HAVANA, June 15 (Xinhua) -- In the past five years, the highly invasive African giant snail has become a veritable plague on the island, leading Cuban authorities to begin a campaign to eliminate the pest.
First detected in June 2014 in one of Havana's peripheral municipalities, it can now be found in 12 of Cuba's 15 provinces.
To help with the snail's eradication, the government created the State Group for Snail Control, headed by the national directorate of plant health of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI). It includes experts from the areas of public health, education, science, technology and environment.
The snail has not only spread in the agricultural area, but also in human settlements, sewage sites, river slopes and humid places, which all provide ideal living conditions for the snail, Ariel Castillo, public health deputy director, told reporters.
Castillo said that as the snail has spread throughout all its municipalities, a comprehensive action plan to control it has been worked out.
Because the damage "is still not considerable and has not affected large agricultural areas," the snail cannot yet be considered an agricultural pest, Castillo said, although he did not rule out the possibility in the near future.
It is presumed that the animal was introduced to the island for the practice of Afro-Cuban religions and then spread thanks to its hermaphrodite characteristics that allow it to lay eggs three months after its birth and then every 60 days. One snail is able to deposit on land over 1,000 eggs in a year.
In Cuba, there are no other species that could be used as natural biological controllers of the snail, which has a life expectancy of about nine years.
The snail is a carrier of parasites, including strongyloides stercoralis, which poses a health threat to humans by transmitting deadly diseases such as meningoencephalitis and strongyloidiasis, among others.
The snail can reach 30 centimeters in length and mainly feeds on plant leaves and organic waste, but it also eats dead animals, including those of its own species.
The Plant Health Research Institute (INISAV) of Havana issued recommendations for the population to contribute to controlling and eliminating the mollusk.
"One of the recommendations is destroying the shell, putting it in a closed bag and burying it," said Michel Matamoros, entomology and agricultural malacology expert at INISAV.
Alternatively, it "can be burned or submerged in a 3 percent salt or lime solution for 24 hours and then bury it," the specialist added.
Matamoros warned that the snail should not be thrown alive into rivers, uncultivated lots, streets, or in the trash destined to be collected by the communal service.
The giant African snail is native to eastern Africa, especially Kenya and Tanzania, although it has spread to Asia and America.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers it among the 100 most destructive and harmful invasive alien species in the world since its physiological and morphological characteristics give it high resistance to different environmental conditions.