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The Wild Beast Invasion Of Florida

By James Donahue

I remember when Florida was a retirement meca for Northern America "snowbirds" who fled the harsh winters and spent their winters basking in southern sunshine. It still attracts the older set, but not so much these days.

That is because Florida has been a target for Atlantic hurricanes and migrating biting insects like the Florida yellow fly, chiggers, mosquitoes that carry the dreaded dengue fever, and more recently the giant "gallinipper" mosquito that attacks with bites like a knife stab even in broad daylight.

There are the poisonous brown recluse and black widow spiders, the furious red ants, biting flies and no-seums, wood ants and the ever active colonies of termites that secretly devour buildings from the inside.

Other new invaders to the Florida wilderness have been the giant pythons, brought in as pet snakes but released in the wild after they grew too large, a rash of wild boars, swarms of sharks in those warm coastal waters, and balls of crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2007.

Other frightening newsmakers in the past months have been the giant sinkholes that are threatening humans, homes and perhaps entire towns.

But now comes the latest pest . . . the giant African land snail. This invasive mollusk, first discovered in September, 2011, breeds by the thousands, can grow as bit as a rat, gnaw through stucco and plaster, eats almost everything green, and has no natural enemies. Researchers say they are capturing more than 1,000 of these creatures a week in Miami-Dade, and they say the invasion will soon be much worse.

Once driven from the ground during the spring rainy season, people will be stepping on these big snails, crushing them under their tires on the local roads, and sending them flying in pieces when attempting to mow their lawns.

In Caribbean countries also overrun by these snails, they said the shells are sharp enough to blow out tires. When hit by lawnmower blades, the shells fly like bullets and the slime from the rest of the creature slams into walls, sidewalks and pavement. It all amounts to a slimy mess.

There is yet another worrisome problem linked to the giant snails. They are known to carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause a form of meningitis in humans.

A Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium was recently held in Gainesville where experts discussed this latest invasion and ways to eradicate them. One plan is to use a special bait recently approved by the federal government.