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AFRICAN SNAILS ATTACK STUCCO CLAD HOMES
Many Florida home owners are complaining of stucco damage being caused by large African Snails. That’s right, this exotic breed of snails unknowingly brought to this country as either pets or traveling stowaways from Africa has found that it loves to eat hardcoat stucco for the calcium that makes their shells grow stronger. I was amazed to learn of these snails, amazed to see their size, amazed to learn of their stucco appetite, and then most thankful the Northern Utah is NOT a tropical hot climate that would sustain their growth.

Florida battles slimy invasion by giant snailsWanted Snails

  • * "A slick mess"
  • * Enjoy feasting on stucco
  • * Latest snail invasion began in 2011

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla. - South Florida is fighting a growing infestation of one of the world's most destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail, which can grow as big as a rat and gnaw through stucco and plaster.

More than 1,000 of the mollusks are being caught each week in Miami-Dade and 117,000 in total since the first snail was spotted by a homeowner in September 2011, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Residents will soon likely begin encountering them more often, crunching them underfoot as the snails emerge from underground hibernation at the start of the state's rainy season in just seven weeks, Feiber said.

The snails attack "over 500 known species of plants ... pretty much anything that's in their path and green," Feiber said.

In some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, which are overrun with the creatures, the snails' shells blow out tires on the highway and turn into hurling projectiles from lawnmower blades, while their slime and excrement coat walls and pavement.

"It becomes a slick mess," Feiber said.

A typical snail can produce about 1,200 eggs a year and the creatures are a particular pest in homes because of their fondness for stucco, devoured for the calcium content they need for their shells.

The snails also carry a parasitic rat lungworm that can cause illness in humans, including a form of meningitis, Feiber said, although no such cases have yet been identified in the United States.

EXOTIC INVASION

The snails' saga is something of a sequel to the Florida horror show of exotic species invasions, including the well-known infestation of giant Burmese pythons, which became established in the Everglades in 2000. There is a long list of destructive non-native species that thrive in the state's moist, subtropical climate.

Experts gathered last week in Gainesville, Florida, for a Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium, to seek the best ways to eradicate the mollusks, including use of a stronger bait approved recently by the federal government.

Feiber said investigators were trying to trace the snail infestation source. One possibility being examined is a Miami Santeria group, a religion with West African and Caribbean roots, which was found in 2010 to be using the large snails in its rituals, she said. But many exotic species come into the United States unintentionally in freight or tourists' baggage.

"If you got a ham sandwich in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, or an orange, and you didn't eat it all and you bring it back into the States and then you discard it, at some point, things can emerge from those products," Feiber said.

Authorities are expanding a series of announcements on buses, billboards and in movie theaters urging the public to be on the lookout.

The last known Florida invasion of the giant mollusks occurred in 1966, when a boy returning to Miami from a vacation in Hawaii brought back three of them, possibly in his jacket pockets. His grandmother eventually released the snails into her garden where the population grew in seven years to 17,000 snails. The state spent $1 million and 10 years eradicating them.

Feiber said many people unfamiliar with the danger viewed the snails as cute pets.

"They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you ... communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that," Feiber said. "But they don't realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don't have any natural enemies and they thrive." (Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE * Originally reported Sunday, April 14, 2013

YOUTUBE VIDEO - Damaging African Land Snails Can Eat Stucco

It's real: Attack of the giant African land snails in Florida

African Snail
Giant African land snails can carry a human parasite called rat lungworm, which is a form of meningitis and potentially deadly. Photo by Joe Raedle.

By Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) -- Florida, already threatened with sinkholes, now has a new terror: rat-sized, tire-puncturing snails.

Sounding like something out of a 1950s B-movie, these giant African land snails eat their way through some surprising stuff, including stucco, plastic recycling bins, signs and more than 500 species of plants, says the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Their calcium shells bear pointy edges that are sharp enough to blow out tires of vehicles that run over them.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Denise Feiber says the menacing creatures also carry a human parasite called rat lungworm, which is a form of meningitis and potentially deadly.

So far, no human cases have been reported in Florida, Feiber says. But some giant African land snails that have been captured in the state have carried the parasite.

The snails are isolated to the Miami-Dade County area, says Feiber. Experts don't know exactly how they were first introduced to the United States. It's thought they may have hitched rides aboard incoming travelers' luggage. Or some of them may have been intentionally carried into the country as pets -- and then released.

The snails have another trait in common with rats: They can multiply very rapidly -- and grow to adulthood in a year, Feiber says. The snails can produce up to 1,200 eggs per year, and they can live up to nine years.

Since agriculture officials first discovered the snail invasion in 2011, trappers have collected more than 117,000. Officials are hoping to prevent a worst-case scenario, where the snails would threaten Florida crops.

Some countries, such as Ecuador and Barbados, have run out of resources to fight these critters, Feiber said.

