Shipping Reptiles - A How-To Guide

Discussion in 'General Discussion and Introductions' started by JEFFREH, Sep 24, 2011.


    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    DUW!! Lots of Pictures. This is a Two-Post Thread due to length!!
    As I was packaging up a snake to be shipped out last week, I decided to snap some photos and throw together a little how-to for shipping live reptiles safely. I get a lot of questions from buyers about the process, so I'll go ahead and throw this in the General Section.

    There are obviously other ways to go about doing this, but this is what I do and it has worked for me over the years. If you are ever shipping a live reptile, it’s always a good idea to check out videos and other articles online as well, this has been written about and recorded on numerous sites. A quick google search can provide loads of info, and youtube has many videos walking through the process.

    Note: This is only for the applicable for the shipment of live NON-VENOMOUS reptiles.

    As of now, the only carrier service that I use is FedEx for sending out reptiles. I used to go through UPS, but to my knowledge they have modified their standards and certain genus of reptile (like pythons) are no longer permitted. I could be wrong about that, but this is what the lady on the help-line told me as I was denied the ability to ship at one point last year. Delta Dash is also acceptable as it allows the animal to be send airport to airport.

    ALWAYS ship a live reptile OVERNIGHT - the less time the animal has to spend in transit the better. It is not acceptable to send an animal in any other way. Also, its imperative to check with the location to where you will be dropping off the package (unless you request a pick-up) to ensure that they will take the box. Some of the standalone stores and smaller locations can set their own rules about accepting live reptiles, and you can be denied. The best bet is to look up the nearest FedEx Express Shipping Center to your location - and call to see when the latest drop-off time is. These centers will accept a live animal, and are often open much later in the evening (sometimes as late as 9:30pm). This allows you to bring the animal to the center as late as possible, which means less time crammed in a box. For example, my hub stops receiving packages for overnight delivery by 9:30pm, so I aim to have the package there around 9pm and prepare the reptile for shipment as close to this time as possible.

    I ship live animals Monday-Wednesday, and sometimes on Thursday is requested by the buyer (although I highly prefer not to). Never ship on the weekends! If something happens where there animal cannot be delivered, it will be held up for the entire weekend. Remember, the less time in transit, the better. Most overnight services will allow the package to arrive by 10:30am the following day, which means the reptile may only be in the package for 12-16 hours...that’s ideal.

    I ONLY ship animals when the weather is between about 40-80 degrees on both ends. Depending on the species, size of the box, and the extremity of the weather, I will include cold or hot packs. Generally speaking, if temperatures are between 65-75 degrees on both ends, I'll opt to use neither. If things are a little toastier, I'll include a cold pack, and if they are lower than 65, a heat pack. Be sure to wrap these up sufficiently, follow instructions, and avoid direct contact with the herp. If temperatures are not ideal for shipping, I hold the animal until they are. Just recently I sent out a snake that was purchased in July due to high temperatures, I held the animal until the weather broke for nearly 7 weeks.

    I generally go through SYR - to book shipments through FedEx and print my label. They are a handy resource for shipping reptiles, and have a nice Q and A section along with all of the supplies you'd ever need to ship an animal. The box I'll be using for this is from their website, although you can always make your own. I’ve been ensured by a representative from the site that by going through them to book a shipment, you do NOT need to become FedEX certified if you ship through SYR. This is great news for many of us, and because we are clients under them, shipping through their site can save big money on the shipping cost. I highly, HIGHLY recommend using SYR and reading through their site.

    A note on any concer with temperature on the plane during the overnight shipment.... Robyn Markland (of SYR and Pro Exotics) has noted the following: "As for planes and altitudes, all airplane shipping compartments that ShipYourReptiles FedEx Overnight packages travel in are both pressurized and temperature controlled (55-75F)."

    Alright, so here come the pictures. First off, the supplies you will need:


    1) An appropriately sized box - this one is 12" x 9" x 6" (Ideal for juvenile pythons, geckos, etc)

    2) Insulation. 3/4" Styrofoam lines the entire interior of the box...bottom, sides, AND top. This will protect the animal from extreme temperature fluctuations and allow for some cushion.

    3) Packing material (Not included in photo, sorry). Newspaper works great, so does packing peanuts, etc. This is to act as a buffer to prevent the animal from getting too shook up. I generally crumble newspaper and cram shredded newspaper in all of the nooks and crannies to ensure the animal won't be going on a roller coaster ride.

    4) Heat pack or Cold pack if necessary.

    5) Deli cup with holes punched in the sides (for geckos, etc) or a snake bag.

    6) Packing tape to seal everything up in the end.

    7) Marker

    8) Your shipping label for the animal to arrive to its destination

    9) The reptile (also not pictured...yet).

    10) Screwdriver or something similar to puncture holes in the box.

    11) An unnecessarily large knife to...cut...things....when you can't find scissors.

