Life Science Environment Escargot in cargo: Explosion in invasive giant African snails sparks alarm

Escargot in cargo: Explosion in invasive giant African snails sparks alarm

african snails australia
Giant African snails can reach 20 centimetres in length. Photo: AUSVEG
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Australian biosecurity officers are alarmed by an increase in invasive 20-centimetre-long snails intercepted at the border checkpoints.

The giant African snail is one of the world’s worst invasive pests and was detected 28 times in 2020 and three times in the past month at different locations across the country.

Australia’s chief plant protection officer, Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, said the snails were hitching rides mostly on cargo ships arriving from Asia and the Pacific.

“The increased interceptions suggest the pest pressure at our border is greater,” she said.

african snails australia
The giant African snail feasts on more than 500 plant species. Photo: Department Of Agriculture, Water And The Environment

Voracious appetite for plants

The giant snails are infrequently detected on cargo containers brought to Australia from overseas, but Dr Vivian-Smith said the increasing number of detections could be a symptom of the pandemic.

“There has been a bit of disruption and change in terms of container movement patterns and the ability of countries to apply their normal inspection protocols as well, and that is possibly one reason why we’re seeing an increase,” she said.

“We’re encouraging importers and those who are around imported cargo to really keep an eye out for this large and unusual snail.”

The giant snail is one of Australia’s least wanted pests, sitting at 12 on the national priority plant pest list, according to Dr Vivian-Smith.

That is because it has a voracious appetite for more than 500 plant species, ranging from fruit and vegetables to ornamental and native plants.

An incursion would have a severe impact on farms and natural ecosystems if it were to establish itself in Australia.

Australia’s least wanted

AusVeg biosecurity officer Madeline Quirk said it was a significant concern for Australia’s horticultural industries.

“It will feed on the stem, leaf, flowers and fruit, sometimes destroying the entire plant,” she said.

“Farmers do not want this pest in Australia.”

Ms Quirk said the giant snails had also been imported deliberately and illegally for use as medicine or food and to be kept as pets.

She said farmers and the community at large needed to remain vigilant about this biosecurity threat.

“It’s very important for industry to be aware of the pest, because the more eyes we have on the ground the better we can be at detecting this pest quickly before it can cause issues,” Ms Quirk said.