Super-sized snails are invading Miami and snacking on stucco, which could pose a pricey problem for homeowners under attack from the interlopers.
The Giant African land snail is one of the "most damaging snails in the world" because it eats at least 500 different types of plants, can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco and can carry a parasitic worm that can lead to meningitis in humans, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
For these reasons, the jumbo snails -- among the largest on the planet, growing up to 8 inches in length and more than 4 inches in diameter -- are illegal to import to the country without a permit. Authorities say none have been issued. However, last January, federal investigators suspected that the puckish pests had allegedly been smuggled into the area for religious rituals, according to the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post.
Meanwhile, Miami’s newest wave of illegal immigrants is making themselves at home, which could spell slimy trouble for property owners.
"We collected 19,000 in three weeks," said Denise Feiber, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture. "They do prefer to eat plants, but they will eat concrete, stucco, plaster, labels off recycling bins, anything with calcium, to help grow their shells."
Currently, there are "no gaping holes" in any of the homes in the infested area, but if the gargantuan gastropods continue to proliferate there could be more property damage, says Feiber.
"What we’re seeing primarily when they’re on the home, we see evidence of them ingesting materials from the side of the house, and there’s a lot of excrement where they’re slithering up. They’ll eat plants first, but if they’re moseying around and happen upon a home, they’ll eat that too," she says.
So if your house is being munched by these mondo-sized mollusks, are you covered by your insurance?
"No, that type of damage is excluded, in the same way that homeowners insurance wouldn’t cover vermin, rodents, birds, insects, termites, or pests," says Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute.
Willem Rijksen, vice president of public affairs for the American Insurance Association, agrees. "Pest damage, which includes African snails, is not covered under a typical homeowner policy," he says.
McChristian also said landscaping damage is typically not covered by homeowners insurance, either. "Some policies may allow for damage to plants, but most do not," she said.
So, what’s a homeowner to do?
"This type of damage is generally viewed as a home maintenance issue rather than an insurance issue," says Rijksen. "Homeowners would be well-advised to check with their pest control service provider regarding any warranty coverage that may be in effect for their property."
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