This Giant Snail Is Giving Australia Terrible Flashbacks to the Last Giant Snail Takeover | Smart News | Smithsonian
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This Giant Snail Is Giving Australia Terrible Flashbacks to the Last Giant Snail Takeover

The giant African snail is a true nightmare. So when Australian officials found one in a shipping container yard in Brisbane, they destroyed it as quickly as possible

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Image: USDA

In Australia, they’ve got a giant snail problem. The giant African snail is a true nightmare. These snails grow to the size of a baseball, can lay 1,200 eggs every year, survive all sorts of extreme temperatures, have no natural predators, and eat 500 crops, plus the sides of houses. Also, they carry meningitis that can infect and kill humans. Somewhat understandably, Australia isn’t pleased with any of this. So when one of these snails showed up in a shipping container yard in Brisbane, it was seized by Australian officials and destroyed, as quickly as possible.

The last time Australia dealt with the snail was in 1977, when they spent eight months hunting the invaders and exterminated 300 of them. Florida has dealt with the snail in the past too, spending a million dollars in 1975 to get rid of the snail that they estimated cost $11 million in damages each year. And last year, they were back in Miami. ABC News reports:

Officials realized they had a problem on their hands last week when two sisters flagged down a fruit fly inspector performing a routine check.

“A homeowner came out and said, I found these snails in my yard and she had one of them.  He recognized it as potentially being a giant African land snail,” Feiber said.

Officials have been focusing on the one square mile area around the home in southwest Miami. They are only 30 to 40 percent done with their investigation and have already found 1,100 snails.

These snails were so bad that NPR actually ran a story with the headline: “Miami Invaded By Giant, House-Eating Snails.”

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry of Australia has this to say about the snails:

Giant African snail originated in East Africa and is now present on most Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. The species was first recorded in American Samoa in the mid-1970s: a million snails were collected by hand in 1977 during a government campaign to reduce snail numbers, and more than 26 million snails were collected over the following three years.

The snails can come from all over. They might hitch a ride on a shipping container. Humans sometimes ship them in intentionally: In Miami, officials think an earlier snail outbreak might have come from a man practicing the African religion If a Orisha. In 1965, a child brought some snails back from Hawaii in his pocket, costing the city a million dollars and ten years of work.

All this makes it a little more understandable why Australia has spent so much energy killing this one individual snail.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Snail on an apple
Prehistoric Poo Linked Dinosaurs to Snails

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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