The giant African land snail is an unwanted visitor to the United States. Although it has been traded at flea markets and kept as a pet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has never issued a permit to import the snails. All of the snails in the U.S. are here illegally.
Last week a local Wabash County health department worker read that the snails would be available at a local flea market. The snails were confiscated and destroyed. As a reaction to the discovery of the snails in Indiana, the DNR, on April 30 issued a quarantine banning the snails in Indiana.
The quarantine said, in part, that no person in Indiana may "possess, offer for sale, sell, give away, barter, exchange, or otherwise distribute or release a giant African land snail, in any life stage, in Indiana."
Anyone in possession of a giant African land snail should call the DNR, toll free, at 1-877-463-6367 or the USDA’s Gary Simon, state plant health director, in Lafayette at 765-446-0267. The snails should never be thrown out, released into the wild or flushed.
DNR state entomologist Dr. Robert Waltz, said the giant African land snail is considered to be the most threatening to the environment of any land snail in the world.
"The giant African land snail is known to eat at least 500 different types of plants including some grown as crops in Indiana," Waltz said. "The plants the snail eats includes most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons."
According to the USDA Web site, in 1966, a Miami, FL, 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. Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails had been found along with scores of eggs. The Florida state eradication program took 10 years at a cost of $1 million. (www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/ep/gasalert.pdf)
State health officials warn that individuals can become ill if they ingest snails that have not been completely cooked.
"Giant African land snails can carry the rat lung worm, which can cause individuals who eat raw or undercooked snails to develop meningitis and to suffer from permanent neurological damage," said Dr. Mike Sinkso, medical entomologist for the Indiana State Department of Health.
"While the rat lung worm has not been reported in Indiana, there is concern that it could have been imported from tropical areas," Sinsko said.
Scientists believe the giant African land snail is originally from East Africa. It is now commonly found throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian islands.
Finally, the USDA says each snail contains both female and male reproductive organs. After a single mating session, each snail can produce 100 to 400 eggs. This amazing creature can duplicate reproduction through several cycles without engaging in another mating. In a typical year, every mated adult lays about 1,200 eggs.
For additional information about the giant African land snail, go to the USDA Web site at: www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/ep/gas.html