Courtesy motnworbWe’ve seen it before. Through the years the human race has had to endure attacks by giant creatures of all sorts.
First, a humongous lizard larger than any known dinosaur crushes Tokyo and incinerates the rubble with his bad breath. Then super-sized spiders from another dimension terrorize northern Wisconsin only to be reduced to sludge by clever scientists. Later, gigantic ants run amok in New Mexico destroying property and people until the US Air Force, Navy, AND the Army are called in to destroy them. And now on top of all that, there are reports that large numbers of giant snails are terrorizing south Florida. When will this madness end?!
Of course the first three examples are pure fiction. Godzilla never really existed, spiders from another dimension can’t enter ours through wormholes, and the idea of gigantic ants is just stupid. But unfortunately the giant African snails infesting south Florida are all too real. And as you can see by the accompanying photo these suckers are huge. Some can grow up to 15 inches in length and weigh two pounds! Think of the slime trail!
These giant African land snails (Achatina fulica) are illegal in many countries including the US, but it appears some have gotten in. The snails are sometimes used in a traditional African religious ceremony where practitioners ingest their slimy gastropod juices (goodness gracious!) and word is that a woman from Africa may have smuggled them through customs under her dress in 2010. Okay.
Like many invertebrates, giant snails are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. After mating each partner can produce offspring, as many as 200 at a time, and up to 1200 a year! These things are worse than rabbits… and as big as rabbits, too.
Look at the photo again. Whoa!
Two sisters in a residential neighborhood in Miami-Dade County discovered some of the snails in their yard and showed one to a fruit fly inspector who then alerted officials at Florida’s Department of Agriculture. The agency didn’t want to bother the armed forces so they canvassed about a square mile surrounding the sisters’ house on their own and hand removed all the giant African land snails they could find. A few days later they scoured the area again and found even more.
The problem with this particular species of giant snail is that it likes to eat about 500 different types of plants, and can sometimes carry a strain of non-fatal meningitis that’s contagious to humans through contact with the gastropod (like drinking its juices – duh), so eradication of A. fulica is deemed a high priority.
This isn’t the first time Florida has been invaded by giant African land snails. In 1966, the state spent about a million bucks getting rid of 18,000 of them.
Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsBirds are known to spread plant seeds by eating them and dispersing them in their droppings. But scientists in Japan have found that some species of snails can also survive the trip through the avian digestive tract. Researchers at Tohoku University discovered that about 15 percent of the tiny snails (Tornatellides boeningi) eaten by the Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus) survived the trip through the birds gut and were dispersed in its droppings. If this can happen within an island ecology, it probably means snails and other invertebrates could be dispersed over longer distances and from one island to another or from one isolated region to another. It certainly raises new questions of species radiation. The study was done on the island of Hahajima, located 600 miles south of Tokyo, and in the lab, and the findings published in the Journal of Biogeography. (In researching this I came across this related study done by T. D. A. Cockerell 90 years ago!)
Courtesy Thomas HahmannI'm not going to get into the full parasite extravaganza here, because Wired Magazine already laid it out pretty well, but here's the general idea:
What if some worm eggs snuck into your body through something you ate (something gross)? What if one of them lodged itself in your liver, and, after a little while, started producing embryos of its own? What if it packed those embryos into giant, pulsating egg sacks that flopped out of your eye sockets and hung from your head? And what if those pulsating egg sacks looked so delicious to birds that they would flap down and eat them (and your eyes)?
It can all happen. I mean, you'd have to be a snail for it to happen to you, but still... Leucochloridium paradoxum is out there.