are not among them.
The snails are an invasive species—an animal or a plant that moves into an area and harms native species. These snails are not like the ones you might find in your backyard. These slimy pests are the size of rats and can actually eat away the walls of houses. Worse, they can spread diseases quickly and like to eat about 500 species of Florida’s native plants.
So far, state officials have spent about $6 million trying to get rid of the giant snails. A team of 45 people regularly spreads out to hunt for the snails, sometimes searching on their hands and knees. They have also used traps and chemical treatments. And now, Florida officials have called out the dogs—Labrador retrievers, to be exact.
“They’re very good at detecting the giant African land snail,” said Richard Gaskalla of the Florida Department of Agriculture. “So we're building four-legged technology into this program as quickly as we can.”
The Florida snail hunt started two years ago, when a homeowner first spotted one of the pests in Miami. The snails eat stucco and plaster used to make walls. Both have calcium that helps the snails build strong shells. A single snail can quickly cause thousands of dollars in damage to a building.
But officials are more afraid of what the snails could do in the future. The pests could destroy farm crops. They also carry a parasite called rat lungworm. This parasite can cause a serious disease called meningitis, which affects the tissues surrounding the brain.
Dogs are a great weapon against the snails, which have no natural predators in Florida. Canines are already used to sniffing out all kinds of things: drugs, bombs, missing people, invasive snakes, and even some types of cancer. The giant African land snail gives off a fairly strong scent that trained dogs can track.
Florida officials think they now have the snails contained in the Miami area. About 128,000 of the creatures have been found and destroyed. And there has been a big drop in the number of snails found each week—from thousands to hundreds.
“After two years of battling this invasive and destructive pest,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, “we are confident that we will win this fight.”