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Giant African snail
What is it?The giant African snail (Achatina fulica) is one of the world’s most destructive pests of fruit and vegetables. Growing up to 30 centimetres long and weighing up to a kilogram, it is known to eat around 500 species of plants including cocoa, papaya, peanut, rubber trees and most varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers and melons. This species has also been recorded as eating fallen fruit, garbage, human and animal excrement . . . even other giant African snails.
Giant African snails are regarded as a delicacy in many countries and deliberate introductions to new areas are probably responsible for the pest’s spread to Indian and Pacific Ocean islands.
Where is it found?
Giant African snail originated in East Africa and is now present on most Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. The species was first recorded in American Samoa in the mid-1970s: a million snails were collected by hand in 1977 during a government campaign to reduce snail numbers, and more than 26 million snails were collected over the following three years.
What are its effects?
Giant African snails are hermaphrodites, with each individual having both male and female reproductive systems. An individual snail can lay up to 1200 eggs a year after a single mating and can live up to nine years.
Although the species is tropical, it can tolerate cold or adverse conditions by retreating into its shell and remaining dormant for several months. Dormant snails can lose 60 per cent of their weight and may appear to be dead.
Apart from causing serious damage to crops and the environment, giant African snails also carry the rat lungworm parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis,which can infect humans and cause meningitis. People can become exposed to the parasite by eating raw or improperly cooked snails.
What’s the risk to Australia?
The main risk of this pest’s introduction into Australia is on plant material in or on crates, shipping containers, machinery and motor vehicles. Eggs can also be carried in soil. As well as eating a wide variety of fruit trees and vegetable crops, giant African snails have also been recorded attacking eucalypt trees and could threaten Australia’s native forests.
23 Apr 2007