A slimy invasion is still oozing through Miami, and we aren't talking about South Beach club-loving tourists. State agriculture officials announced Wednesday they have now captured a total of 78,000 giant African land snails since the current infestation was discovered last September.
But unfortunately, experts say the invasive species could take another 2-3 years to banish from South Florida -- and CBS Miami reports the fight has already cost the state $2.6 million.
"We know we can get rid of this invasive pest, it's just going to require alot of effort," Division of Plant Industry Director Richard Gaskalla told NBC 6. The channel reports 50 snail inspectors spread out every day in Miami-Dade, armed with organic bait.
One of the largest snails in the world, the giant African land snail (or GALS, as the state calls them) can reach up to 8 inches in length and nearly 5 inches in diameter. Making them unusually difficult to eradicate, the persistent critters can live up to nine years, enjoy both male and female reproductive organs, and reproduce faster than rabbits: each snail can lay about 1,200 eggs per year. GALS also eat stucco, threaten more than 500 crops, and carry a parasite charmingly called 'rat lungworm' that can transfer a strain of meningitis to humans.
Miami-Dade last fought off a GALS invasion in 1966 when a boy brought three of them from Hawaii as pets, according to the Associated Press. It took 9 years to collect 18,000 snails, costing the state $1 million.
Though no one is entirely sure how the current crew of multiplying mollusks got their start, theories run quintessentially Miami: a Florida Department of Agriculture official said the USDA is investigating links to Santeria, and according to the Miami Herald there is speculation it is related to a smuggling case last year in which a woman claiming to be an African priestess hid snails in her clothes on flights to Miami for use in an Orisha snail juice-drinking ritual that left several followers violently ill.
The new infestation was first spotted near Coral Gables, then spread swiftly to northwest and southwest Miami, Hialeah, Kendall Hammocks, and beyond. According to a recent survey map, the sluggish invaders have made it as far as 23 miles from the first sighting -- 5 miles further since December -- but have yet to be spotted outside Miami-Dade County.
Most of the 78,000 nightmare-sized snails have been captured thanks to the public reporting sightings to a special snail hotline. Workers then ID and collect the snails before taking them off to be frozen to death.
"If we do this over and over again, in two or three years I think we can come back and say we are very close to eradicating the Giant African Land Snail," Gaskalla said.