: It is feared that summer showers will bring Giant African Snails, the voracious feeders, back from hibernation in Kerala.
The molluscs (Achatina fulica Bowdich) are on hibernation in most parts of the State and their resurgence is expected along with the summer showers. A break in the summer shower spells may also disrupt the reappearance of the animals, which have been identified as one of the worst invasive species. The extended spell of summer showers the State received last year had resulted in the massive propagation of the animals across the State. Experts had earlier identified 29 distinct populations of the snails from different parts of Kerala. The presence of the snails was earlier reported from 10 districts of the State.
The animals, which might have drained their reserve energy while in slumber, will return with high appetite and feed voraciously on all materials available to them. The resurfacing of the animals will result in huge crop and economic loss, said T.V. Sajeev, an invasive species expert at the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, Thrissur.
During their earlier appearance, the snails had caused widespread damage in places like Konni, Kolencherry, Muzhuppilangad, Pappinissery and Kannur Town. Its presence was also reported from most of the districts in the State.
The secretariat of the Asia Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network based at the Institute is maintaining a translocation laboratory with live snails collected from all the distinct populations for phenological observations. Experts from the institute had predicted that the snails were likely to infest at least 41 locations in four districts in Kerala. The Institute is planning to send posters to all panchayats highlighting the risk posed by the animals. The posters with photos of the animals for its easy identification was prepared as part of the awareness drive against the snail infestation.
Experts have warned against collecting and transporting the animals as it can spread to new areas quickly. They have also cautioned against consuming the animals as they are vectors of the rat lung worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which can cause eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.
The snails can feed on about 500 crops, including vegetables, cocoa, papaya, peanut, rubber, banana and coffee and pose health risk to human beings, experts said.
The Institute has also recommended the use of Actara, a nicotine-based pesticide for controlling the menace. The water soluble pesticide should be used along with copper sulphate. Earlier, experts had suggested the use of tobacco decoction as the base for the pesticide. However, the new pesticide has been suggested considering the difficulty involved in preparing decoction, he said.
Meanwhile, Konni village panchayat, one of the worst hit areas in the State, has drawn up a three-year management plan for the eradication of the snails. A snail infestation map will be prepared in the 18 wards of the panchayat and scientific eradication programmes will be implemented. An information network has also been developed to collect and compile information on the presence of snails, said K.N. Haripalan, secretary of the panchayat.