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They are as big as rats, have an irrepressible hunger and wherever they go they leave behind a long trail of drool. Forget about the snails you see coming out of the blue on rainy days. We are talking about African giant snails (Achatina Fulica).

Native to East Africa but also widespread in Hawaii, they are considered one of the most destructive invasive species. For this they have been included in the list of "100 alien species in the habitat in which they are" most harmful in the world. On their menu there are over 500 species of plants, but they are also fond of plastic, stucco (which they use as a source of calcium to reconstruct their shell), tires and in general of anything green on their path.

These snails easily equal the size of a mouse and can reach 21 centimeters in length. Many specimens of this snail species have invaded several countries in South America and the US state of Florida.

A specimen of the genus Achatina discovered while illegally entering Australia.

The largest species, Achatina achatina, reaches a weight of 1 kg and can have a shell more than 20-25 centimeters long.

But Achatina fulica is also extra large (with a dozen centimeters shell), which has an extraordinary appetite: it is considered a scourge for agriculture, devouring 500 plant species ranging from cocoa to beans to papaya. Originally from Africa, this snail has now spread to Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands.

A specimen of African giant snail (Achatina fulica) and a common garden snail compared.

To import them illegally for the first time from Hawaii to the United States was a young man from Miami in 1966. The boy, given the size and propensity of shellfish to interact with humans, wanted to keep the three specimens collected as pets, but the grandmother freed them in the garden, giving rise to a plague for agriculture that took 10 years and a million dollars to be eradicated. The danger seemed to have escaped, when in 2011 and then in 2013 the authorities witnessed a new spread.

An average adult reaches the size of the specimen in the photo. These animals survive for up to 9 years and mate continuously: with female and male reproductive organs, they can also produce 1200 eggs in a year. In Barbados, where they are more widespread, they come to puncture the tires of cars with their shells and turn into real bullets when they are fired into the air by the rotating blades of lawnmowers.

Contrary to what the man in the picture is doing, it is better not to come into direct contact with these molluscs, which can carry parasites and transmit serious forms of tropical meningitis.

You give her your hand, you also take your arm. It is not difficult for the inhabitants of the places where these molluscs are found to find one of these omnivorous devourers in the home: the stucco of the walls is a source of calcium for African snails and contributes to the reconstruction of the shell.

An African giant snail (Achatina achatina) with the characteristic striped motifs of the shell.

The trace of burr left by these animals is becoming a serious problem for the inhabitants of Barbados, where extra-large snails are very common.

A specimen of Achatina fulica in Madagascar.

A captured specimen appears from a laboratory display case.

In addition to being a threat to agriculture, shellfish are also dangerous for health: they are in fact carriers of nematode parasitic worms of rats that, entering into contact with man through the mucus of snails, can transmit serious forms of tropical meningitis. For this the authorities have invited anyone not to touch the snails and to disinfect the surfaces infected by their drool.

In some beauty salons in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, the giant snails of the Achatina genus are used for beauty massages (it is thought, without sufficient scientific proof, that their "natural massage" promotes skin regeneration).

In controlled environments they are not very dangerous, but in tropical areas these giant African snails can carry and transmit the "nematode", a species of parasite, which, if ingested, can reach the brain through blood circulation and cause eosinophilic meningitis.

An example of an African giant snail (Achatina fulica) preserved in the Natural History Museum of London is weighed as usual every year. The snail well withdrawn into its shell does not seem particularly interested in it.

African giant snails prefer damp places: plant pot saucers, conditioner drains, soil.

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Native to East Africa but also widespread in Hawaii, they are considered one of the most destructive invasive species. For this they have been included in the list of "100 alien species in the habitat in which they are" most harmful in the world. On their menu there are over 500 species of plants, but they are also fond of plastic, stucco (which they use as a source of calcium to reconstruct their shell), tires and in general of anything green on their path.