FORT MYERS, Fla. — Giant African land snails have been found in Lee County, first reported by a resident in Fort Myers. They may seem harmless, but officials say they pose a serious risk to our environment.
The snail can eat at least 500 different types of plants, potentially hurting our agriculture and natural areas.
"They were pretty big," said Andrzej Wiszniewski, who found a snail earlier this year. "The live ones, yeah I saw a couple times."
They first started showing up off East Riverside Drive near Palm Beach Boulevard back in December 2022.
Wiszniewski caught one on video while walking his dog, not knowing its potential harm.
"The dogs were just playing and it was afraid," he said. "Usually the dogs will sniff it."
Both Wiszniewski and Richard Thompson, another resident, didn't know they were a problem.
"Snails are usually innocuous," Thompson said. "Evidently these creatures are creating a mess."
A mess Bryan Denson, Deputy Director of the state's Division of Plant Industry, says they are working to clean up.
"We treat the positive properties with live snails on them with molluscicide," he said. "They [snails] are known to carry the parasite rat lungworm, which causes meningitis."
Residents have already seen teams from the Florida Department of Agriculture spray the area and lots adjacent to it.
"They try to find them and then they do spray everywhere," Thompson said. "They’ve been here twice, maybe at least three times since the last several months."
Denson says besides spraying, they also do a survey to see if they are actually in the area.
"With such a low population, our first assumption is there must be a larger population somewhere, and we did not find that fortunately in Lee County," he explained.
They do have the area in quarantine, which does not impact residents. Denson says it's mainly for nurseries, landscapers or people that move yard debris and compost.
The department will continue treating the area for the next two years. This is because the snails have the ability to go underground for weeks or months, depending on the weather.
They're still treating New Port Richey, an area in Pasco County where the snails were found back in June 2022.
They were also found in Miami-Dade County from 2011-2021.
"It's a very strange situation," Thompson said.
If you see a giant African land snail, do not touch it. You're asked to report it by calling 1-888-397-1517.
Denson says when the snails were found in Miami, they were able to narrow down core locations because of the public. Every major location was found due to reports from residents.