Giant African Snail

Giant African Snail: A danger to humans, pets and food crops

The Giant African Snail is just that, a giant land snail from Africa. How did it get here? No one really knows. It was first spotted in Alice Glen, Petit Valley and the infestation seemed to be isolated to this specific location. With no predators locally to keep its numbers in check, it spread to almost every corner of Trinidad.

You may be asking what is the big fuss about a snail? They are essentially very boring animals. They are slow, slimy and generally come out either in the cool of the early morning or after heavy rains. At least, that is what most are accustomed to with the local large land snail or Giant South American Snail (Megalobulimus oblongus).

Snail on steroids

Giant African Snail
The largest land snail in the world.

The Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica) is like the local one, just on steroids. Firstly, it gets larger than the local one. As a matter of fact, it is the largest land snail in the world. In its land of origin, it was a viable food source. This is why it may have ended up here in the New World, either as part of the illegal exotic pet trade or as an exotic delicacy. Its size is only matched by its appetite, it can eat even stucco and concrete.

Giant African Snail
At left is the local large land snail or Giant South American Snail and at right is the Giant African Snail.

Giant African Snail and agricultural loss

In states like Florida where this type of information is readily available, it is responsible for millions of dollars in agricultural loss annually. Farmers have always had a difficult time bringing crops to market. Having to contend with uncooperative weather patterns, predial larceny (theft), lack of labour within the agriculture industry and poor drainage. Even if they make it past these hurdles, sometimes the prices at the market are insufficient for them to turn a profit.

This is just a snapshot of the life of a farmer. As if the situation could not get any worse, there comes this foreign invader that sneaks in under the cover of darkness and steals the farmers’ crops. This snail has been documented to feed on at least 500 different plant varieties, most of which are food crops. Basically, they eat what we eat.

Giant African Snail in a papaya tree

Behaviour of the Giant African Snail

Its behaviour in Trinidad seems to be more aggressive than what is documented in other countries. The snail can be seen out during the day as high as 10 feet up an avocado tree eating the bark of the tree. To make matters worse, the snail acts as a vector for a series of parasites. According to Frontiers in Vetenery Science, “The giant African land snail is an intermediate host for several parasites including Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, Angiostrongylus costaricensis, Schistosoma mansoni, Hymenolepis spp., and Fasciola hepatica. All the above helminths, with the exception of A. abstrusus, are able to cause severe diseases in humans. Specifically, the giant African land snail is the main gastropod responsible for worldwide spread of A. cantonensis that causes human eosinophilic meningoencephalitis in Asia and Americas. Risk factors for infection in humans, pets and wildlife with those helminth parasites include the ingestion of raw or undercooked infected snails or slugs, or foods contaminated by the slime of infected snails or slugs.”

Exposure to the Giant African Snail

Humans and pets may become infected through contamination from ingesting raw or undercooked snails. Another source of infection could be linked to physical contact with the snail or its slime. Exposure can result in mild to severe symptoms and can also lead to eosinophilic meningitis. Symptoms of eosinophilic meningitis include severe headache, nuchal rigidity, vomiting, weakness and paresthesias. Fever is not prominent. Seizures and extraocular muscle palsies occur uncommonly. Cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis develops with greater than 20% of the cells being eosinophils. The illness is usually self-limited and resolves over several weeks.

How to get rid of The Giant African Snail

The Ministry of Agriculture has some tips on eradication accessible through the link below.

As documented by farmers in south Trinidad this year, snail bait does not seem to work as the snail reproduces faster than the bait is killing them. The snail breeds three times a year, and each clutch of eggs can contain up to 400 eggs. The snail also lays eggs when threatened, so the only sure way to get rid of them seems to be drowning in soapy water and then burning the bodies and freshly laid eggs.

It is safe to say that the snail is here to stay as they can be counted in the thousands and the range has extended to all parts of Trinidad. It may take some time to get rid of it, and we have to ensure that no more invasive species are introduce into the country.

Below are 2 videos courtesy the Trini Farmers group on Facebook that show the plight of local farmers that have to do battle with this pest on a daily basis.

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Photo credit http://rlebling.blogspot.com/2019/06/giant-african-snails-fake-facts.html

Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Giant African Snail. https://agriculture.gov.tt/tag/giant-african-snail/

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