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Messages Warn of 'Deadly Giant Snails' In Texas

Circulating messages warn that deadly giant snails have been found in Houston, Texas.

Giant African Land Snail

© Isselée

Brief Analysis
Initial reports indicated that one giant African land snail had been discovered by a woman in her Houston, Texas garden and authorities suspected that more might be found in the area. However, later reports reveal that the snail was actually a Rosy Wolf Snail rather than a giant African snail. Nevertheless, the African snails have been in other parts of the United States for many years. The giant African snails are indeed potentially "deadly" in the sense that people who touch them could contract a potentially fatal form of meningitis. Some of the more breathless headlines and warnings give the false impression that the snails are actually attacking people.

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Deadly giant snails found in Houston!! Don't go near them!!!

Giant African Land Snails

Detailed Analysis

Various messages warning users about deadly giant snails in Texas are currently traveling rapidly via social media and blog posts. The warnings are derived from valid news media reports about a potential disease threat posed by the snails.

After a Houston woman found was was initially identified as a giant African land snail in her garden, authorities in the area began warning residents not to touch any such snails that they came across. It is not, as could be construed from some of the more sensational headlines, that the snails are apt to attack humans directly. The "deadly" reference relates to the fact that the snails like to munch on rat feces and via that vector can pass a from of - potentially fatal - meningitis onto humans who touch them.

But, it turns out the initial sighting was in fact a case of mistaken identity. explains:

It looks like the Giant African Snail that was discovered in Houston, Texas, was actually a Rosy Wolf Snail, which is native to North-America (it is considered an invasive species in some places, like Hawaii, but not in Texas).

So it seems that the panic was unfounded. That said, the giant African snails have been in other parts of the United States for many years. Information about the snails available on the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species notes:

In 1966, three giant African snails were introduced to Florida (illegally) as pets in a home in Miami. The snails were released into the garden without knowledge of their damage potential. Within a short time of 7 years, 18,000 giant African snails were present in Florida costing the state $1 million in efforts to eradicate the species. The giant African snail has been declared illegal to sell and own as a pet in the United States due to the risks associated with the animal. Confiscations have been made in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois from pet stores that were illegally selling the giant snails as pets. Other snails have been confiscated from schools due to teachers using them as teaching tools without being aware of the potential dangers and illegality of owning the animal.

But the Institute also points out that although the possibility is present the risk of contracting the disease from the snails in the United States is low and no infected snails have so far been confirmed in the United States.

Nevertheless, people should certainly heed warnings not to touch the snails should they encounter any.

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Last updated: May 9, 2013
First published: May 9, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
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