The giant African land snail is a general term used to describe three different species: the giant Ghana snail (Achatina achatina), the giant African snail (Achatina fulica) and the giant West African snail (Archachatina marginata). You can recognise them by their extreme size, which can be as big as an adult fist, and their shell colouring, which is light brown with darker brown vertical stripes. They are capable of hibernation, depending on weather conditions.
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In times of drought, African land snails withdraw into their shells and excrete a compound that seals the entrance. This substance is impenetrable to water. In this way, snails maintain the moist environment they need to survive. They can live like this for up to three years. This hibernationlike state is called aestivation. Snails can also survive cold temperatures. They react by becoming slow and sluggish until the temperature increases. This also delays their sexual maturity.
It is illegal to keep African land snails as pets or in schools in the continental United States. This is because they are a highly invasive species with an extremely wide-ranging and voracious appetite. They present a serious risk to food crops if they become an established pest. They also present a risk of infection because they can carry a parasite that causes meningitis. The risk is small, though, as the parasite is passed on through eating the raw or undercooked snail slime.
African land snails are hermaphrodites, which means each individual has male and female sex organs. They reproduce rapidly, laying 100 to 400 eggs in one session. They reach adult size and sexual maturity at six months and are fertile for roughly the next 400 days, after which their fertility declines. They continue to grow, though more slowly. Eggs hatch within five to 21 days, depending on the temperature. African land snails have a life expectancy of five or six years in captivity.
History in the United States
So far, African land snails have not become established as a pest in the continental United States, although they have spread to Hawaii. In 1966, a young boy brought three snails back to Miami. His grandmother later released them into her garden and within 7 years the population grew to 18,000. The state of Florida spent £0.6 million and took 10 years to rid itself of this pest.
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