03/12/2013 06:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Giant African Snail Killed In Australia To Protect Native Agriculture

A "baseball-sized" giant African snail that was found in Australia has been killed by country officials who say the animal posed a mammoth threat to local flora.

"Giant African snails are one of the world's largest and most damaging land snails," Paul Nixon, acting regional manager at Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, said in a statement, according to the Brisbane Times. "Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements and responsive system has so far kept these pests out of Australia and we want to keep it that way."

According to Australia's ABC News, the large mollusk was recently found "crawling across the concrete at a Brisbane container yard." Seized and later identified as a giant African snail by entomologists, the animal has been "humanely destroyed" by biosecurity officers.

Native to East Africa, giant African snails are considered by the Invasive Species Specialist Group to be one of the 100 worst invasive species on the planet. The Brisbane Times writes that the pest is "capable of destroying 500 types of plants including vegetable crops, fruit trees and Australia’s native eucalypts."

According to Reuters, the snail -- which can grow up to 12 inches long and 2.2 pounds in weight -- can "lay 1,200 eggs a year, tolerate extreme temperatures and has few natural enemies in Australia." The animal is also capable of carrying a strain of meningitis, a potentially fatal disease.

To get a sense of the scale of these animals, check out this undated AP photograph of two giant African snails (story continues below):

giant african snail
(Credit: AP/Scott Burton)

This isn't the first time that unwanted giant African snails have caused a scare. In 2011, Florida officials announced that they were waging a battle against the virulent pest.

"It's us against the snails," Richard Gaskalla, director of plant industry at the Florida Department of Agriculture, told NPR's "All Things Considered" at the time.

In an April 2012 blog post, the USDA wrote that more than 40,000 of the giant snails -- which are said to be "prohibited for both interstate movement and importation into the U.S." -- had been captured in Florida over the course of six months.

"Everyone can help protect our precious resources and preserve our agricultural heritage by leaving hungry pests behind. When people are boating, fishing, birdwatching, hiking or even just cooking out in the backyard, there is an opportunity to fight invasive pests," the blog post continued.

For more information on invasive species in the United States, go to hungrypests.com or invasivespeciesinfo.gov.



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