An invasion of Giant African Land Snails is causing havoc in parts of Florida.
The slimy creatures, which are native to East Africa, cause widespread damage to crops and buildings, while some carry thousands of “rat lungworms” which can cause meningitis if ingested by humans.
Government officials battling to stem the tide have collected more than 40,000 of the snails since they were first found in the south of the state late last year.
Large numbers of the snails, which can grow up to eight inches in length and more than four inches in width, have also infested parts of South and Central America.
Parasitic Rat lungworms use the snails as hosts.
After a rat eats an infected snail, thousands of the worms – up to 60 mm long – may grow in its brain.
If a human ingests a snail infected by the worms they can reach the brain, causing eosinophilic meningitis.
Symptoms can include headaches, numbness and spasms and in the most serious cases – death.
The snails are eaten in parts of South and Central American. Properly cooked, they are safe to eat, but they are eaten either raw or partially cooked by some communities.
They eat hundreds of types of crop, are known to cause slicks on pavements when present in large numbers and can cause damage to plasterwork on the front of buildings.
The last reported outbreak of Giant African Land Snails in Florida took place in 1966 after a boy smuggled some into Miami as pets.
It is not clear what caused the latest invasion, but eradicating them could take years.
They can grow to be 8 inches long and 4 inches around, much larger than average snail.
The species can live up to nine years, and produce more than a thousand eggs a year.
They reach maturity after a year and can produce 200-300 eggs a month. This leads to enormous infestations over a short time-scale.
The snails are listed among the world’s top 100 invasive species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Tons of the snails have been collected in Columbia and other parts of South America, while some are even reported to have been found in the Galapagos Islands.