About 280 giant African land snails have been caught in western Davie over the past four weeks, but the infestation appears to be confined to a few properties, the Florida Department of Agriculture said Friday.
The department, which is trying to prevent the fist-sized mollusks from reaching South Florida’s farms, said an intensive search on a one-mile radius around the site of the original discovery found no snails beyond a few properties in the immediate area.
The snails were found on five properties, two on Southwest 20th Street and three on Southwest 136th Avenue.
“We think it’s pretty well contained in that one neighborhood,” said Mark Fagan, spokesman for the department. “We continue to go out a mile from the original find, and we’re not finding any.”
The snails were the first ones ever discovered in Broward County, a worrisome but expected expansion of their range from the original infestation sites in Miami-Dade County.
After being caught, the snails were sent by truck to the Florida Department of Agriculture’s facility in southern Miami-Dade County, where they are frozen to death, crushed and taken to a landfill.
First discovered in South Florida in 2011 near Douglas Park in Miami, the huge snails have been taken extremely seriously by state agriculture officials, who have deployed 50 workers in Miami-Dade County to root them out with rakes and treat infested areas with chemicals.
The snails carry a parasite that causes meningitis. No person has contracted the disease from them so far, but a German shepherd is believed to have been infected. The snails eat plaster and stucco to replenish their shells, making them a threat to houses. And they can consume more than 500 types of plant.
They have not yet reached the farmlands of southern Miami-Dade County, which produce tomatoes, okra, peppers, avocados and other crops, officials have said. But they have come close, and in other countries that they have infested they have multiplied quickly and overrun farmlands.
Native to Nigeria and adjacent countries, the snails were imported into the Miami area by practioners of Ifa Orisha, a Santeria-like religion in which devotees consume soup made from the snail. Others came in as pets. Imports into the United States are now banned.
Despite the good news that the snails appear not to have spread far, the Agriculture Department plans to keep checking the neighborhood for at least two years.
“There is a lot of natural habitat for these snails and a lot of hiding places,” Fagan said. “Today we found six adult snails in less than 10 minutes.”
They will also treat the properties in the area with chemicals to kill any they don’t catch.
The department has asked the public to report any possible sightings. Many of the reports are false, particularly from sites near canals, where the snail in question usually turns out to be a native apple snail, Fagan said.