When you think of the world’s most dangerous animals, chances are you picture sharp-toothed creatures like lions, snakes, and sharks. But what if you found out one of the planet’s deadliest creatures can’t even bite you…
Believe it or not, one of the most dangerous animals on Earth is far smaller than a great white shark (sorry, Jaws). These teeny, freshwater critters might appear harmless, but once you learn about the brain-controlling “zombie” affect many of them have on others, you may never take a dip in a lake again!
While many large animals in the wild are certainly dangerous, there’s actually one creature out there that blows them all out of the water.
This super dangerous entity actually lives in fresh water — and it’s small enough that it could fit in the palm of your hand! Not that you’d ever want to get that close to this little guy, of course…
Get ready to meet the tiniest terror alive: the freshwater snail! That’s right; these tiny mollusks can be found in lakes and ponds all over the world, and they’re considered to be one of the world’s deadliest creatures. But how?
While some freshwater snails are totally harmless, many others carry something that kills more than 200,000 people a year. That’s more than any predatory mammal! So, how do they do it?
Dangerous freshwater snails carry a harmful parasite called cercariae that causes the disease schistosomiasis, or “snail fever.” It might sound like the latest dance craze, but this isn’t something you ever want to face.
The fever can’t just be avoided by steering clear of the snails in the water, either. That’s because the snails release the parasite in its larval form into the water, where it can penetrate the skin of anyone who comes into contact with it.
This cercariae larva is transferred from the snail directly to the host, and then it eventually finds its way back to the snail again to continue the entire cycle. It’s a process that’s just as effective as it is dangerous.
The parasite actually takes over the brain functions of the snails, essentially turning them into mind-controlled “zombies.” Because of this parasite, snails literally become the “trailing dead.”
The parasite uses this mind-control technique to prolong its host’s life for as long as it can. While eternal life might sound like a good thing, that’s not the case here. Once the parasite enters a snail, it has full control of their body.
The parasite uses its host to locate a new host so it can lay more eggs and multiply while feeding off the nutrients provided by its victim. It’s like a monster movie—only instead of the undead racing towards you, it’s an otherwise unassuming zombie snail.
Suzanne Sokolow, a disease ecologist, spoke about this snail fever. She said, “Schistosomiasis eggs can lodge in different tissues and cause severe symptoms ranging from anemia and fatigue, all the way to various severe symptoms.”
If these symptoms sound terrifying now, you won’t want to know what comes next. Suzanne went on to reveal the true terror of snail fever: “It can even cause death in about 10 percent of chronic cases,” she said. Yikes!
Schistosomiasis is most prevalent in poor countries that don’t have the same strict water sanitation laws as many other places do. It’s especially rampant in many parts of Africa and other countries with limited access to safe drinking water.
In places like this, the water that is available isn’t safe enough to drink or bathe in. However, because many people live in extreme poverty, they have no choice but to do it anyway—putting themselves in terrible danger.
These deadly parasites don’t need water to infect human bodies, either. People can become sick from contaminated snails that are used for food, or escargot. While most snails are perfectly safe to eat, that definitely isn’t the case for snails infected with this parasite!
When large batches of these freshwater mollusks are gathered for meals but aren’t cleaned thoroughly, the parasites enjoy an easy entry into their new host. You can’t taste the parasite, so you have no way of knowing it’s inside of you!
The symptoms of schistosomiasis are extremely unpleasant. The host’s skin will break out in itchy red bumps at first, depending on where the parasite laid its eggs. And it only gets worse from there…
Sufferers could also experience side effects like severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and traces of blood in their urine and stool. To think you could get all of that simply from a tiny snail!
It’s hard to believe that something as small and seemingly harmless as a freshwater snail can have such a deadly impact on so many people worldwide, but it absolutely can. So what do we do?
