NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are working to collect and eradicate invasive Giant African Land Snails recently found in Pasco county.

The snails pose a threat Florida’s environment, so officials mapped out a quarantine zone in New Port Richey to try to get rid of the pests.

“We are so lucky to have an experienced team ready to prevent, detect, and treat invasive threats,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Let me assure you, we will eradicate these snails. We have done it twice before, and we will do it again – it is not a question of if, but when.”

The Division of Plant Industry said it’s team of 30 people collected 1,016 snails from 29 properties. The largest one was 4.5 inches, but they can grow up to 8 inches big. The snails have a light colored cream body with a dark brown shell.

Dr. Greg Hodges is the Assistant Director of the Division of Plant Industry. He said in 1966, three Giant African Land Snails were smuggled into Miami. An outbreak was discovered three years later and an eradication program began. Over the span of seven years, 17,000 snails were found costing the state $1 million.

Then in 2011, more snails were found in Miami. A second eradication program was launched. The process spanned over a decade costing local cities and counties $23 million. On June 23rd, the pests reappeared in Pasco County.

The Giant African Land Snail is illegal to import or possess in the U.S. without a permit.

“We have recently had interceptions in Florida that were tied to the illegal pet trade,” said Dr. Hodges.

This species consumes 500 different types of plants and can feed on plaster and stucco.

“If it were to become established, it could result in a significant reduce crop fields, for many of our crops, as well as the potential of international trade implications,” Dr. Hodges said.

Part of the state’s eradication program includes a quarantine zone in Massachusetts Avenue area of New Port Richey as well as a pesticide to kill the snails.

“We have 30 personnel currently assigned to the program and our teams, even today, conducting detection through the inspection of yards,” Dr. Hodges said. “They’re hand collecting snails when they see them.”

K9 Sparkey also plays a vital role. He sits once finding a snail. The Division of Plant Industry launched the detector dog program ten years ago.

“We don’t want the K9s putting the snails in their mouth for The same reason we don’t want humans picking them up,” said Bryan Benson, Division of Plant Industry Deputy Director.

The snails carry a parasite that causes meningitis. After the snails are found, they are euthanized. The Giant African Land Snail is illegal to import or possess in the U.S. without a permit.

If you believe you saw a snail, don’t touch it. Then you can call 1-888-397-1517 to report it.