    • Before packaging the herp, be sure to include a couple of holes into the side of the box and clear through the styrofoam insulation on the other side. You don't want to go overboard; I only punched out a total of 4 holes in this box about 1/8" in diameter using a screwdriver on opposite sides of the box. Many breeders opt not to use holes at hole due to the cardboard being slightly breathable and jeopardizing the integrity of the insulation, but I always feel obligated to punch out at least a couple of holes. If things are unusually cold or hot, I'll punch fewers holes to maintain as much buffer from the external environment as possible. ALWAYS punch at least a hole or two on each side if using a heat pack - they consume oxygen in order to react for heat production. Competeing for the limited oxygen in the box can, and will kill a reptile.






    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Continued from above...
    • Inspect the reptile that you are about to ship one ladt time. You should always thoroughly examine the herp well in advance to ensure that they are healthy and prepared for shipment. You generally do not want to feed the reptile within 48 hours of shipping to discourage the possibility of defecating or regurgitating during transit (from stress, etc). Do ensure the animal is well hydrated before departing though. I always encourage a small drink of water a few hours before packaging.

    • Package the animal. For snakes, I place shredded newspaper and paper towel in the snake bag before adding the snake. This gives the animal something to wrap around and cling to for security, and it will also help to absorb any fluid and excrement that may be expelled if they decide to soil themselves. Allow the snake a couple of inches of wiggle room below where you tie off the bag. Knot the bag tightly - I also reinfore it with a rubber band wrapped several times around the top as an added precaution. It's our responsibility to keep the snake safe and secure in the box.
    • For geckos and lizards placed in a deli cup, lay a few pieces of paper towel down to cover the bottom of the cup and to give the animal something to grip and absorb excrement during transit. I'll often throw a small piece of crumbled paper towel in there as well to let the gecko physically feel a surface to where it can hide under. Tape the deli lid down so that is securely sealed shut; being careful not to cover any of the air holes. I also wrap a rubber band or two around the whole thing as an added precaution in keeping the tightly shut.
    • Cover the bottom of the box with shredded and crumbled newspaper for cushion. If you need to add a heat pack or cold pack; wrap it up in some newspaper, and tape it to the side the Styrofam wall that will be furthest from the herp, and ensure that some newspaper is there to act as a buffer between the pack and the animal. Follow the directions on the heat pack for use, and ALWAYS test the pack for at least 10-15 minutes BEFORE placing it in the box to be certain that it works.

    1. I like to create a little "nest" by placing crumpled newspaper in the corner's as depicted above. I got this strategy from Justin Kobylka's videos.
    2. **A Note on Heat packs. Be sure the Red line on them is exposed to some airflow, they do need oxygen to stay activated. Also, there are generally two kinds of heat packs available: 40 Hour heat packs and 60 Hour heat packs. The 40 hours are usually the standard ones to use, and they have a slightly higher peak temperature that is achieved sooner than the 60hr packs. I use 40Hr packs most of the time, but I will use 60Hr packs if temps are on the more ideal side (closer to 65 degrees) to prevent quite as warm an internal temperature. Just a personal preference. NEVER USE A HAND WARMER OR FOOT WARMER TO SHIP REPTILES! Only use those heat packs meant for the job... A friend of mine recently lost an animal in transit due to being shipped with Hand Warmers. They're peak temeprature is too hot and they suck up a significant amount of oxygen. Do not use!* Always add a couple of holes to the box no matter what, and especially if using a heat pack of any kind due to their oxygen consumption.
    • Add the reptile to the box. Cover the surrounding area with crumbled newspaper or packing peanuts (etc) for cushion. The employees will likely be rough with the package, so the less movement and more cushion there is for the animal, the more comfortable and stress free the ride.

    • Provide pertinent information. Place the Styrofoam on and write down anything important that the buyer or an employess would need to know in case of an emergency. This is a Live Harmless Reptile, the Species, Gender, etc. After writing this, I will place a receipt/invoice of purchase on top along with any other important paperwork to be included from the transaction. The top piece of paper that anyone will read upon opening the box will have the Shipping Address re-written (in case of emergency) and a reminder that this is a live harmless reptile that has been packaged by the guidelines of the carrier. I didn't include the paperwork on top in this photo, just what I would write on the Styrofoam.

    • Thoroughly seal the package with packaging tape. I like to go all the way around the box a couple of times on each side to ensure that it will keep its shape and is well sealed. Be sure not to cover any of the holes you've punched in. If you do, CAREFULLY re-penetrate the holes through the tape using a screwdriver or pen.
    • Add your shipping label. I like to tape over this packaging tape as well to prevent wear and weather damage.
    • Write on the two largest sides of the package "LIVE HARMLESS REPTILE" if the package does not already have this written; with arrow pointing up in the appropriate direction to ensure the employees handle the package with care.
    • Take the package to the nearest predetermined hub (unless you requested a pickup) and send the herp off. Inform the buyer that the animal has been shipped, and provide them with a tracking number and any other pertinent details. Be sure to have them notify you when the animal arrives, and ALWAYS make sure that the both of you have discussed the shipping date so that the animal can be obtained on the first delivery attempt.
    Requesting a signature is often a bad idea, as in some situations its better to simply have the package left at the doorstep than having to go on a wild goose chase in tracking the deilvery truck down/waiting for the next delivery attempt. A common trend nowadays is to have the package held for pick-up at, this is often a good choice when weather is not on the ideal side.

