New York City has rats, Florida has snails.
An invasive species called the giant African land snail has been steadily taking over South Florida’s Miami-Dade County ever since one was first spotted in September 2011.
The snail can grow to be the size of the rat, and is particularly annoying because it eats all kinds of plants, as well as building materials like plaster and stucco, and can carry a parasite that leads to meningitis in humans.
Snails are typically only a few inches long, but this one can grow up to 8 inches long and 4 inches wide, or to about the size of a rat.
The Florida Department of Agriculture considers the giant snail to be one of the most damaging snails in the world for several reasons.
First, they eat at least 500 different types of plants, so their invasion has been devastating to the state's agriculture.
Lastly, the snails can carry a parasite know has the rat lungworm, which gets left behind in a trail of slime as the snail moves.
The parasite can lead to meningitis in humans if someone who has handled a snail or come into contact with a fresh slime trail puts their hand near their mouth.
The snails are originally from east Africa, but have made their way to the states through travellers' luggage or agricultural products.
More than 1,000 of the snails are collected in Miami-Dade County each week, a Florida official told told Reuters.
And the worst is yet to come. The start of Florida's rainy season during the next two months will bring the snails out from underground.
Here's the life stages of the snail from egg to full-grown. If you see a snail, you're supposed to report it to Florida's Agriculture Department.
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