Update (May 13): The Houston Chronicle reported that the snail spotted in Texas is not of the deadly African land snail variety, but actually a beneficial rosy wolf snail species, which is a predator to other garden-eating snails. Though the two species look very similar, the rosy wolf snail is considerably smaller than its African counterpart, getting to only about 2 to 3 inches long while the African snail can get as big as 8 inches long. It also has a third appendage of oral lappets used to detect other snails’ slime, then it uses its radula to grab its prey.
Health officials in Houston, Texas, are advising residents to keep an eye out for a dangerous variety of snail recently spotted in the area — but to keep their hands off.
KTVT-TV reported on Tuesday that a giant African land snail was spotted in the backyard of a west Houston home.
“They carry a parasitic disease that can cause a lot of harm to humans and sometimes even death,” Autumn J. Smith-Herron, who heads the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at Sam Houston State University, told KPRC-TV. “It causes eosinophilic meningitis.”
The disease, known as “rat lungworm,” can manifest if a snail comes into contact with human skin. The Florida Department of Agriculture reported sightings of land snails in April 2013 in the Miami area, and the state battled a full-scale infestation of 18,000 snails for nine years during the 1960s.
Besides being hazardous, the snails are also gluttonous: they eat up to 500 species of plants, as well as plastic and stucco, and can lay up to 500 eggs a month. Officials in Houston said the snail spotted there is still at large.
Watch KPRC’s report on the unwelcome visitors, aired Monday, below.