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Invasive Giant African Land Snail Spotted In Texas

Giant African Land Snails
(credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It's a first for Texas – and not in a good way. Officials in Houston are worried after a giant African land snail was found in someone's backyard. These are the same giant snails that have invaded south Florida: destroying vegetation and crops, and even eating through the stucco on homes.

It isn't known how the snail made its way to Texas. In the past the mollusks have been smuggled into the U.S. as pets or for religious practices. In the 1960's a Florida boy brought three snails from Hawaii to keep as pets. The infestation grew to 18,000 snails and took nine years to eradicate.

The giant African land snail, native to East Africa, is one of the world's most invasive species. In addition to having an appetite for some 500 different kinds of plants, the creatures can also be disease carrying. The snails can carry a parasitic disease called rat lungworm, which is a form of meningitis that can cause death.

According to Biology professor Marty Martin, the disease is easily spread. Martin said infection could result from something as simple as, "Kids just happen to be playing in the wrong place at the wrong time, picking up a snail, not really knowing what the risk is."

The snails eat through stucco and concrete for calcium to strengthen their shells, but those aren't the only ways they cause damage. Biologist Howard Wallace says their destructive consequences even extend to vehicles. "The snails are so bad in Nigeria that they actually flatten tires, on cars, on the roads – the shells, they're so tough."

As in Florida, Texas has no natural predator of the giant snails that can lay up to 1,200 eggs a year.

The only way to stop the snail, which can grow up to half-a-foot wide, from spreading is to capture it. Unfortunately the snail discovered in the Houston homeowner's backyard woman's backyard got away before it could be caught.

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