The spread of a large African mollusk in south Florida that eats plants and even house stucco appears to be moving faster than a snail's pace.
Giant African land snails, once eradicated from Florida, were again confirmed in Miami-Dade County in September 2011, according to a news release.
The Florida Division of Plant Industry had thought the pest was confined just to the one county, but the slimy invader was confirmed in Broward County to the north on Sept. 9.
GALS have a host range of more than 500 plants, leaving large holes in plant leaves and fruit as they scrape the plant with their rasping tongue.
As they move, they leave a slimy trail that could be a potential source of pathogen contamination.
One snail can lay up to 1,200 eggs per year and grow up to 8 inches long. There are no natural enemies.
Because of the snails' rapid growth rate, they have an insatiable need for calcium to build their shells. Stucco plaster on South Florida homes is a readily available source.
The snail's shells themselves pose a shrapnel hazard if caught in a lawn mower blade or under a car tire.
GALS also are an intermediate host of the parasitic roundworm Angiostrongylus cantonensis, also known as the rat lungworm.
In humans, the lungworm cause eosinophilic meningitis, or EM, which is different than bacterial or viral meningitis.
Humans can be infected by the parasite by eating raw or undercooked GALS carrying the lungworm.
Still under debate is whether ingesting GALS slime also is a source of infection.
Although no human cases of EM have been reported in Florida, the rat lungworm has been detected in the giant snails.
If you think you've found a giant snail, contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 888-397-1517.