South Fears an Invasion

Of Giants From the North

Let no one besmirch the sophistication of the southern palate. The land of grits and biscuits and barbecue must also have a powerful hankering for escargot.

How else to explain the shudders of fear among southern agriculture officials about the culinary ramifications of another possible northern invasion, this one by snails so huge they would have to be served as main courses rather than appetizers. Urgent alerts are being issued all over the South (including Maryland, which is in the South, according to some people) for the giant African land snail.

All the fuss began because the snails have been popping up in Wisconsin schoolrooms lately, where unwitting teachers thought they would make wonderful research subjects. Their appearance has set off the Great Snail Hunt of 2004, with agriculture officials mindful that Florida spent $1 million in the 1960s to eradicate an outbreak.

The beast is a meaty one indeed. It has been known to grow to eight inches long and 4.5 inches in diameter. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is warning against harboring the snails if they show up. They are infected with an appetizing-sounding contagion called "rat lungworm," which can make humans extremely sick.

"I'm not recommending growing them to eat," he said.

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Giant African land snails have been seen in Wisconsin, but authorities say they could be headed south.