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So! There are always a lot of threads asking how to ship animals, and since I do it on a fairly regular basis, I thought I would write one of these up.
There are many things to take into consideration, shipping reptiles is life or death, you have no control over how they are handled, what type of temperature extremes they are exposed to, careless handlers, etc. They best you can do, is be smart, and properly prepare them.
Shipping is NOT something that you want to skimp on. A few extra $ saved, is NOT worth the risk of your animals life.
#1. The Box. Reptiles, being cold blooded, need a buffer between themselves and the temperature extremes they will probably encounter. That means you need insulation. I personally use ULINE.com for my insulated shippers, which can be seen here.
These are probably some of the best boxes you can find.
We use the 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 5" for individual animals, and 11 x 9 x 7 1/4" for multiples. They are 1" or 1.5" thick molded Styrofoam [not pieces cut to fit] with a 200# crush test rating, which means that if this box is placed under a ton of other boxes, its not going to break, fold in, and smash the animals. Someone could step on it, and they wouldn't die.
You can also find recycled Styrofoam material that can be cut to size and used as insulation.
#2. Choosing a courier. FedEx, UPS, and DHL are probably the most common. Delta Dash is the ONLY courier that will guarantee live arrival for your animals, and that is airport to airport. Under no circumstances should USPS EVER be used, and you should NEVER use anything other then overnight, for the earliest delivery possible [usually by ] This dramatically cuts down the amount of the time the animals spend in the box, and consequently, stress and risks.
FedEx, UPS, and DHL, all allow the shipment of "live harmless reptiles" Some you have to become "verified" or sign up with an account, you have to contact them directly to find out the exact procedure. You have to sort through the pages and pages of what they do and don't allow, to find the exact list and wording. Often times, the staff of each courier don't know exactly EVERYTHING that the company does and doesn't allow, so it is sometimes helpful to print it out and be prepared, if you run into opposition.
Having an account with couriers has a few benefits, one of the major ones is of course that you do get a small discount, usually 10-15% when shipping with them. Which saves you money, and helps cover the cost of the box, deli cups, peanuts, etc.
#3 Shipping days. Monday-Wednesday are good days to ship out. Thursday is pushing it, and Friday is no good. Not only is it more expensive to ship over the weekend, its also dangerous. If you ship Thursday for Friday, and an unexpected tornado happens, The package could be held over the weekend, not showing up until Monday, and by that time, they very likely could be dead. Its just an unnecessary risk, when 3 days is more then enough to arrange a shipping date.
Make sure that the shipping date is CONFIRMED before you ship it, It is IMPERATIVE that someone is there to receive the package on the FIRST delivery attempt.
#4 Temperatures.National and Local Weather Forecast, Radar, Map and Report is a wonderful tool. when you know the availability of the recipient, [Tuesdays for example] then you need to check not only the weather in their area, but in yours. Shipping temperatures are 50-85 degrees. Ideally, that number is more like 65-75, with night drops not below 55 degrees.
It also helps if you know the sorting location, Ex: for DHL that is in Ohio, where any package that isn't IN STATE goes.
For example: In California, its 75, with a low of 65, and I am shipping to Illinois which is 70, with a low of 60, but in Ohio, at the sorting location, its 40 [night time, because its overnight], I am going to include a heat pack, even tho the other temperatures are mild. When, if everything were mild across the board, I wouldn't include anything.
For warm temperatures, you want to use a ice pack, for cold, you want a heat pack, long lasting ones can be found in the first aid section of your drug store, or you can also order reptile-specific ones online, but they are all the same. Unlike most heating elements, these cant be attached to dimmers or thermostats, and can spike to temperatures over 110 degrees.
that means you need to wrap the heat/cold pack in many layers of newspaper, and tape or secure on the opposite side of the box as the animals. depending on the severity of the temperatures [more or less then 10 degrees different then the "ideal" range], I will cut a small piece of 1/2" styrofoam to size, and use that between the animals and heat/cold pack, to lessen the impact.
#5 Packaging for shipment.
- Deli cups. There are multiple sizes of deli cups, you should choose one that is large enough for the animal to comfortable turn around, however, not so large that the animal will get thrown around inside the tub.
Multiple holes need to be punched around the deli cup, usually 4-5 suffice, and you can use any number of tools to make the holes. Holes in the lid are useless if you plan to stack multiple deli cups.
