200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 6: “Invasion of the Giant Snails ”

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photo of giant african snail on a hand
African Giant Snail (Achatina fulica)

Invasion of the Giant Snails

One of the most disruptive invasive species anywhere is the giant African snail, a large land snail that is native to East Africa. Sometimes introduced as a food source and sometimes farmed to produce cosmetic creams, the giant African snail is spreading throughout southern and eastern Asia, the Pacific Basin, the West Indies, and South America. This snail has wreaked havoc on agriculture, tourism, and ecosystems. It also may transmit the rat lungworm, a type of parasitic roundworm. When the larvae of the rat lungworm are ingested through undercooked snails or contaminated water or vegetables, they can cause a type of meningitis that may lead to nervous system damage or, in rare cases, death in the very young, the old, or those with compromised immune systems.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to protect the continental United States from invasion and is building strategies to prevent these snails from spreading to other countries. This program is centered in the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Malacology Laboratory at the Academy. The program utilizes the Department’s vitally important collections to identify suspect snails that are intercepted at American seaports and airports and throughout the world.

What else can shells tell us about the creatures that inhabit them? Search the Academy’s Malacology Collection website to find out more about our scientists' work.

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