GIANT AFRICAN SNAIL POSES HUMAN HEALTH AND AGRICULTURAL
RISK, ACCORDING TO AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass is urging
the public, particularly science teachers and exotic pet traders,
to help the agency locate any giant African land snails (GALS) that
might be present in the state. The eight-inch creature can carry
parasites that cause meningitis in people, and it is a voracious
eater that could wreak havoc on the state's gardens and other vegetation
if the species became widespread here.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA), the West Virginia
Department of Health and Human Resources - Bureau for Public Health
(DHHR-BPH) and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine (USDA-APHIS-PPQ)
are working cooperatively to determine the location of any GALS
in the state.
snails have frequently been found in classrooms across the country,"
said Commissioner Douglass. "We fear that as the end of school
draws near, these snails could be turned loose into the environment
where they could reproduce. Again we see the link between animals
and human disease. Anyone who knows the whereabouts of any of these
snails should contact the appropriate authorities immediately."
Because of the danger they pose, it is illegal to import or possess
these snails, but Commissioner Douglass stressed that it was not
the intent of authorities to prosecute anyone. "We are working
cooperatively with our federal counterparts to find these animals
in order to protect human health, not to cause hardships for anyone
who might have them."
Any schools, education programs or members of the public that might
have this snail should immediately contact WVDA's Plant Industries
Division (WVDA-PID) at 304-558-2212, or the USDA-APHIS-PPQ office
at Ripley at 304-372-8590. WVDA or USDA-APHIS-PPQ employees will
remove the pests from any location and dispose of them properly.
There are public health concerns surrounding this type of snail
because it is known to carry a parasite that can cause serious diseases
in humans such as eosinophilic meningitis. These diseases can be
transferred to humans by eating raw, undercooked infected snail
meat or contaminated vegetables. Humans can also be infected by
handling live GALS if the snails' secretions contact mucous membranes
of the eyes, nose or mouth.
also consider the GALS to be one of the most damaging snails in
the world because it is known to consume at least 500 different
types of plants. This pest could be potentially devastating to southern
agricultural and natural areas because they cause extensive damage
to tropical and subtropical environments. GALS are illegal to import
into the United States without a permit and currently no permits
have been issued.
In 1966, a boy smuggled three snails into Miami as pets and his
grandmother subsequently released them into her garden. Seven years
later, more than 18,000 snails were found. It took almost 10 years
and more than $1 million to eradicate this pest from Florida. This
is the only known successful GALS eradication program on record.
GALS, Achatina fulica, is one of the largest land snails in the
world growing up to 8 inches in length and 4.5 inches in diameter.
When full grown, the shell consists of seven to nine whorls (spirals),
with a long and greatly swollen body whorl. The brownish shell covers
at least half the length of the snail. Each snail can live as long
as nine years and contains both female and male reproductive organs.
After a single mating session, each snail can produce 100 to 400
eggs. In a typical year every mated adult lays about 1,200 eggs.
Achatina fulica is originally from East Africa and has established
itself throughout the Indo-Pacific Basin, including the Hawaiian
Islands. This pest has also been introduced into the Caribbean islands
of Martinique and Guadeloupe with recent detections in Saint Lucia
Contact: Buddy Davidson
304/558-3708, 361-9484 (pager)
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant, animal
and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory and
consumer protection programs, as mandated by state law. The Commissioner
of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials in West
Virginia. Currently, Commissioner Gus R. Douglass is the longest-serving
agriculture commissioner in the nation. For more information, visit