Civic authorities of Paravur town in the district have launched a massive drive to eliminate the threat posed by the sudden invasion of giant African land snails in some parts of the township.

By Monday afternoon, hundreds of snails clinging to walls and trees were destroyed through the application of common salt and buried.

Anchal Office and Chillakkal wards in Pozhikara area of the municipality are the worst hit. The drive against the snail menace is a coordinated effort by the civic authorities, the councilors, Health Department, anganwadi workers, ASHA volunteers and a big group of youngsters.

Anchal Office ward councilor, N.A. Rasheed told The Hindu that the threat from these terrestrial pulmonates begin at dusk and by morning thousands of them can be seen all over the place; under garbage, leaves, stones, on tress, clinging on walls and even inside houses.

The purpose is to find a damp shelter from the sun during the day. The snails which are active during the night are herbivores feeding mainly on vegetation and fruits. Municipal health inspector Premanth who leads the operation against the snails said that they have so far not posed any health hazard to humans, they are known to carry some harmful parasites. After killing them with salt, bleaching powder is also being sprayed all over the area, he said.

A good number of jackfruits trees with a rich crop of un-harvested ripe fruits all over the affected area are being seen as one of the main causes for the snail invasion. During the night the snails can be seen feeding on the ripe decaying jackfruits that have fallen down. Some can even be seen on the trees. There are also a good number of snails that have climbed onto coconut palms.

These snails breed fast, each laying up to 200 eggs in damp places five or six times a year. The majority of the eggs hatch and they reach adulthood in four months. They have also been listed as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. Mr. Rasheed said that a few such snails were noticed in the area four years ago and at that time it was an attraction.

But it was only seven days ago that they reached menacing proportions. Health Inspector of the Pozhikara Primary Health Centre, Sulaja Devi said that the initial response from the people in the affected areas to the menace was cold. They were under the impression that it was the duty of the civic authorities to get rid of the problem.

But then the civic authorities undertook a campaign to spread awareness on hygiene especially the need to get rid of the decaying jackfruits. Mr. Rasheed said that even though thousands of snails will be destroyed by the civic operation, it is difficult to kill all the snails especially those that have climbed coconut trees. It means that some will remain and multiply and become a menace again.

But if people could keep their surrounding clean and regularly burn garbage heaps the menace can be easily overcome.