There are treatments for schistosomiasis, but experts say the most effective way to combat this problem would be a call for better sanitation regulations in the affected areas. However, it’s not just the tiny snails we have to worry about…
In 2013, an outbreak of Giant African Land Snails, or Achatina fulica, erupted in South Florida near Miami. Despite their geographically specific name, they can be found in Asia, The Pacific, and The Caribbean as well. So how did they get all the way to Florida?
This isn’t the snails’ first Florida vacation. In the 1960’s they were brought in from Hawaii when a boy smuggled three of them home as pets. The boy’s grandmother released the snails into her garden, which led to a 10-year, million dollar disaster!
As their name states, the Giant African Land Snail can grow quite big in size. They reach adult adulthood at 6 months, and although their growth does slow down at that point, they just keep getting bigger for the rest of their life — which is 5-6 years.
These snails don’t just love Florida for its lovely beaches, retirement homes, and plastic pink flamingos. They also love the climate and the vegetation. The GALS thrive in warm, humid weather, but they bring with them a problem…
These bad boys can (and will) eat nearly everything. They have been caught stealing cucumbers, lettuce, snap peas, broccoli, and even certain fruits like strawberries. We’re not talking just a bite or two, either…
These snails have eaten their way through more than 500 kinds of plants and flowers, much to the dismay of Floridians who take pride in their yards and don’t want neighbors eyeing their half-eaten palm trees. But the snails don’t stop there.
One of the most surprising things a Giant African Land Snail will nibble on is the stucco on the outside of a house. This won’t destabilize the walls, but it’s certainly not a good look. How does one eat a wall, you may wonder?
The reason these snails can eat whatever they want is due to the unique shape of their mouth. They contain a structure similar to a tongue called the radula. It has small teeth that allow snails to scrape the food before eating it. Gross!
The snail has also broken the gender binary by having both female and male reproductive organs. They can mate together or by themselves. This is another reason these snails can barely be stopped. These GALS don’t need a man!
They may be our enemies but apparently, the giant snails are quite affectionate when they want to be: they can produce up to 12,000 eggs per year. That’s a lot of kids!
Aside from a few pet snails in terrariums, snail parents don’t usually look after their young (12,000 children is a lot of responsibility). Still, the hatch rates for the eggs is roughly 90%, so even without tender loving care, these babies quickly become serious pests.
When an infestation occurs, the Giant African Land Snail can be found at all times of the day, but they are most active at night and after heavy rainfall. Those who are unfortunate enough to live among them can sometimes see hundreds of them at once in their yard.
Cruel as it may be, the Department of Agriculture needs to protect Florida’s crops and often set out to find and destroy thousands of these snails. They search any yard where the snails have been sighted, collecting specimens on the way.
A lot of research is done on these big boys, not just to help prevent future invasions, but also because of the fascination that these snails can survive nearly everything.
These GALS may be survivors, but that doesn’t make them safe to handle. While they do not sting or bite, these snails have been shown to carry a serious parasite, which could cause meningitis and other diseases in humans.
Scary parasites aren’t the only way the snail protects itself, though. Thanks to its hard shell, it is impossible for other animals to consume. Excusez moi, French people, but these snails are definitely NOT made to serve as dinner.
Although it is illegal in the United States to keep these babies as pets, collectors of exotic animals from other countries have adopted these snails as their buddies. You can get them in the U.K., Brazil, China, and Nigeria.
The reason Americans are not allowed to own most snail species is that even one pet can start an infestation, especially because their only natural predators are… well, us, and we don’t want to battle tons of snails every year.
The tale of the snail is a sad one. After all, they mean no harm and only destroy everything we love to be able to feed their families. Still, we must protect our crops (and ourselves) from tiny tongues and parasites, so the GALS have got to go.
Five years after the start of the most recent outbreak, the giant snail problem is finally under control, as most of the previously quarantined areas have been declared a GALS-free zone. Another future invasion is not entirely out of the question, but for now, the animal control services totally (s)nailed it.