Achatina fulica live (Photo credit: D.J. Preston)
What is GAS? And why should we be worried? Well, truth be told, we are not talking about a poisonous substance that's breathable, but a creepy crawler that's made the news last month in Grand Bahama, the "Giant African Snail" or "G.A.S." for short. GAS is by far one of the most damaging snails on record simply because it can consume up to 500 different types of plants indiscriminately. Those who think it's just a farmer’s problem are wrong because GAS can also cause considerable damage to plaster and stucco structures, an issue that affects most of us, considering that almost all of our homes are made of one or both of those materials.
One of the reasons attention is being brought to this snail is because of its ability to reproduce quickly, The USDA states that 1 snail can produce upwards to 1200 eggs in a single year, making it a nightmare for an island that is only 96 miles long and 17 miles wide. That’s why it is classified as one of the World’s Top 100 Invasive Species.
Another problem with this snail is the fact that it can transmit the parasite that can cause meningitis. This parasite is commonly found in rats, hence its nickname “Rat lungworm”; when the snail is consumed by the rat, it transfers thousands of worms, thereby causing the rat’s death. This snail wouldn’t be such a nuisance if it wasn’t for its ability to transfer meningitis, a potentially fatal disease. The symptoms of meningitis include headaches and numbness and in severe cases the patient can enter a coma and die. The public is advised to destroy giant African snails if they see them and to take precautions when handling them, including wearing disposable gloves and carefully washing after contact.
Now that the major warnings are out of the way, I guess we can examine another angle of the issue: What do most farmers think of this snail and are they worried? Well, to be honest, not really. Three days ago I got a call from someone asking me about the snail. I wanted to address their concerns quickly so I messaged four of the top backyard farmers on my list and learned that GAS is very low on our care factor. This snail has been here for some time. I have seen it around many times and one of my backyard farmer friends told me he has seen it for at least the past eight years. Some may wonder why it has not become a problem here in Grand Bahama. I think that it reproduces less on the island than the level the USDA reports in South Florida; that may be because they have much more farmland than we do. It is also possible that a lot of those snails are descendants of pets released into the environment, but here on the island we don’t have that issue.
This photo was taken in Grand Bahama in October, 2014 by Michael Mosko. The snail was in his yard and he's seen several.
A few deaths have occurred in places like South American but I believe that maybe the nematodes were always around and the snail is accidentally spreading them. I haven’t heard of many cases of meningitis in the Bahamas although I did hear about a foundation that started recently to help people become more aware of the disease, The London Bridge Foundation, named after a young girl who contracted the disease last year in Eleuthera. The story of how a community came together after that tragic event to create this foundation is truly inspirational, and I believe that this foundation will help people become more aware of this illness and go very far in helping the Bahamian people.
I also checked the CDC traveler report to see if meningitis is rated as one of the top diseases here in the Bahamas, which would perhaps justify the worry that the snail may be spreading it, but it isn’t listed. I contacted one of my sources in the medical profession to see if there were any recorded meningitis cases in the last few years here on the island of Grand Bahama and was told there hasn’t been one in years. My source also indicated that there may be a reason for that as well; according to my source’s theory, “Neisseria meningitidis,” the causative bacterium, is sensitive to “Rocephim,” a very powerful antibiotic, which is given to patients here on the island excessively. My source thinks that our throats have been all but eradicated of this bacterium. Some people have neisseria in their throats here on the island and they aren’t ill. For those who are curious, Rocephin is a third generation cephalosporin, an antibiotic used for severe infections of the throat, skin, and brain. My source thinks that it is overused whenever someone has any of the above ailments in our country, but in America is it given when appropriate. That could contribute to the reasons reason why meningitis isn’t a big concern here in the Bahamas.
However, I am not above scouting around to see if GAS is present in my garden. I became very curious to see if can find even one GAS in the garden to add to this report, so I went out with my iPhone flashlight app and searched every corner of my garden. I spent about an hour every night for three days and I came up with nothing, no Giant African Snails, but I did find an increased number of hermit crabs in the Chicken Coop area and a few snails and slugs. Hopefully it stays that way.
If they do show up, well, I don’t mind playing Whac-A-Mole for a season. I believe we may be seeing more of these snails because of the excessive amount of rain we have been getting; snails love damp areas. Now, are we going to eradicate these snails? I don’t know. Will they become a problem? Who knows! All I know is that with every other invasive species, we have programs in place to help balance the population. I wonder if we will have a snail catching game like we do against the lion fish. That would be awesome.
Now, those who want to protect their gardens from GAS, there are some ways to do that. A strip of bare soil around the plant might be the cheapest way to keep them away but there are also other means, such as using security wire mesh. I like those ideas and I would use them if GAS ever become a problem for me here in the garden. I will be doing routine checks for snails as a precaution, but as of right now I’m not worried about GAS at all.
About the Author:
Luckner Timothee is a backyard Farmer in Grand Bahama since starting
his garden a few years ago he has wooed his friends with his produce and
creative farming ideas. He continually learns from his friends and
family about the process of farming and the struggles that a farmer goes
through daily. He is now working on a Web show called “Let’s Grow
Bahamas” to be released on “Grand Bahama Backyard Farmers”. He is
attending seminars in order to meet other farmers around the world and
to further his knowledge about Farming. To contact Luckner Timothee
email him at: