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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.

"These 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.

Scientists 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.

The 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 and Barbados.


Contact: Buddy Davidson
Communications Officer
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 www.wvagriculture.org.


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