Florida’s Unwelcome Guests
Dogs help this state battle giant snails
BY SEAN PRICE | FOR ACTION MAGAZINE
Florida is one of America’s top vacation states. The state welcomes many types of visitors. But giant African land snails are not among them.
The snails are an invasive species—an animal or a plant that moves into an area and harms native species. These snails are not like the ones you might find in your backyard. These slimy pests are the size of rats. They can eat away the walls of houses. They can also spread diseases quickly. And they like to eat many of Florida’s native plants.
So far, state officials have spent about $6 million trying to get rid of the snails. A team of 45 people has been hunting for the slimy creatures. They search on their hands and knees. They have also used traps and chemicals. And now, Florida officials have called out the dogs—Labrador retrievers, to be exact. These dogs use their noses to find the snails.
The Florida snail hunt started two years ago, when a homeowner first spotted one of the pests in Miami. The snails eat stucco and plaster used to make walls. Both have calcium that helps the snails build strong shells. Just one snail can quickly cause thousands of dollars in damage to a building.
But officials are more afraid of what the snails could do in the future. The pests could destroy farm crops. They also carry a parasite called rat lungworm. This parasite can cause a serious disease called meningitis in humans. The disease affects the tissues surrounding the brain.
The snails have no natural predators in Florida. But dogs can be taught to sniff them out. The giant African land snail has a fairly strong scent that trained dogs can track.
The snail hunt seems to be going well. About 128,000 snails have been found and destroyed. And there has been a big drop in the number of snails found each week. At one point, it was thousands. Now it’s hundreds. With help from dogs, Florida may soon have the problem licked.
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