Nine-hundred Mercedes-Benz cars have been turned away at the Australian border after dozens of rare and exotic snails were found hiding inside their shipments.
More than 30 heath snails (Xerolenta obvia), which have never before been detected in Australia, were found by the Department of Agriculture in shipments of the luxury German car.
Australian biosecurity officers have taken the emergency measure of sending all 900 affected cars back to Europe, the department announced on Wednesday.
The exotic gastropods are a pest that eat wheat, barley and fruit trees, and carry a range of parasites and fungal diseases.
“In excess of 30 snails have been found to date,” the department said. “Heath snail have also been shown to transmit spores of Alternaria sp, Fusarium sp, and spores of rust have been found in its faeces.
“This species may also be infected by Protostrongylidae larvae that affect sheep and goats, including the exotic parasite Protostrongylus brevispiculum, Neostrongylus linearis, and potentially other Protostrongylidae species.”
All kinds of Mercedes-Benz, from cars to vans, are believed to be affected, and the snail infestation could delay the orders of Australian customers, Drive.com.au reported.
The company told Drive it was “working closely with the Department of Agriculture” and was investigating the cause.
The snail-affected shipments were carried on five different vessels from Europe, and arrived in Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle in Western Australia and Port Kembla in New South Wales.
“The heath snail is an exotic snail to Australia and populations are understood only to exist in south-eastern Europe and localised populations in Canada and the United States of America,” a spokeswoman said.
“The department has considered all known and approved treatment options to manage the risk onshore and determined that the most appropriate action is to export the vehicles from Australian territory.”
The heath snail is also considered a pest in Canada and the US.
However, the department stressed that the snails discovered were not giant African snails, the mollusc that can grow up to 30cm and is also a pest in Australia.
In October, the giant snails were found on a shipment from Vietnam that contained wind turbine parts. Ten shipments this year have been found to contain the snail.
Mercedes-Benz Australia has been contacted for comment.