Yuck! Invasive species may be nothing new to those living in the Great Lakes region -- who over the last few decades have had to deal with zebra mussels, rusty crayfish, and, more recently, asian carp -- but this newcomer may be the grossest of them all.
It's known as the giant African land snail. That's the name given to three species of snails native to Africa that can grow to the size of a typical adult's fist. The monumental molluscs are considered to be among the most "damaging" types of snails in the world and can eat as many as 500 types of different plants, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In addition, their appetites for materials like stucco and plastic can also do damage to homes and other infrastructure.
Their rate of reproduction is also a concern, as the androgynous creatures can lay up to 1,200 eggs a year. And, if that wasn't enough already, the animals can also pose a health risk, due to the possible presence of a parasite, called rat Lungworm, that can cause meningitis in humans.
Lately, the critters have been rampaging through southern Florida. Over 117,000 have been captured in the region, since their latest incursion was first noticed in 2011, according to Reuters.
"They're huge, they move around, they look like they're looking at you ... communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that," Denise Feiber, a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokeswoman told the news agency. "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.
The Michigan Department of Community Health has been warning state residents about them for almost a decade. A state-issued factsheet says teachers often bring them into classrooms -- unaware of their risks. It warns that they've been spotted throughout the Great Lakes region.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently discovered and confiscated illegal giant African land snails from commercial pet stores, schools and one private breeder in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. Some of these snails have also been discovered in Michigan. These snails are being used increasingly for science lessons in schools by teachers who are unaware of the risks associated with the snails and the illegality of possessing them."
The state of Michigan, which has outlawed the molluscs, urges those may have seen one to call the USDA’s giant African snail toll-free hotline at (888) 703-4457.