▶ Watch Video: Southern Broward under quarantine after discovery of giant African land snail

Part of a Florida county was placed under quarantine this week, as officials respond to a recent giant African snail sighting in the area.

The quarantine order took effect Tuesday and applies to a section of Broward County, where Fort Lauderdale is located, covering around 3.5 square miles. Inside its boundaries, the order means it is illegal to move a giant African land snail or any “regulated article,” including, but not limited to plants, plant parts, plants in soil, soil, yard waste, debris, compost or building materials, either within or outside of the quarantine area without first obtaining a compliance agreement, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

People and organizations looking to acquire a compliance agreement for certain commercial purposes, like selling plants, landscaping or trash pickup, can request one by contacting the agency.

A Giant African Snail, native to east Africa, eats vegetation on the Kealea hiking trail May 18, 2004 in Waialua, Hawaii.

Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images

The agriculture department’s Division of Plant Industry enacted the quarantine after confirming earlier this month that a giant African land snail was spotted in the Miramar area of Broward County. The order will remain active while officials from the plant division treat properties with a metaldehyde-based molluscicide — snail bait that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled for residential use — in hopes of eradicating the pest, the department said.

Florida’s agriculture officials have contended with the giant African land snail before, and in the past referred to it as “one of the most damaging” mollusk subtypes in the world. The snail is unusually large, growing to be as long as 8 inches as an adult, and can procreate in enormous quantities as it lays thousands of eggs at a time. It poses significant threats to vegetation, consuming at least 500 different types of plants as well as paint and stucco. In addition to causing property damage, the snails also pose serious health risks for humans, as they carry a parasite called rat lungworm that can cause meningitis.

Officials set a quarantine order for Pasco County, about half an hour north of the city of Tampa, last summer, after confirming at least one sighting of the invasive snail species. More than 1,000 giant African land snails were captured there over the course of several weeks, said agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried at the time, and most were found alive. 

The giant snails, which, authorities believe, likely arrived in Florida when someone brought it home to the U.S. as a pet, are notoriously difficult to eradicate and getting rid of them entirely can take years. Florida’s agriculture department has recorded only two instances where the snail was fully eradicated, since infestations were first reported in the state in the 1960s.