Giant disease-spreading snails found in Houston

HOUSTON – A giant African land snail was discovered in the back yard of a Houston home and now researchers are sending out a warning.

"Unfortunately, humans are picking the snails up," said Dr. Autumn J. Smith-Herron, the director of the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at Sam Houston State University. "They carry a parasitic disease that can cause a lot of harm to humans and sometimes even death."

The parasite is called rat lungworm which is a form of meningitis. Humans should not come in contact with the snail and need to wash their hands thoroughly if they do.

A woman who lives on Twin Circle Drive in west Houston spotted a big snail in her backyard garden and snapped a picture of it. She notified workers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center who deal with invasive plants. They contacted researchers at Sam Houston State University.

This is the first known possible spotting of a giant snail in Texas and no one knows how it got here.

They reproduce rapidly and can lay 1,200 eggs a year. If confirmed as a Giant African snail, it's likely there are more. However, the reported snail got away before anyone was able to capture it.

"That's crazy," said Jack Fendrick, who lives on Twin Circle Drive and hadn't heard about the rare finding. "I think most people, kids especially, will see a big snail and want to touch it. With meningitis as one of the side effects, that's scary."

Researchers are going to send teams to the Houston area to look for more. In the meantime, if you happen to spot one, call the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at 936-294-3788. For more information, you can also visit their website.

The Institute for the Study of Invasive Species is working to confirm whether it was a Giant African snail. The USDA is also launching an investigation into the snail.