Giant African snails found in Pasco County test positive for dangerous parasite

The Florida Department of Agriculture confirmed Thursday that giant African land snails found in Pasco County tested positive for a dangerous parasite called rat lungworm.

Rat lungworm can cause meningitis in humans, which experts said is another reminder to avoid touching the invasive snails.

Since the snails were found in the New Port Richey area last month, the state has collected about 2,000 of them. The snails eat more than 500 different types of plants and feed on stucco for calcium. 

RELATED: State agriculture officials continue work eradicating invasive snails in Pasco County

"They can completely devastate a crop, like tomato or pepper," said Jason Stanley, a biological administrator with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "These white, fleshy snails are very popular in the pet trade. Someone probably had a population in an aquarium and got tired of them laying so many eggs and dumped them and then, all of a sudden, we've got a population explosion."

giant african land snail customs

"The giant African land snail … is one of the most invasive pests on the planet, causing agricultural and environmental damage wherever it is found," the report added. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

The initial snail sighting was first confirmed by a Pasco County Master Gardener, who found the almost 8-inch-long snail in the New Port Richey area – specifically in an area near Massachusetts Avenue and Rowan Road. The confirmation of the return of the Giant African land snail came on June 23. 

The snails remain a threat in Hawaii and the Caribbean after their eradication in Florida in 2021. Each snail has both female and male reproductive organs, so they can reproduce rapidly. It is able to reproduce several more times after mating once. 

They can have about 1,200 eggs every year, and they are also one of the world's largest land snails. The state continued its search Thursday, using dogs that are trained to sniff out giant African land snails.

The invasive species can range in size from a few inches to up to eight inches long. 

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The snails are quite popular in pet trades.

"I think the biggest thing is…the snail is quite attractive. What I would tell anybody is please research anything you are going to purchase as a pet," Dr. Hodges said, adding that it’s illegal to have it in the state. "Prevent it by keeping it out."

The state first eradicated the pest in 1975 after detecting it in 1969 and most recently eradicated the pest in 2021 after detecting it in 2011 in Miami-Dade County, according to the USDA.

A quarantine on the 200-meter area in New Port Richey remains in place. Residents are not allowed to move the snails or other items, including plants, soil, yard waste and buildings materials out of the area.

"That's because the snails do hitchhike on these materials, and so we need to keep them contained in the geographic area," said Christina Chitty, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The department is asking residents to report them by calling the agency's hotline at 1-888-397-1517.