Idukki too falls prey to Giant African snail invasion

Species found attacking cardamom crops in high ranges

September 16, 2022 08:40 pm | Updated 08:40 pm IST - PALAKKAD

Giant African snails attacking a cardamom plant in Idukki.

Giant African snails attacking a cardamom plant in Idukki. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Giant African snail invasion in Kerala is now almost complete, with the last district, Idukki, too falling prey to the slimy critters. For the past several months, farmers in the high ranges of Idukki have been cursing this invasive species.

Although it took more than half a century for the Giant African snail ( Achatina fulica) to spread all over Kerala ever since its recorded arrival at Elappully in Palakkad district in the 1950s, the last two decades saw rapid growth of the species. As many as 10 districts were infested by 2014. Thrissur district was invaded in 2016. And it conquered the last of the districts, Idukki, by 2021.

“Its presence in Idukki has puzzled us. We were under the impression that the species would not survive in high-altitude weather,” said Keerthy Vijayan, a key researcher of Giant African snails in Kerala.

Dr. Vijayan and her team were surprised to find the snail attacking cardamom crops in the high ranges of Idukki. “Although this snail was reported to have been destroying a wide variety of plants, including vegetables, coconut, arecanut, banana and papaya, nowhere else in the world was it seen attacking cardamom,” said Dr. Vijayan.

Laly George, social worker and former member of Bison Valley Panchayat in Idukki, said the threat from the species had increased in the last one year. “We have been doing everything possible to eradicate them. But their proliferation continues unchecked,” said Ms. George.

She pointed out that the snails would become active early in the morning and late evening when atmosphere is moist. “It sucks the sap out of the plants and eats up the leaves,” she said.

Scientists at the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) were surprised to find the snail surviving in both low and high temperatures.

With the crops in Idukki too falling prey to this invasive species, farmers are cursing the scientist who released a snail inadvertently at Elappully. Decades before other parts of Kerala witnessed the snail attack, Palakkad was home to a rapid proliferation of the species in the 1970s.

Babu Paul, former District Collector of Palakkad, has some droll anecdotes about farmers reaching the Collectorate here with bagfuls of the Giant African snail after he offered cash for those who catch them. However, he soon found that the number was too many for the district administration to pay for.

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