Customs officers at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport made an unusual – and potentially dangerous – discovery in a passenger’s luggage: Six giant African snails.
The snails, which were alive, were found in the suitcase of a traveler who arrived in Detroit from the west African country of Ghana, according to a Friday news release from US Customs and Border Protection.
The critters are considered a “prohibited organism” in the US because they can cause diseases in humans and can wreak significant havoc in the environment if released in the wild, according to the news release.
Despite this, people around the world eat the snails and keep them as pets in some countries.
“Our CBP officers and agriculture specialists work diligently to target, detect, and intercept potential threats before they have a chance to do harm to U.S. interests,” said port director Robert Larkin in the news release. “The discovery of this highly invasive pest truly benefits the health and well-being of the American people.”
Native to east Africa, the snails can grow up to 8-inches long. Giant African snails can carry a parasite called rat lungworm that leads to meningitis in humans. In addition, they eat at least 500 different types of plants, and even consume the plaster and stucco off houses as a source of calcium, which can lead to environmental damage if they are released into the wild, Customs and Border Protection said.
In July, a Florida county was placed under quarantine after officials discovered a fast-growing population of the snails. The population was thought to have originated in the illegal pet trade.
A previous population of giant African snails found in Miami-Dade County took 10 years and millions of dollars and to be fully eradicated. The snails can produce up to 2,500 eggs per year, so the population is difficult to control.