Living with the Giant African Snail in Cuba

Introduced in Havana, there are now reports of this invasive species in the central and eastern regions of the Caribbean island and it poses significant environmental risks.

IPS-Cuba

The giant African snail is one of the largest terrestrial mollusks, although the average size of an adult specimen is between 12-15 cm and its shell can be 20cm wide. Photo: Taken from Heraldo.co

HAVANA TIMES – With exotic dimensions that can exceed the size of an adult’s fist, the giant African snail catches the attention of many people in Cuba who chase after it, adopt it as a pet or use it as bait for fishing.

However, this species that was introduced for the first time in the Cuban capital sometime between 2012 and 2014, to be used in Yoruba religious practices, is now presenting serious environmental and health risks, that are becoming more severe now that they have been spotted in the country’s central and eastern regions.

The secretions of this mollusk of African origin carry parasites that cause diseases such as eosinophilic meningitis and abdominal angiostrongyliasis, which can be fatal in humans if not promptly treated.

Even though these diseases aren’t transmitted by contact with the skin but rather with mucus membranes in the mouth, eyes or nose, people are advised to avoid interaction with this animal or to use protective gloves if need be.

Featured among the top most dangerous exotic invasive species in the world, the Lissachatina fulica can lay between 100 and 500 eggs every two or three months, and it easily adapts to new surroundings. The average life span is between five and seven years.

Like all introduced species, it doesn’t have any natural predators that can control its reproductive cycles, so populations can easily grow and they end up displacing other terrestial mollusks in the ecosystem they’ve invaded.

Cuba has one of the world’s most diverse and bio-rich land mollusk populations in the world, with over 1300 species, most of which are autochtonous, and can be seriously threatened by the presence of this invader.

In addition to this environmental impact, the giant African snail is particularly dangerous on cropland and in modified ecosystems for agriculture.

After the first populations of this mollusk were discovered in Havana’s Arroyo Naranjo municipality in 2014, others were identified in the neighboring provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque.

In late April 2019, health bodies and research centers in the Villa Clara province, in the central region, and Santiago de Cuba, in the east, confirmed to local media that this dangerous invader had made its way to both these places.

Even though national environmental and health authorities haven’t published an official protocol on how to handle and control this giant snail, IPS Cuba’s editorial team have compiled some of the recommendations announced in national media:

    -Don’t touch it with your bare hands and, if that’s not possible, wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with the snail. Don’t touch your mouth, eyes or nose.

    -Alert local health authorities about the presence of this species.

    -Don’t eat it or use it for any other end.

    -Clean up backyards and other possible habitats, keep them clean of organic waste and get rid of scraps of wood, tiles, bricks or anything else the snail might use to seek refuge.

    -Wash fruit and vegetables really well.

    -Don’t crush them, or throw them away in collective garbage dumpster.

    -Warn children and teenagers not to play with them or have them as pets.

    -If you don’t receive a response from the authorities, use gloves to get rid of it, destroy the shell, throw the remains into a plastic bag with table salt and bury them.

     -Check surrounding areas for eggs that might be buried up to 25 cm deep.

One thought on “Living with the Giant African Snail in Cuba

  • May 14, 2019 at 8:48 pm
    Permalink

    Truly a creeping threat. I enquired of Cuban biologist who lives in the Province of Artemisa whether there is a general awareness of the threat, but to date have not had a response.

    Reply

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