THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: First sighted in Kerala about five years ago, Giant African Snails have now become a permanent headache across the state. But locals have found a remedy to counter their attacks on fields and homes -- kerosene.
The Achatina fulica Bowdich has now started to cause real havoc in the state, Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) member secretary K.P. Laladhas said.
"Data available shows that these snails are capable of attacking more than 500 plant species including vegetables. What's more worrying for us is that they can even attack our cash crop, rubber," Laladhas told IANS.
The Giant African Snails have now been identified as "one of the hundred worst- invasive alien species of the world".
Literature points out that this pest was introduced by W.H. Benson in Calcutta from Mauritius in 1847, when he released it in the Chowringhee gardens and since then it has covered virtually the entire country.
In 2006, the snails became a real menace at the coastal village of Azhiyoor near Vadakara in north Kerala. But the locals timely destroyed almost 30,000 snails every day by pouring kerosene and burning it.
"This monsoon, there have been reports of widespread presence of snails in the state because it is during this period that the conditions are ideal for it," Laladhas said.
"During summers these snails go into their shells. It has been found that they can remain inside the shells for as long as three years," he added.
The menace is present more in central and north Kerala districts of Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Thrissur, among others.
Bessy Kurian, a housewife in Kottayam, appears to have taken the fight into the 'enemy camp' after her home and garden came under a heavy snail attack last year.
"We thought what harm it could do when it was spotted in our rubber plantations near our home. But we realised it deserves no sympathy after there was a snail invasion in our garden and in a few days it had gnawed away the flora and fauna," Kurian said.
"I searched on the internet on what can be done. We found that kerosene and even putting salt on these snails was enough. Even after an year of constant vigil, the snails are occasionally seen," she added.
Another feature of the snail is that they are hermaphrodite - have both male and female sex organs and is capable of producing both sperm and ova - and is sexually mature in an year's time. It can lay up to 1,200 eggs a year.
These snails have a height of around seven cm and their length can reach even 20 cm.
"This is going to be high on our agenda and we will meet up with experts in this field to chalk out a state-wide programme to deal with this issue," Laladhas said.