Los Angeles International Airport staff were left ‘shell-shocked’ when two picnic baskets containing nearly 70 live giant African land snails were discovered during luggage checks earlier this month.
On Monday, US Customs and Border Protection officials confirmed that they had made their biggest seizure of African land snails, when they found 67 of the giant creatures on 1 July.
It is believed that the snails, which can weigh over 35 pounds and grow to 8 inches long, were sent to America to be sold as food – a lunch that would set buyers back over $50 dollars per snail.
The snails arrived from the West African state of Nigeria, where snails are a popular delicacy and are regularly used in a stew or eaten as a fried snack in many Nigerian bars.
The rarest animals in the world
The rarest animals in the world
1/23 Goblin shark
Dubbed the "alien of the deep", the goblin shark was caught by a commercial fisherman off the coast of Eden, New South Wales. The carcass of the terrifying looking creature was then donated to the Australian Museum in Sydney so that it could be dissected
2/23 Glass frog
Scientists in South America have discovered a brand new species of frog – and he’s a dead ringer for Kermit the frog. Hyalinobatrachium dianae is an inch-long glass frog with identical bright green skin, a translucent belly, and bulging white eyes with black pupils. The new species found by Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center on the Talamanca hills of the country, was named after the senior researcher’s mother Diane and brought the total known species of glass frogs on the island to 14
BBC via YouTube
3/23 Walking fish (climbing perch)
A bizarre and seemingly super-powered fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for up to six days could spell a 'major disaster' for wildlife, scientists have warned. The aggressive climbing perch, which has lungs as well as gills, has been discovered in northern Australia
4/23 Frilled shark
A rare and terrifying frilled shark has been pulled from the water by fishermen near Lakes Entrance in Victoria, Australia. Also known as the "living fossil", the frilled shark is named for its six pairs of frill-like gills. The shark’s origin dates back 80 million years, and is one of two species that is still alive from this period
5/23 Black Sea Devil anglerfish
Researchers in the US have released what they believe to be the first video footage showing a bizarre-looking Black Sea Devil anglerfish in the wild. As anglerfish live in the deep sea, they are very rarely seen in their natural habitat, and fewer than half a dozen have ever been captured on film or video in the wild, according to experts at the Monterrey Bay Acquarium Research Institute (MBARI)
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
6/23 Blue lobster
A rare blue lobster was caught off Pine Point in Scarborough, Maine. The crustacean is being donated to the Maine State Aquarium
AP Photo/Meghan LaPlante
7/23 Two-headed dolphin
A con-joined dolphin found on the beach of the Aegean Sea coastal town of Dikili, Izmir province of Turkey
8/23 Conjoined whales
A pair of conjoined gray whale calves have been found off the coast of Mexico, in what scientists believe could be the first discovery of its kind
9/23 Fish-eating spider (Dolomedes facetus)
Dolomedes facetus captured pond fish (genus Xiphophorus) in a garden pond near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The number of spiders who catch and eat fish is on the rise across the world, scientists believe
Peter Liley, Moffat Beach, Queensland
10/23 Dancing frogs
A frog couple from one of the 14 new species of so-called dancing frogs
AP/Satyabhama Das Biju
Conservationists in New Zealand are celebrating after an extremely rare kakapo chick hatched from a cracked egg held together by nothing more than tape and glue. The bird joins a global kakapo population of just 125 birds
Creative Commons. Photo: jidanchaomian, via Flickr.
12/23 Migaloo the white whale
Migaloo the white whale, sighted at the Bernard Islands
Twitter/Migaloo the Whale
13/23 Domed land snail
Living in complete darkness more than 900 metres below the surface has left this tiny snail with no pigmentation in its shell. Discovered in the caves of western Croatia the Zospeum tholussum is also a slow mover, creeping just a few centimeters each week.
14/23 Leaf-tailed gecko
The mottled colouring on this gecko helps it blend in with the rain forests and rocky habitats of eastern Australia. It also has an extremely wide tail (from which it gets its name) to further confuse predators
15/23 Flying frog
A Giant green flying frog which is among the new species found by scientists in the Greater Mekong region
16/23 Megamouth shark
An extremely rare female deep-water megamouth shark has been caught off the coast of Shizuoka, Japan, and is believed to be only the 58 sighting of the animal on record
17/23 A Maui's dolphin
Fears grow for Maui's dolphins after New Zealand government opens west coast block for oil and gas drilling
A rare goat-sheep hybrid has been born on an Irish farm, much to the surprise of a farmer who said the ‘geep’ is thriving since its birth
Irish Farmers Journal
19/23 Omani owl
An Omani Owl, a species completely new to science
20/23 Albino dolphin
A rare albino calf being herded into Japan's notorious Taiji 'killing' Cove, where hundreds of dolphins are slaughtered during its annual hunt
21/23 Stone curlew
The stone curlew is one of the UK's most threatened birds and has recently returned from their wintering grounds in Africa and Spain
22/23 Mascarene Petrel
A unique photograph has been taken of a bird with a visible egg showing after experts sent to study a critically endangered Mascarene Petrel on a remote Indian Ocean tropical island encountered an undeniably pregnant member of the species
23/23 Albino cobra
A "very dangerous and venomous" albino cobra has been found in a suburban Los Angeles neighbourhood after escaping from a home there
Dept. of Animal Care and Control, County of Los Angeles
Nevertheless, they are outlawed in the US and regarded as a damaging species that threatens more than 500 types of plants and can carry parasites harmful to humans – including one that can bring on meningitis in those that come in contact.
It has also been reported in the past that when snails of this size cannot find any plants to feed on they have been known to eat paint or attack walls in search of nutrition.
Giant African land snails have invaded certain areas of the US already, with south Florida being one area that has had a particular problem with the invading pest.
Todd C Owen, director of field operations for the customs agency, said that the recent seizure “was the first time this pest has been encountered in such a large quantity and as a consumption entry".
Despite not ending up on anyone’s dinner plate, the snails were still fried, with the US Department of Agriculture incinerating all of the snails after inspection.
Authorities are investigating the haul. "When someone doesn't know a commodity is prohibited under USDA regulations there is usually no punishment" a spokesperson from the governmental department said.