Agricultural inspectors have eye on a slow-moving threat

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Costa Rican agricultural officials say that the giant African snail would cause vast loses to the country’s biodiversity if it ever got a foothold here. The snail also is a public health threat because of the diseases it carries, they said.

The snail (Achatina fulica) already has invaded Caribbean islands and was identified in Saint Lucia and Barbados in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also is on alert.

Costa Rican agricultural inspectors are on the lookout for the snails and the eggs of snails. The most likely form of transportation would be on the interior or exterior of shipping containers, they said. The snails are hardy and can endure long periods without eating. They also reproduce rapidly.

These are the largest snails in the world and could compete successfully with native snails.

Some individuals have kept these snails as pets elsewhere, but agricultural officials all over the world warn against doing so because of the various serious human diseases the snails carry. In fact, U.S. officials have special techniques to inspect for these critters because they intercept them frequently, mainly en route from Asia and Africa.

The Servicio Fitosanitario del Estado of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería just issued a special alert for the snails.

The snails can do damage to the coffee and banana plants as well as a host of vegetable crops. They can live up to nine years. A snail can lay 1,000 eggs a year. The shell can be 30 centimeters long, nearly a foot.

Florida officials report that they have eradicated the species in that state.

Because of the probability of carrying infectious diseases, officials encourage escargot lovers to save their garlic butter and purchase farm-raised snails for culinary purposes or to at least cook wild snails well.

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