Barbadians have been warned against complacency in the fight against the Giant African Snail.
This caution has come from Head of the Entomology Section of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Ian Gibbs, who said recent reports from some parts of the island have indicated that the snail population was
decreasing. ??However, he stressed that Barbadians had to remain vigilant to rid the island of the invasive agricultural pest.
"I am urging Barbadians not to become complacent about this pest, continue the battle. It’s not just an agricultural problem but a potential public health issue. Let’s try to bring it down to as low a number as possible and if we can eliminate it from the island that would be even better," he said.
Mr. Gibbs cited the Ministry’s Giant African Snail Bounty Programme as one of the reasons for the decline in snail numbers, noting that from March 2009 until December 2011, some 346 tonnes of snails were received and burnt.
"That amount represents just over 10.8 million snails which have been removed from the population of the island…It [the bounty programme] has been a significant factor in the overall control programme. When you remove 10.8 million snails that is quite a lot in terms of not only removing the snails themselves but the potential eggs that they could have produced," he pointed out.
The Entomology head also revealed that the Ministry and the Department of Biological and Chemical Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, were exploring options for the possible biological control of the snail.
??"Local malacologist Dr. Angela Fields at UWI, Cave Hill is continuing to do work on various aspects of the snail including looking at population studies… and looking more closely at the parasitic mite which has been found on the Giant African Snail in Barbados. There exists the possibility, and this needs to be investigated further, that the mite could be used as a biological control agent," Mr. Gibbs revealed.
The Entomology head also indicated that the local species of firefly may hold the key in dealing with the invasive pest.
"There are well documented cases of firefly larvae feeding on Giant African Snails and other snails in other parts of the world. One of the most interesting natural enemies of the snail and one that some persons are looking to use as a biological control agent is a species of Lampyridae Firefly from India. So things are looking quite interesting," Mr. Gibbs said.
The Giant African Snail was discovered in Barbados in 2000 on the south west coast. They feed on a number of plant crops including sweet potato, lettuce and cabbage. A mature snail, six to seven months can lay about 1,200 eggs per year, with a lifetime of up to nine years.