(HOUSTON) — If you live in Houston and you have a garden and you happen to see a giant snail and that giant snail begins oozing towards you — run. Or walk away slowly. Just don’t touch it.
The sluggish mollusk, recently photographed in the backyard of a quiet Houston neighborhood, has been tentatively identified as a Giant African Snail and wildlife researchers say it’s dangerous.
“The snail harbors a deadly parasite known as rat lungworm, which is a form of meningitis,” said Lori Williams, the executive director of the National Invasive Species Council, the coordinating body for the federal government on invasive species.
Williams warned humans not to go near the snail and said that people who do touch it need to wash their hands thoroughly.
What the insidious creature lacks in speed it makes up for in fertility. It reproduces rapidly and can lay 1,200 eggs a year. If confirmed as a Giant African snail, Williams noted that it’s unlikely there is just one.
The softball-sized beast is also a considerable pest. It has been known to munch its way through stucco, plastic recycling bins, signs and more than 500 species of plants. Its pointy shell is so sharp is can blow out car tires if run over.
First spotted in the U.S. in southern Florida in the 1960s, Williams said it took more than a decade and $1 million to eradicate, but has recently been rediscovered in the sunshine state.
This is the first known possible spotting of the giant snail in Texas. It’s a mystery how it got there. It’s current location is also a mystery. Ironically, the snail slipped away and for the moment, has eluded capture. Local wildlife officials are sending teams into the area to search for it.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Stephan Rockefeller, EastIdahoNews.com
David Goldman, CNN
Ariane de Vogue and Dan Berman, CNN
Jessica Ivins, CNN