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Miami Is Full Of Foot-Long Giant African Land Snails

They'll give you one shell of a scare.

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As any Will Smith fan knows, Miami has a lot to offer: It’s got half-dressed ladies, the hottest night clubs, and, apparently, a rapidly growing population of hermaphroditic foot-long bully snails. They’re called Giant African Land Snails, and when you see them, run the other way.

G.A.L.S, or Lissachatina fulica, are mollusks that grow to be at least a foot long and a pound heavy. The novelty of having a snail big enough for a baby to ride might at first entice some pet owners (the kind of people who also wear snakeskin boots and smoke out of ivory pipes, I guess) but they are in fact a destructive and dangerous pest.

Don’t let the slow moving reputation of regular snails  fool you — GALS have spread rapidly throughout the US, and they’ve spent their time here enjoying a variety of delinquent activities.

The snails have been known to cause car wrecks, devour indigenous vegetation, eat the stucco off houses for a source of calcium, eat each other when stucco just won’t do, ruin neighborhoods with their enormous stucco poops, and spread diseases to humans. Oh yeah, they also have both male and female sex organs, so we’re powerless to stop them from multiplying.

The monsters’ first stop in the US was Hawaii, where biologist Robert Cowie says they would come out on the road on rainy days to cause accidents (and presumably try to devour the victims.)

“On a rainy day, when the snails all came out and crawled all over the road,” says Cowie, “the cars would squish them and cars would end up skidding on the squished snail. Dead, crushed snail and slime, sort of all mish-mashed together by the cars. So that was when Hawaii got serious about trying to control them. And we’ve not been successful.”

Hawaii isn’t the only state that’s battling the invaders. The snails were unfortunately introduced to Florida in the 1960s, and since then the state has sunk millions of dollars into eradicating the snail problem, even dedicating fifty full-time staffers to their destruction.

Right now the epidemic is confined solely to Miami, but that doesn’t mean we should be relieved. In two years alone around 137,000 Miami specimens were collected, and Cowie predicts the problem could spread to colder gulf states like Georgia if the snails aren’t better contained.

In the meantime, the state advises people to take safety precautions. If you’re thinking that these bad boys look kind of tasty, stop! The snails are carriers of rat lungworm, which is just as bad as it sounds and has been known to cause meningitis in humans. It’s possible to even be exposed to the virus without knowing you’re consuming snail. Says Cowie, ” cooks don’t always peel apart the lettuce before chopping it. And it could just as well be a little baby African snail.”

Also, and I know you’re considering this, do not cut the snails open and drink their mucus. Even if it’s part of your religion! Somebody did it in 2010, and Cowie believes that certain religious ceremonies (Santeria in particular)  in which participants drink the snails’ mucus for its healing properties — and then usually become violently ill — may be one reason why the ferocious beasts are still around.

So what can you do to protect your country? Cowie and the Florida Department of Agriculture recommend handling snail sightings by simply using store-bought snail poison and calling a help hotline. We would also recommend brandishing a giant cross at them and screaming “out, devil!”

(via Wired, image via joysaphine)

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