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Spear Warns Mainers To Keep Watch For Giant African Land Snails
May 25, 2004
For immediate release
Contact: Terry Bourgoin, 287-3891
AUGUSTA - Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources Commissioner Robert W. Spear is urging the public to assist the Department in the hunt for giant African land snails (GALS) after recent seizures of this pest in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio pet stores, exotic animal dealers and schools. The snails are a threat to human health and a potentially serious plant pest.
“We want to determine whether these snails are already in Maine and if so, collect them as quickly as possible,” Spear said. “The discoveries in other states are of concern because the snails were being used at schools as part of science projects. Many of the schools received the snails as donations and were unaware of the potential threat to human health and plants. We want to make sure Maine schools are aware of the dangers associated with these snails,” Spear said.
According to Terry Bourgoin, Director of the Division of Plant Industry, another mode of entry of the snail into the state is exotic pet stores. State officials are planning to spot check pet stores for this and other prohibited snails. Bourgoin encouraged any schools, education programs, pet shops or members of the public that might have these snails to immediately contact the Department’s Division of Plant Industry at 287-3891 or the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) at 945-0479. Officials from one of these agencies will make arrangements to collect the pests from across the state. Though there are currently no known GALS in Maine, the potential for damage from this pest is high. For example, in 1966, a boy smuggled three snails into Miami, Florida as pets and his grandmother subsequently released them into her garden. Seven years later, more than 18,000 snails were found. It took 10 years and more than $1 million to eradicate the pest from Florida.
Scientists 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, including most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers, and melons. GALS are illegal to import into the United States without a permit, and currently no permits have been issued.
There are also public health concerns surrounding these snails, because they are known to carry a parasite that can cause serious diseases in humans, including a rare type of meningitis. These diseases can be transferred to humans by eating raw, undercooked infected snail meat or vegetables contaminated by the snails. Humans can also be infected by handling live GALS if the snails’ secretions contact mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth. For questions concerning the health risks associated with GALS, the public can call the Bureau of Health at 800-821-5821.
The GALS are among the largest land snails in the world, growing up to 8 inches in length and 4.5 inches in diameter. 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.
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