24
Sat, Feb

Giant African land snails invading Cuba

Typography

Kennedy couldn’t manage it in 1961, but someone else has. According to the BBC, Giant African Land Snails have been spotted on Cuban soil, which is bad news for native molluscs in the island nation as well as numerous plants. As if that weren’t bad enough, they also pose a health risk to people. This is one invasion Cubans definitely want to stop in its tracks, and for once the CIA has absolutely nothing to do with it.

These snails have a number of characteristics that make them a formidable problem in regions where they’ve been introduced, which includes parts of Asia, Central America, and the US. For starters, they’re big. Really big. Giant African Snails typically grow up to eight inches long, and they’ve been known to get even bigger. They lay hundreds of eggs every month, with a very high hatch rate, ensuring that once a few snails make land, they can quickly spread across a region and they’re extremely difficult to stop — in part because applying molluscicide would kill other species. Also introducing predators is also problematic because all of the snail’s natural predators would be more likely to pick on smaller, vulnerable native species.

Kennedy couldn’t manage it in 1961, but someone else has. According to the BBC, Giant African Land Snails have been spotted on Cuban soil, which is bad news for native molluscs in the island nation as well as numerous plants. As if that weren’t bad enough, they also pose a health risk to people. This is one invasion Cubans definitely want to stop in its tracks, and for once the CIA has absolutely nothing to do with it.

These snails have a number of characteristics that make them a formidable problem in regions where they’ve been introduced, which includes parts of Asia, Central America, and the US. For starters, they’re big. Really big. Giant African Snails typically grow up to eight inches long, and they’ve been known to get even bigger. They lay hundreds of eggs every month, with a very high hatch rate, ensuring that once a few snails make land, they can quickly spread across a region and they’re extremely difficult to stop — in part because applying molluscicide would kill other species. Also introducing predators is also problematic because all of the snail’s natural predators would be more likely to pick on smaller, vulnerable native species.

The snails are also indiscriminate eaters, comfortable mowing through hundreds of plant species, including fragile varieties indigenous to relatively small regions. They tend to out-compete native snails and other small animals for fodder, which then leads to a drop in biodiversity. In countries like Cuba, that’s an especially acute problem. Islands typically have extremely unique flora and fauna, the result of divergent evolution reflecting thousands of years of separation from the mainland. When an invasive species like the Giant African Snail arrives, it can wreak havoc on the environment.

Some of the snails appear to have traveled to Cuba and other regions of the world via mysterious means, though hitchhiking on cargo ships is the likely cause. Others, unfortunately, have been deliberately introduced, usually by people who want to keep them as pets. Once their owners tire of them, they may release them into the wild, mistakenly believing that they’ll fit in with indigenous species, and the problem snowballs from there. Moreover, some carry a parasitic nematode linked to meningitis in humans, and they can make their handlers potentially fatally ill. Not quite the kind of pet you want to bring home, but some dealers continue to sell them and others smuggle them in.

Giant African land snail image via Shutterstock.

Read more at ENN Affiliate Care2.