TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The purge process to remove the population of invasive Giant African Land Snails from Pasco County continues. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, the number of snails collected is now over 4,000, since first being discovered in June.
Switching reporting to a weekly update going forward, FDACS is now also telling the public how many snails collected were alive, and how many were dead. Updates will come on Mondays from Commissioner Nikki Fried.
So far, FDACS’ Division of Plant Industry has performed 1,098 site surveys in New Port Richey, where the quarantine zone for the snails is. Only 36 properties have had the presence of snails confirmed to date. Compared to the last number update published by FDACS, the number of snails collected had been close to 3,000, the newest data reported 4,332 specimens had been taken in by the department.
“The current eradication program in Pasco County including survey, treatment, quarantine and public outreach is in place for the interception of the detrimental agricultural pest, giant African land snail,” FDACS said. “Without these measures, Florida would be at risk of major impacts international and interstate trade along with the threat of significantly reduced crop yields if this pest were to establish in agricultural areas of the state.”
An FDACS spokesperson also said that the latest update also came with some good news, the number of dead snails collected was higher than the number of live ones. They say the quarantine and treatment zones have still not been expanded. Still, finding the snails is a process, as the treatment continues. FDACS said after treating an area, if living snails are still present, a property may need trimming so the chemicals used can make it to their targets.
Right now, FDACS is collecting any snails they find, alive or dead.
In previous briefings on the snail eradication process, FDACS said a full “all-clear” would take time and removal itself was sluggish. The snails, known to eat hundreds of crops, plaster, and stucco also carry parasites that can infect humans and pets with meningitis. Last week, the parasites were found in the snail specimens. The most recent one, in Miami, took 10 years to finish. Officials said even after destroying the infestation, it can take up to two years for an absolute all-clear.
In addition to the snails posing potential health hazards, Florida’s large agriculture industry is also at risk.
“Giant African Land Snail is so polyphagous that there is not a comprehensive list of plants they consume. Additionally, when an invasive pest in established in a new geographic area, the list of plants they consume tends to increase. Therefore, if GALS were to establish all Florida crops could be at risk,” FDACS said.
According to the department spokesperson, the economic effects of the snail population getting out of control could hurt the state in multiple ways.
“Because of the diversity of the plants GALS feed on paired with the fact the snails can be moved around on cargo, trade implications could affect any and all Florida crops from moving outside of the state or internationally,” FDACS said.
Going into further detail, FDACS told WFLA.com that if the snails are able to spread, other states, and even other countries, may have to impose restrictions to prevent the invasive mollusks from leaving Florida. From an economic perspective, it would also limit Florida’s ability to export agricultural goods, on top of reducing the number of crops that can grow.
The next official update on the Giant African Land Snails in Pasco County will come Monday. Residents who see a snail they think might be one of the GALS are encouraged to call the FDACS-DPI Hotline number at 1-888-397-1517.