I then dampen 2-4 paper towels, squeeze them out, and then pull them apart and fluff them up, and place them into the container, the animal will eventually smash them around, but it adds some cushion in the cup, along with humidity so they don't get dehydrated during shipment.
I weight the animal, and place it in the deli cup, securing the lid, and then write all of the information on the lid, for the recipients records.
- Securing the Deli Cup An assortment of things can be used to secure the deli cup, if you are using a fairly large box, that doesn't hold it in place on its own, shredded paper, wadded up news paper, Styrofoam peanuts are all options. I personally prefer corn starch biodegradable peanuts, to lessen the environmental impact, or else I will save, and recycle the peanuts I get in shipments from other people [which is where i also get the 1/2" Styrofoam I cut to size]. This is also the material you use to separate the animals from the heat/cold pack.
- Air holes. reptiles don't use THAT much air, but they do need a small amount of ventilation. If the lid on the box closes securely, I will cut a small hole in the cardboard, and use a screwdriver [or pen, or some such tool] to poke a hole, one on either side of the box should be sufficient.
*After you put the lid on, and you are ready to tape up the box, you can place the invoice/reciept/note or buisness card. I personally opt for a business card, and ask that they contact me as soon as they arrive, so I know the animals showed up okay. This way my contact info is readily available right there.*
You then, tape up the box, and attach the shipping label.
#6 Marking the box. On the outside, you can use a pen, or stickers, and write things like "Live Harmless Reptiles" "No direct sun" "keep out of temperature extremes" "Handle with care" Etc.
#7 Dropping off the box. Find the nearest drop location for the courier you are shipping with. Kinkos for fed ex, UPS store, etc. Call them first to find out when the last pick up for over night is [usually around 4-5PM] and package it up and drop it off not too much before then, so the animals spend as little time as possible inside the box.
#8 Tracking number. Now, go home, and email or call the tracking number to the recipient. Unless you printed out the shipping label online, in which case you could have entered their email address and they would have been notified automatically. Reiterate that you want them to notify you as soon as the package arrives, you can also be told about any problems the moment it gets there, if any arise. Check the # periodically to make sure it is en route and on schedule.
#9 Anxiously await the arrival of the animal. Think positive thoughts. Be nice to Shipping Couriers.. So they are in turn nice to you. If anything were to be delayed. Keep calm.. Be courteous to people on the 800 numbers. They can make things better for you. But.. They don't have to.
Just one thing to add, Not only is shipping USPS generally unsafe, it is also against the Lacey Act to ship most reptiles and amphibians (or any other living animal for that matter) using the USPS. That makes it a federal offense to use the USPS for delivery of herps..
120F? I personally dont feel that you should ship a reptile to an area with highs over 85F. Even with a delivery time before noon/the hottest part of the day, who knows how long they sit on that truck in the sun driving around?
I might mention, that the species of the reptile should also be written on the side of the box. I did have a friend who had a monitor escape from the box, which in return, bit one of the mail carries. He was fined a penalty for not having the box properly marked. It must have Live Animals and the type of reptile.
I write the scientific name of the species, and quantity on the outside of the box.
Another update is that DHL no longer accepts or ships reptiles. They also no longer ship Domestically.
FedEx requires that you become a verified live animal shipper with them, which means that you sign away all your rights, even to things like refunds if there is a service failure, or if the package is lost.
UPS does not ship snakes.
My shipping temperature range actually extends down to 40 degrees.
You should also take into consideration that in fright planes (not passenger planes like Delta Dash) are not well insulated, and that temperatures DO reach freezing and below in the air.
Also take into consideration, that on HOT days, the temperature INSIDE the delivery truck can be 15+ degrees hotter then it is outside. More reasons why the earlier the delivery time the better.
I require that if there is no "by noon" delivery time available to a recipient, that the package is "held for pickup" at the nearest hub, and the recipient has to go pick the package up.
#7 - You can also find small privately owned stores that accept drop off packages, or you can call the courier and arrange for the package to be picked up. Not only do they charge you for the package being picked up, but then you have to consider that they have to ride around in the truck for longer while the driver continues to make pick ups, and then goes to the round up or hub. (Pick ups usually need to be called in and done before 3pm, where as you may be able to drop off the package at 5pm somewhere, a 2 hour difference where the animal could be on the truck)