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE * Originally reported Monday, April 15 2013

 
 
YOUTUBE VIDEO - Giant African Land Snail eats stucco, spreads disease, kills produce

On the side of streets across Tampa Bay, white traps nestle in trees. One of the men who checks them isn't just looking for the fruit flies they kill. He's looking for slime trails, a sign the Giant African Land Snail may be nearby.

FAQ’S - Florida fights stucco-eating African snails

An epic battle is raging in South Florida: man against snail. The state is struggling to contain an invasion of the giant African land snail, a species that thrives in hot and wet tropical climates. These gooey and destructive mollusks grow up to 8.5 inches long, feast on 500 different types of plants and nibble on calcium-rich stucco, which they use to construct their cone-shaped shells.

The snails are originally from East Africa but can now be found throughout the world. Aside from destroying plants and buildings, they can also be carriers of a type of meningitis.

Trevor Smith, an entomologist, is leading the eradication effort for Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He spoke with the Los Angeles Times about the slimy invaders.

Q: How big is Florida's giant African snail problem?

A: Right now, luckily, we think we have it contained in 20 separate locations in the Miami-Dade County area. We know which properties are positive and which ones are not. At some of the locations we have collected 20,000 to 30,000 snails, while at other locations we may only find 10 or 15 snails. In total, we've collected over 118,000 snails at this point.

Q: Are you finding the snails in residential areas or in open spaces?

A: It's almost all residential areas. There are a few larger properties that might be 3 or 4 acres, but it is still mostly the typical urban Miami neighborhood - small plots of land with houses built in the '50s or '60s.

Q: Do you know how the snails arrived in the first place?

A: We don't know for sure. One possibility is the pet trade. The giant African land snail can live up to nine years in captivity, so people like to have them as pets. It could have been brought in for religious purposes - there are religious groups that use them. Also, there are some skin cream products that are popular in South America that use the slime of the snail, so it could be that. Or it could be multiple introductions. We just don't know.

Q: How long have they been there?

This is guesswork, but we think they have been here two to three years, based on the numbers, the size and the age.

Q: Why do you want to get rid of them so badly?

A: The biggest issue is that there is hardly a plant out there they won't eat. They like vegetables, fruit and landscape plants, and if you get enough of them, they can do quite a bit of damage. The second is they have to have calcium in their shell, and they are perfectly happy to climb on a wall and eat stucco. They can strip a house of stucco. Also, they can carry a parasitic nematode that can cause meningitis in humans.

And on top of all that, most people just think they are gross. They climb all over your wall, they defecate all over the place, and there is slime everywhere.

Q: They multiply very fast, right?

A: Yes. You can get a sexually mature adult in as little as five months after birth, which can then go out and produce several thousand eggs a year.

Plus, they are hermaphrodites, so when you have two snails come together to breed, you have two pregnant animals that come away from that mating. That is really an amazing adaptation.

Q: What else makes them such successful invaders?

A: They are very good at adapting to new environments because they eat so many types of plants, and because of their ability to estivate. We just went through a dry season, and they really need moisture, but all they do is create a thin film over the aperture of their shell, and they go into a hibernative state, and they can stay like that for months.

Also, they are capable of very low-level learning. For instance, if they eat a poison and it doesn't kill them, they won't eat it again. That is extremely important to treating these things. You have to have something that is strong enough to take them out the first time.

Q: When did the eradication effort begin?

A: The program started in September of 2011. After our big giant African land snail symposium in April, we decided to use some new snail baits with metaldehyde that are stronger than the bait with iron phosphate that we were using before. Now our crews are finding many more dead snails than alive ones when they go out.

Q: Isn't metaldehyde toxic to mammals too?

A: It does have some toxicity to mammals, but there is a bittering agent added to the bait. If a child or a dog ate a little bit of it, they would instantly spit it out.

Q: Does the South Florida public know it is under attack from giant snails?

A: As far as square miles go, the invasion is not a huge area, but our outreach has been extensive - it's on billboards, on the sides of buses, in movie theaters and on the radio. We want to make sure that everyone is aware of this. It is definitely on people's minds down there, no doubt about it.

Q: Invasive species are a major problem in Florida. How big of a priority is this war on the giant African land snails?

A: This snail is on our top four or five list of species that we were looking for. We knew it was coming, and when it hit, we were ready to go.

Right now we have 50 people working on the program full time, including our field crews who are hand-collecting the snails and treating the properties with insecticide every two weeks.

Q: Is this snail invasion different from other invasions you've worked on?

A: It's a little bit comparable to the fruit fly eradication - the outreach and the techniques are similar, and the ultimate goal is to completely wipe it out. But as far as the organism goes, I've never dealt with an organism quite like it. There is a lot of variation in these snails' behavior and that is what makes them so good at invading new areas - someone in the group can adapt to the new situation.

LINK TO ARTICLE  * ©2013 Los Angeles Times * Distributed by MCT Information Services * May 13th, 2013

 
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