Putnam and other agricultural officials would not discuss a case they said remained under investigation but stressed that the snails may have wound up in Miami in a number of different ways.
Its not the first time the state has battled the snails.
A Miami boy smuggled three of them home from a 1966 trip to Hawaii, where they have long been established. His grandmother wasnt as keen about keeping them as pets and set them free in her garden. It took 10 years to eradicate the resulting explosion, with 17,000 of the snails eventually destroyed at a cost of $1 million at the time.
This time, the infestation is more severe. Agricultural officials credited a public outreach program for helping field crews track the pests, with calls from residents to a hotline accounting for 85 percent of new finds. The number: 1-888-397-1517.
In the last few weeks, theyve also begin experimenting with a snail-sniffing dog a three-year-old Labrador named Bear, trained at the USDA National Detector Dog Training Center in Georgia. Trainer Jodi Daughtery said the dog shows promise in digging out hard-to-find snails.
But a potent new pesticide that went into use in April has provided the biggest boost, said Gaskalla, with the percentage of snails found dead rising from 40 to 50 percent to 80 to 90 percent.
The state obtained approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the spring to use the product, Ortho Bug-Geta. The granules contain an ingredient called methaldehyde, known to be toxic to dogs or other animals that might feed on it. But Gaskalla said the snail bait, sold over the counter at gardening stores, is safe if used properly.
Its been a game changer for us, he said.