By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. customs inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized a shipment of several dozen live giant African snails, considered a delicacy in Nigeria but also voracious pests that can eat paint and stucco off houses, officials said on Monday.
Weighing nearly 2 pounds (0.9 kg) each, including their shells, and measuring about 6 inches (15 cm) in length, the 67 snails arrived from Lagos, Nigeria, in two plastic baskets with paperwork describing them as being for human consumption, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said.
The mollusks appeared to be packaged as a personal shipment and were marked as destined for an address in San Dimas, California, about 30 miles (48 km) east of Los Angeles, agency spokeswoman Lee Harty said.
No attempt was made to conceal or smuggle the snails, the largest such shipment ever seized at LAX, she said. But the creatures are prohibited from entry because they are deemed a highly invasive pest that pose a serious threat to U.S. agriculture, the environment and public health, the agency said.
According to Customs and Border Protection, the giant snails can consume more than 500 types of plants, and will even munch on the exterior of homes if fruits and vegetables are not available. They also can carry several parasites harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis, Harty said.
After they were intercepted by customs officials at the airport on July 1, specimens were sent to a local U.S. Department of Agriculture lab and then on to USDA mollusk specialists in Washington for further examination.
Experts identified the creatures as belonging to the giant African snail species, known by the scientific name Archachatina marginata. They also are commonly referred to as giant African land snails, West African snails, West African land snails or banana rasp snails.
Each of the mollusks, with striated brownish-orange shells, can easily fill the palm of a person's hand. They can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) in length and may live up to 10 years in the wild, experts say.
The entire collection confiscated at the airport was eventually turned over to the USDA, which disposed of the snails through incineration, although no garlic or butter was used, Harty said.