The threat of invasive species has become familiar to Floridians, especially those living near the Everglades.
Invasive species — which are those that have been imported from other parts of the world, often by accident — can be extremely dangerous to local ecosystems. Some estimate their costs to the U.S. economy to be about $120 billion annually. Though species like kudzu and Asian carp are problematic to areas across the country, few places are as plagued with invasives as South Florida.
Trade, international tourism and international cargo all contribute to the proliferation of invasives in Florida, which is home to one of the highest numbers of exotic plant and animal species in the world. In South Florida, approximately 26 percent of all fish, reptiles, birds and mammals are exotic.
Speaking to CBS News, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said that the giant African land snail, which can grow up to eight inches long and lay 1,200 eggs a year, is the invasive species currently on his radar.
“With something like the snails we’ve got the trifecta,” said Putnam. “It carries human Meningitis, so people are concerned. It eats 500 different plants, so agriculture’s concerned. And it eats houses, so homeowners are very concerned.”
The snails, which can eat stucco, have brought together a team of 70, all engaged in the fight against it.
A simple Google search turns up dozens of results for the sale of the snails, though most seem to be in the U.K. But access to exotic pets, which owners often can’t properly take care of, is part of the problem.
Though the African land snail has gained notoriety in recent months, perhaps Florida’s most infamous invasive species is the Burmese python. Pythons can be purchased at a relatively inexpensive price, but, as is the case with many exotics, they can grow to incredible sizes — in some cases, more than 20 feet long. Those who are ill-equipped to deal with a 20-foot snake might set them loose, as many pet owners in South Florida have done, where they make their mark on a local ecosystem. Last Thursday, workers from the South Florida Water Management District captured and killed a 16-foot-long Burmese Python that had ingested a 76-pound female deer.
The key to keeping a lid on the problem, Putnam told CBS, is educating Floridians about the dangers of invasive species. ”Wherever you’re coming from, leave all that stuff behind,” he said, “because any one of those things can carry the larvae that’s going to become the fly that’s going to wipe out a $100 billion industry in our state.”
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, the last reported outbreak (and eradication) of the Giant African land snail in Florida occurred in 1966, when a boy smuggled three Giant African land snails into Miami as pets. Seven years after the boy’s grandmother released the snails into her garden, more than 18,000 snails were found, which cost the state more than $1 million and took an additional 10 years to successfully eradicate.