Giant African Snail: All About The Hermaphroditic, Baseball-Sized Pest Found In Australia

By Jason Van Hoven on March 12, 2013 12:12 PM EDT

Giant African Land Snail
According to Department of Agriculture worker Howard Wallace: "The snails are so bad in Nigeria, they actually flatten tires on cars on the road, the shells, they're so tough." (Photo: Creative Commons)

A giant African snail the size of a baseball was humanely destroyed on Tuesday after it was found crawling across the concrete at a Brisbane, Australia container yard, according to reports.

The staff at the shipping container yard called the Australian Department of Agriculture biosecurity officers to destroy the giant African snail after seeing it, and the latter will monitor the site for a week for any further activity. Luckily, they didn't find any other snails, eggs or snail trails.

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Entomologists identified the snail as a giant African snail, a species which can grow up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) long and weigh up to a kilogram (2.2. pounds) as Reuters notes. It's found throughout Africa and Asia and is capable of destroying 500 different species of crops, plants, fruit trees, native forests and even the stucco on the side of homes.

An individual giant African snail can lay up to 1,200 eggs a year after a single mating, can tolerate extreme temperatures and can live up to nine years. Paul Nixon, Acting Regional Manager at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, said that the snail is also a hermaphrodite, meaning the species can quickly spread.

"They are essentially a male-female all-in-one so they can essentially lay eggs without the need for any other snail," he said. "They can grow quite significantly but the impact for us is not so much around the growth but the extent that they can lay their eggs and breed quite prolifically."

Nixon also said that the species is native to Asian countries and rarely found in Australia, but can hitchhike on boats.

"Giant African snails are one of the world's largest and most damaging land snails," he said. "Strict biosecurity requirements have so far kept these pests out of Australia."

The last major Australian outbreak of the giant African snail was in 1977, when 300 of them were exterminated in Queensland in an intensive eight-month campaign of community education, baiting and snail collection.

If one has become such a problem in Australia, consider the following, too.

In just over a year, trappers in Florida have caught more than 114,000 giant African snails in southern Florida in an eradication effort to keep them from spreading rat lung worm, a parasite that transmits meningitis to humans, who also happen to be the number one reason the snail spreads. In the 1960s, the state spent a million dollars fighting the giant African snail after a young boy brought one home from Hawaii.

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