Flat White

The world’s slowest apocalypse

20 July 2022

10:00 AM

20 July 2022

10:00 AM

If you believe the hype, this is the most dangerous time in history to be a human. There’s an apocalypse around every corner. Whether it’s the sky about to catch fire, the sea rolling in to drown us, Covid hunting down the fully-vaxxed-and-double-masked, or Monkey Pox swinging its way around wild parties. Something is coming to kill you.

Our problems are nothing compared to the world’s slowest apocalypse unfolding in Pasco County, Florida, where Giant African Land Snails (GALS) are gradually making a nuisance of themselves.

Like Covid, the snails come in waves, with earlier outbreaks in 1969 and 2011 that were squashed at huge government expense. This particular variation is different, with ‘milky white flesh’ and dark brown shells more desirable in the illegal pet trade, suggesting they might be escapees.

Since the snail genocide began in June, more than 1,000 have been collected.

‘Let me assure you, we will eradicate these snails. We have done it twice before, and we will do it again – it is not a question of if, but when. Together, let’s locate, communicate, and eradicate, so Florida can again be GALS free,’ said Nikki Fried, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner.

Apologies, there should have been a trigger warning attached to the above, as it bears more than a passing resemblance to the press conferences our state premiers have been giving. The difference in Florida being that snails are a lot easier to control than invisible respiratory viruses. It’s the sort of pandemic where you can sit down and have a few coffees before putting up the quarantine boundaries.

That hasn’t stopped them from being globe-trotters though, with a cardboard box full of them munching on lettuce found dumped at a London bus stop.

‘I thought I was seeing things. Everyone was wondering where they’d come from. But no one knew what to do or wanted to touch them,’ said Jamie-Lee McEvoy, who found the snails.

The story was covered with a suitably terrifying headline, Deadly giant 8-inch giant African SNAILS are found abandoned at busy London bus top. Yes, ‘giant’ warranted a double mention. London is busy dealing with a ‘heatwave apocalypse’ that’s about to end in some chilly temperatures – so the snail doomsday didn’t get much attention.

Unlike Australia’s under 40s, the Giant African Land Snails don’t have a breeding problem, managing to lay 1,000 eggs in their life. They also get social credit points for being hermaphroditic with ‘both partners of a mating pair producing offspring as they can simultaneously fertilise each other’. They can also fertilise themselves if they really want to.

On the downside, they eat everyone’s gardens and act as carriers for some genuinely nasty things, such as rat lungworm which causes meningitis.

‘Most importantly, do not eat them! This is not a snail to put on butter and oil and garlic!’ warned Nikki Fried, assuming there were some stray French tourists eyeing up the 8-inch snails. ‘This is not something you want to touch. This is not something you want to eat.’

Even their decaying shells have been known to ruin soil, with calcium carbonate leaching into the surrounding area where it neutralises acid in the soil, raising the pH.

One thing is for certain, the name will have to change. If the World Health Organisation’s history is anything to go by, you can’t have a Florida-destroying slime-covered giant terrestrial gastropod with the prefix ‘African’. Considering it is one of the ‘100 most harmful invasive alien species in the world’ – it’s incredible no one has written in to complain about systemic racism. It should have its own Twitter account by now.

The snails are, as the name suggests, native to Africa, but they reside in pretty much every country that isn’t frozen or made entirely out of sand. Australia’s mainland is free of the pest, but they have made it to Christmas Island where they are devoured by red crabs. Well, that was until the yellow crazy ants (surely an offensive name to the mental health movement?) killed off lots of the crabs. The solution to this evolutionary struggle was for researchers to introduce another species to the island in the form of a tiny Malaysian micro-wasp – which only sort-of worked. Scientists want to release two more micro-wasp species to see if trying the same thing again and again gives a better result.

Australia should prepare itself for a range of fear-mongering headlines as more giant snails are found stuck to containers or hiding in soil.

‘Disaster unfolds at a snail’s pace’, ‘The good, the bad, and the slimy’, ‘Mission escargot!’, ‘World Economic Forum announces vaccine to make giant snails into bio-food to fight climate change’, ‘A biosecurity threat too big to ignore’, ‘Invasion of the giant snails’, ‘Meningitis-causing giant African land snail detected’, ‘How to care for your Giant African Land Snail’.

Some of those were real.

‘There has been a bit of disruption and change in terms of container movement patterns and the ability of countries to apply their normal inspection protocols as well, and that is possibly one reason why we’re seeing an increase,’ said Dr Vivian-Smith, of the snails trying to infiltrate our borders.

It’s so weird how during the heightened sense of tight-security and advertised quarantine inspections, the biosecurity standards of other countries has dropped so far that snails the size of iPhones are hitchhiking across the globe.

‘We’re encouraging importers and those who are around imported cargo to really keep an eye out for this large and unusual snail.’

And remember, it’s not a ‘snack’ – it’s a gender-neutral apocalypse.

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