Synonym(s): Achatina fulica
The giant African snail can most readily be recognized by its large size with elongated shells at least 2 inches in length and averaging the size of an adult human fist when the snails are mature. Giant African snails that are found in the United States can be one of three species: giant African snail (Lissachatina fulica), giant Ghana tiger snail (Achatina achatina), and the West African snail (Archachatina marginata). All three species of snails are terrestrial and can reach up to 8 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. The shells of the snail are darker colored with striped markings covering half of the shell or more; the dark banding goes lengthways.
Ecological Threat: Giant African snails are highly capable of becoming agricultural threats due to their large size and foraging behavior. As hearty and aggressive mollusks, giant African snails pose the largest threat to damaging food crops grown all over the United States. The giant African snail, Lissachatina fulica, is considered to be one of the most damaging snails in the world. With enormous appetites, the giant African snail is known to eat over 500 species of plants when fruits and vegetables aren't available. When adequate vegetation isn't available in the form of fruits or vegetables the giant African snail will consume ornamental plants, tree bark, or stucco on houses.
They also pose a health risk for humans and should not be consumed as food or handled. Snails from this family are known carriers of the parasite (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), which transmits eosinophilic meningitis. However, no infected snails have been confirmed in the United States. Giant African snails become infected with this parasite by consuming infected rat feces. The risk of transmitting this disease in the United States is low, but the possibility is still present.
To learn more about Angiostrongylus cantonensis click here
Biology: Like most snails, the giant African snail contains both male and female parts in one individual (hermaphroditic). While this does not mean snails can mate with themselves, it does mean that any individual can mate with an other individual - males and females don't have to wait to run into each other. This allows for rapid breeding potential of 100 to 400 eggs laid per season with up to 1,200 eggs laid in one year due to the high reproductive potentials of the male and female organs.
History: In 1966, three giant African snails were introduced to Florida (illegally) as pets in a home in Miami. The snails were released into the garden without knowledge of their damage potential. Within a short time of 7 years, 18,000 giant African snails were present in Florida costing the state $1 million in efforts to eradicate the species. The giant African snail has been declared illegal to sell and own as a pet in the United States due to the risks associated with the animal. Confiscations have been made in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois from pet stores that were illegally selling the giant snails as pets. Other snails have been confiscated from schools due to teachers using them as teaching tools without being aware of the potential dangers and illegality of owning the animal. May also arrive accidentally in cargo.
U.S. Habitat: All three species that can be found in the United States are terrestrial, but they prefer moist areas. Giant African snails can be found in areas that are moist and contain adequate vegetation for food consumption. Like most snails, the giant African snail can be found in gardens or fields of cultivated crops where water is regularly supplied. Native to warm and tropical climates, the giant African snail thrives where it is warm. However, it is capable of surviving in colder northern states by hibernating through the winter months.
Native Origin: East Africa
U.S. Present: FL, HI
Distribution in Texas: Possible sightings in Texas (yet to be confirmed).
If you believe you have found a giant African snail please report this species immediately!
Because they are both large snails, applesnails (Pomacea maculata) might be mistaken for giant African snails. However, applesnails' shells are rounded and have dark banding that goes across the shell, while giant African snails have elongated shells that have dark banding that goes lengthwise. In addition, applesnails are aquatic and typically only leave the water to climb structures to lay their pink egg cases, while giant African snails are terrestrial.
Local wildlife authorities are working to enforce prevention and early detection as the primary method of managing the giant African snail. It is important to notify local wildlife authorities by using this link (or call the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at 1-800-703-4457) if you find a snail that has a shell that is 2 inches or larger. Native snails are never larger than 2 inches in length and will be obviously smaller than the invasive giant African snail. It is important to remove any snails that have been released and prevent further release of the the giant African snail so it does not become established in new areas.
African Land Snail Fact Sheet - provided by michigan.gov
Bequaert, J. C. 1950. Studies in the Achatininae, a group of African land snails. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College 105(1):1-216.
Capinera, J. L., & White, J. 2011. Terrestrial snails affecting plants in Florida. Featured Creatures.
Meyer, W. M., & Cowie, R. H. 2010. Invasive temperate species are a threat to tropical island biodiversity. Biotropica, 42(6):732-738.
Thiengo, S. C., Faraco, F. A., Salgado, N. C., Cowie, R. H., & Fernandez, M. A. 2007. Rapid spread of an invasive snail in South America: the giant African snail, Achatina fulica, in Brasil. Biological Invasions, 9(6):693-702.
Venette, R. C., & Larson, M. 2004. Mini risk assessment, giant African snail, Achatina fulica Bowdich (Gastropoda: Achatinidae). Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, St Paul (US).
USDA APHIS PPQ. National Invasive Species Information Center. Animal Profile: Giant African Snail. Accessed 05 January 2012.
Giant African snail