BOLO (Be on the Look Out) for the highly destructive Giant African Land Snail, announced the Servicio Fitosanorio del Estado, (SFE) in a press release. They warned of a new plague of giant snails discovered in Liberia, Guanacaste, that are aggressive, long-lived, crop-destroying, and spread human disease among people who come into contact with them. It is suspected that they arrived as stowaways on the outside or inside of foreign shipping containers.
The Giant Snails (Achatina fulica) tend to emerge in the rainy season, and can be as big a one foot in length, weigh up to one pound, and are capable of doing serious damage to your garden. They eat plants, pet food, agricultural crops, animal feces, and can decimate coffee and banana crops – but have even been known to eat stucco off sides of houses. They reproduce rapidly, laying as many as 1,000 eggs a year. They are able to go a long time without eating, which probably accounts for their successful hitchhiking in shipping containers. They can live up to ten years.
Scientists have documented the snails’ mating rituals. The snails fondle each other’s heads with their own heads for about 30 minutes, then the transfer of snail sperm takes roughly two hours, jokingly referred to as “at a snail’s pace”. The sperm can then be stored in the female for up to two years.
The Giant Snails do their crop damage mainly at night, spending their days partially buried. Several countries have declared them non-native invasive species and have outlawed them. Spain and USA were two of the first countries to ban them. Other countries allow them as a source of exotic food, or even as pets, including France and Korea. Escargot aficionados say their meat is tasty, and can be bought in tins at exotic food stores.
Costa Rican authorities have warned farmers of the danger to their crops, and farmers have collected them to destroy using molluscides (poison) and traps. The Executive president of SFE, Fernando Araya, reported that the detection of the land snail plague was thanks to “keen phytosanitary surveillance and citizen action.” The northwestern area of Costa Rica remains under surveillance for these snails.
The snails can make humans quite ill, and authorities warn to handle them only with gloves. They have been dubbed among the top 100 most invasive species worldwide. They tolerate climate change well, and are hardy in most environments. Keep an eye on your garden for these snails – they reproduce and spread very rapidly, and can become a real menace if left unchecked
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