Giant Alien Snails Attack Miami, Though They’re Not in Much of a Rush
By ARIAN CAMPO-FLORES
OCTOBER 4, 2011
MIAMI — Floridians have grown accustomed to invasions of exotic creatures, like the Burmese pythons slithering throughout the Everglades. But residents here are especially grossed out by the latest arrivals: giant African land snails that grow as long as eight inches, chew through plants, plaster and stucco, and sometimes carry a parasite that can infect humans with a nonlethal strain of meningitis.
The gastropods are among the most dangerous in the world, agriculture officials say. They each have male and female reproductive organs and can lay 1,200 eggs a year, allowing them to proliferate rapidly. Thousands of them have infested at least five separate neighborhoods in the Miami area. . . .
Though authorities say they still don’t know the origin of the current outbreak, they’re investigating the possibility that the snails were smuggled in for religious rituals.
Last year, law enforcement raided the Hialeah, Fla., home of Charles L. Stewart, who claimed to be an African priest, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in state court. Among the items found on the property, which is in one of the infested neighborhoods, were seven live snails and 57 eggs, according to a document submitted by a state investigator.
Mr. Stewart, who was known as “El Africano” or “Oloye Ifatoku,” allegedly smuggled the snails into the country in his luggage and kept them in a wooden box in his backyard, feeding them lettuce, according to investigators’ interviews with three informants who dealt with Mr. Stewart, the affidavit says. An African priestess he knew also brought in the mollusks, secreted under her dress, according to the affidavit.
The informants said Mr. Stewart used the creatures in healing rituals, cracking the tips of their shells and pouring snail juice into devotees’ mouths, the affidavit says. One informant reported losing weight and developing a painful stomach lump after receiving 10 snail treatments, according to the affidavit. . . .