Giant African land snail invades South Florida, invasive species moving toward Palm Beach County

Scientists worry snail could cripple agriculture

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- - They are slimy, they eat just about everything in their path and experts say the giant African land snail is the next invasive species wreaking havoc in South Florida.

Snails might be slow, but the pest could quickly spread to Palm Beach County with the help of commuters without them even knowing.

Most at risk, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, are vital crops that flourish in the region.

Farmers like Charlie Roe of Green Cay Produce understands the entire county counts on his and other farmers production of fruits and vegetables.

"They depend on South Florida for three-fourths of their fresh vegetables in the winter," said Roe.

That is why when Roe caught wind of a new invasive species eating its way through South Florida, he took note.

"They'd have to put it with the pythons, it has very few enemies," said Roe.

Meet the giant African land snail.

It grows to the size of a rat, feeds on almost anything including stucco walls and can lay up to 1,200 eggs a year.

"The fact that they can reproduce so rapidly, it could become a major agricultural threat in Palm Beach County," said Mark Fagan of the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Fagan said he is seeing major infestations throughout Miami-Dade County. His crews so far have collected at least 78,000 snails.

At the front-line of preventing the spread of the creatures, a crew of snail hunters.

Experts said all it takes is for one person to take an infested plant from Miami-Dade County and the species could be in Palm Beach County.

"One snail could do it," said Fagan.

Field crews said their aggressive approach is working. The poisonous bait they are laying down is effective. They are finding more empty shells than full.

"If it came up here, we'd probably be out of the farming business," said Roe.

Roe said he will be crossing his fingers and now on the lookout.

"It's just one more thing you have to watch for," said Roe.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is urging anyone who suspects they see giant African land snails to call 1-888-397-1517.

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