The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is asking residents to cooperate with the department in searching for the giant African land snail (GALS) in the state, following recent seizures of this plant pest in schools and pet shops in several states.
These land-based snails, which are native to Africa, can cause extensive damage to agricultural crops and natural resources, and can be a threat to human health by carrying organisms that can cause serious diseases. The even eat the paint off houses.
"Our goal is to determine if any of these snails are in North Carolina, and to eliminate them as quickly as possible," said Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb. "Given the serious damage caused by the prolific breeders, we do not want to take a chance on the snail becoming established here.
"It is extremely important that people with this type of snail contact our Plant Industry Division so it can be dealt with properly. I urge residents not to dispose of these in any outdoor areas such as yards, parks, streams or other natural settings," he added.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has confiscated more than 4,000 of these illegal snails from schools, commercial pet stores and private breeders in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio over the last several months.
To date, no GALS have been detected in North Carolina. As part of a natural survey effort, USDA requested that state regulatory officials assist in finding and removing any populations of this pest. The USDA Plant Protection Act prohibits the unauthorized importation, entry and movement of this snail without an APHIS permit. The NCDA&CS also has state regulations that prohibit the importation of these snails.
The GALS is one of the largest land snails in the world and may grow up to eight inches in length and 4.5 inches in diameter. When fully grown, the shell consists of seven to nine whorls, with a long and greatly swollen body whorl.
The brownish shell covers at least half the length of the snail. They may live as long as nine years, and contain both female and male reproductive organs. In a typical year, every mated adult can lay up to 1,200 eggs.
To assist in the survey effort, the NCDA&CS has issued notification letters to schools and pet shops across the state that may have encountered this pest.
"We are requesting that schools or other educational programs, pet shops, or members of the public notify us immediately if they suspect they may have this snail," said Dr. Ken Ahlstrom, agricultural research specialist with NCDA&CS.
Individuals are asked to call the local USDA office at (919) 855-7606, national toll-free line at (800) 703-4457, or the NCDA&CS Plant Industry Division at (919) 733-6930, or toll-free at (800) 206-9333.
For more information and photographs, visit the USDA Web page at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lps/issues/gals.html.