Florida is a hot spot for harmful and sometimes deadly invasive species and animals, from rare mosquitoes and frogs to monster-sized fish. Now, wildlife officials have found what they call "one of the most damaging snails in the world" in the Sunshine State, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recently confirmed a giant African land snail was discovered in the New Port Richey area by a gardener. These creatures are known to carry rat lungworm, a parasite that causes meningitis in humans, officials say.
While these large snails are known to consume vegetation, they're not shy about eating paint and stucco off a house if they're hungry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Experts say they can grow to the size of a fist and lay over 1,000 eggs within a year.
Giant African land snails have been in South Florida since the late 1960s, and the most recent outbreak happened in Miami-Dade County back in 2011, federal officials explain. The state claims it cost $24 million to eliminate 168,000 snails and countless eggs -- an effort that just wrapped up last year.
Now, FDACS plan on setting up bait to capture these harmful creatures on properties within 600 feet of where the last snail was spotted.
The agency asks people to wear gloves and wash their hands if they touch the snails. If you believe you spotted a giant African land snail, shoot a message to DPIHelpline@FDACS.gov. For more information about the species, check out FDACS' webpage on them.