Meet the Giant African Land Snail. Image: Yenipedia
Snails the size of footballs are sludging their way across the world, killing crops and carrying meningitis along with them.
Known as giant east African snails, the invasive species has recently been discovered infiltrating Florida, nations in both Central and South America, and, most recently, Australia. The specimens are rather terrifying, seeing as how they can grow up to a foot long, weigh in at over two pounds, are capable of eating over 500 different species, can lay 1,200 eggs a year, and have few natural enemies in their new habitats. Oh, and they can also transmit life-threatening meningitis to humans.
The BBC recently reported that "In tropical regions, giant African snails, as well as other types of slugs and snails, can carry a nematode - a kind of parasite - called the rat lungworm. These minute worms, if ingested, enter the circulation and travel to the brain, where they can lead to eosinophilic meningitis."
Snails have been blamed for at least three deaths in Ecuador, and a hundred other cases have been reported across the region.
No wonder Australian authorities were pissed when they discovered one of the rogue snails stealing away from a shipping yard yesterday, presumably after hitching a ride on a cross-oceanic vessel from Africa—the last time the snails got loose, they went on a mini-rampage and caused a major headache for farmers.
"The last major Australian outbreak of the snail was in 1977, when 300 giant snails were exterminated in Queensland in an intensive eight-month campaign of community education, baiting and snail collection," Reuters explains. Paul Nixon, regional manager at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, told the wire service that "Giant African snails are one of the world's largest and most damaging land snails."
It took nearly a year to stamp out the slimy invaders, and cost a pretty penny in the process.
Invasive species are a mounting concern around the world, of course. Chinese kelp is smothering San Francisco bay, the Burmese python is smothering everything in Florida, and Asian longhorn beetles now threaten up to 35% of the forests on the East Coast—and that's just the US. In the age of rapid, globalized trade and international tourism, species are breaking geographic boundaries left and right, and they're devastating finely-calibrated ecosystems in the process.
As for the big ugly snails, they're a persistent pest of the worst order. They're a problem in their native Africa, too. But a Nigerian nutritionist might have a solution—cook them up and eat them. They're apparently rich in protein, and more filling than beef.