This is not a drill.
These massive snails are actually real — and a few years ago, they took over Florida.
Meet the giant African land snail, a species native to Kenya and Tanzania. As adults, they can grow over 8 inches in length, nearly as big as a person’s face or hand.
Due to the pet trade, these gentle herbivores have made their way into humid tropics of China, India and even the southern United States over the past 80 years, and they’re now considered one of the world’s most invasive “pests,” since they have an insatiable hunger for crops and gardens.
This, of course, is due to humans releasing their hungry pet snails into the wild. The giant snails don’t have natural predators in places like South Florida — so, until recently, populations there have boomed out of control since the 1960s.
The snails were thought to be eradicated in 1975 after a $1 million extermination project — but then, in 2011, the quirky snails returned again in full force.
Public service announcements from the Florida Department of Agriculture urged residents to report snail sightings immediately: “This is not science fiction,” the notices read. “This is real.”
These snails eat around 500 different types of plants, so “almost everything” was fair game for them in Miami, Daniel Benjamin, public information officer for the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry, told The Dodo.
“When it was at its peak, we’d find marks on the sides of houses where the snails had been eating the stucco,” Benjamin said. “Stucco contains calcium, which the snails consume to keep their shells healthy.”
Today the department is confident the issue has come to a halt, as there hasn’t been a reported snail sighting in Florida since December 2017. But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being vigilant about prevention.
Each snail has both male and female parts, which means they can mate whenever they run into another snail. One adult snail can lay around 1,200 eggs each year, which is how they come to overtake wild areas so quickly.
“Luckily, we were able to catch this early and were able to keep them out of the agricultural areas,” Christina Lawson, the department’s public information director, told The Dodo. “We have collected over 165,000 snails in the course of this [seven-year] program. For us to have them pop up again, it would most likely have be another reintroduction.”
While they typically only live five or six years in captivity — and that’s with a responsible owner who can keep up with their constant appetite and care — they can live up to 10 years in the wild, where they spend most of their days burrowed into dirt, only coming out at night.
They’re still kept as pets in some parts of the world, but they’re illegal in the U.S. in an effort to prevent more escaped pets from destroying native landscapes.
The snails surely have no idea of the frenzy they’ve caused, but one thing’s for certain: They’re so weird we can’t help but love them.
Keep slithering on, snails.