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MIAMI – Giant snails have invading homes in Miami, destroying houses and… killing dozens of residents!

Miami authorities are struggling to wipe out an invasion of Giant African Snails that are munching on plants, destroying houses and attacking humans.  Last week, a pair of sisters tipped off officials to the slimy creatures, which can grow up to 10 inches long by 4 inches wide, and lay roughly 12o,o00 eggs a year. “I had never seen anything like it,” says one frightened resident. “ We are under attack!”

Originating in East Africa, the snails are highly destructive and usually illegal in the US. The current snail infestation and attack may be related to a smuggling case last year in which a Florida man was accused of flying in the snails for an African religious ritual. For now, state employees are going house-by-house and bagging the mollusks by gloved hand. So far they’ve found about 50,000 of them, which will be placed in freezers for a “humane death,” one official says.

In southwest Miami, a small subdivision is being called “ground zero” of an invasion by a destructive, non-native species. They are wreaking havoc  destroying property and attacking humans.

“It’s us against the snails,” Richard Gaskalla, head of plant industry for Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

The Giant African Land Snail can grow to be 10-30 inches long. They leave a slimy trail of excrement wherever they go. They harbor the microscopic rat-lung worm, which can transmit meningitis to humans.  They will literally eat your house and crawl into your brain and eat it.

“They’ll attach to the side of the house and eat the stucco off the side of the house,” Gaskalla says. The snails are also attracted to garbage and pet food that’s been left out.

Giant African Land Snails are restricted in the US. Gaskalla says people often smuggle them into the country in their pockets, because they make popular novelty pets.

“Back in 1965 we had an introduction that was traced back to an elementary-aged child that had put two of them in his pocket in Hawaii and brought them back to Miami,” Gaskalla says. “Seventeen-thousand snails, a million dollars, and ten years, we eradicated them.”

A more recent introduction several years ago was traced to small religious sects in Miami, where the snails are believed to harbor healing properties.

Dr. Ivan Vargas, a leading malacologist from Stanford University, has  flown to Miami to try to help authorities eradicate the snails.

“A young woman had come in with some bad headaches and we had to take fast action to save her,” said Vargas.  “We extracted the snail from her brain, through her ear, but others  that came in weren’t so lucky.”

Fifty-nine residents have been attacked and there have been five deaths.

“I’ve never seen snails so… deadly,” said Vargas.

Authorities are asking residents not to handle the creatures. Anyone who finds a suspicious snail is advised to call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services help line.  Volunteers will ID and collect the snails before taking them to be killed in a freezer.

“That’s sort of a kinder, gentler way to get rid of them,” Gaskalla explains.

Other residents want the Army to bring in Snail Tanks to attack the snails and blow them “the hell out of Miami!” as one resident put it.