    If shipping multiple animals in one box - be sure they are all the same species and are all disease free and healthy. Package each snake in its own back, and each lizard in its own deli cup. I do know of breeders who send several snakes in one bag, so I suppose it can be done, I just like to keep everything separated and labeled properly.

    *I'll be shipping a couple of geckos within the next couple of weeks when weather permits, and will be sure to include additional photos of any of the in-between steps that I may have missed or parts that may be pertinent to shipping lizards only. Shipping a reptile overnight generally costs about $50-60 give or take depending on the carries, size and weight of package, and the distance to the buyer.

    As I said, this isn't quite thoroughly complete, but I recently had a request so opted to post this up for anyone to stare at if they'd like. I'll be sure to include additional photos upon request with the next shipment. Let me know if I missed something or if you have any questions!! = )
  3. supernova

    supernova Member

    This is Great Information!!! Thanks for this!

    I have a few questions that i'm sure some will add to.

    • What would you say the ideal time of season for inside the United States Shipping?
    • Package size in relation to reptile to be shipped (standards) and color (white)?
    • Good Suppliers (brands) for hot and cold packs?
    • From experience, Who is the most reliable,responsible shipping service you have used? (My local UPS is less than organized)
    Again, This is very useful information on safely transporting reptiles.

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    No problem Robert = )

    I'll go ahead and adress your questions:

    The ideal seasons are typically Spring and Autumn - although it depends entirely on the temperatures and the areas to where the animal is being shipped from and to. For example, shipping from Texas to Florida may be possible in the winter depending on temperatures whereas shipping from New York to Wisconsin may be a nearly impossible feat in the dead of winter. They can be shipped virtually any time - but avoid shipping on or directly near Holidays as carriers are most busy during this time (increased chances of shipping related issues). Just be sure to follow the temperature guidelines, I prefer to only ship when temps are between 40 and 80 degrees F. Sometimes you'll get a freakish break in temperature in the summer or winter on both ends where temperatures become reasonable in a window of time. Also, be sure to check for weather advisorys and delays - I almost shipped a gecko last year that would passed through an area with excessive flooding and delays, but held off on shipment.

    Another note on weather - I always check the zip code at someplace like for both the destination AND my location. Keep in mind that the animal is primarily in transit overnight and in the early morning, so keep an eye on the lows for the day. You can go a step further and try to find out where the mid-point sorting facility is as well, and check the temperatures at that location for the late evening/early morning to try to plan it out. I won't go into excuciating detail about specific scenarios - so feel free to ask if you are in a predicament and want a second opinion on whether or not to ship an animal, or whether to send with a cold or hot pack, etc. has a good guide to what sized packages may be appropriate for different sized animals in their Shipping Kitssection. You can ship the animal in any colored box, I've received them in standard brown boxes as well as typical pre-made boxes made specifically for reptiles such as the one I've shown. It's probably cheaper to make your own box, I just found it more convenient to order them premade with all the fixens knowing what species I generally ship.

    Basically, for lizards - I use a deli cup or container of appropriate size to accomodate the animal but restircting too much movement to where violent box movement (employees throwing the box) may cause the animal to slide around obnoxiously. The deli-cups I use are big enough for the gecko to spin around comfortable and fit in such a way that their Snout-to-Vent length is smaller than the diameter of the cup. The box should be large enough to accomdate this cup within the Styrofoam lining and still have room to place adequate amounts of packing materials (ie. Crumbled Newspaper, etc), as well as some room for the hot or cold pack if shipping with one.

    Same thing applies to snakes. I'll use Deli-Cups securely fastened closed with tape and rubber bands for baby pythons (make sure there are holes!). Juvenile and larger snakes will be bagged up in a snake bag and secured as shown in my guide. There should be enough room to where the snake within the bag fits within the lining of the box and still has adequate room for packing material. I should have taken a photo of the snake within the box before placing newsprint on top to show you this... When I ship a gecko out in the next couple of weeks I'll be sure to include a refrence photo!

    For snake bags, they are sold in various sizes. The size I used in this guide was a 12" x 16" cloth bag, for a 1000 gram ball python. This is probably the largest size snake I would ship in this sized back and package, it was getting to be a tight fit for this sized box as well.

    "UniHeat" is the traditional heat pack used for shipping reptiles. You can purchase them at SYR or at amonst other places. I use the 40 hour pack for most shipping applications, although the 60 hour or 72 hour can be used if temperatures are a little closer to the ideal because their peak temperature doesn't get as hot.

    As for Cold packs, you can just buy a small re-usable one from someplace. Keep em frozen and then place them in a plastic bag and thoroughly wrap them in paper towel and/or newspaper prior to placing them into the box. As always, avoid direct contact with the herp and be sure heat packs have exposure to some oxygen via the 'red line' on the pack.

    FedEx hasn't failed me yet! You can always request the package for pickup if weather is on the more unfavorable side or if you don't trust a driver (lol). Delta Dash is reliable as well, although this requires you to pick it up as well and it will not be sent to your front door. I do all residential shipping through FedEx though. Also, if booking a shipment through SYR, you do NOT need to be FedEX certified to ship the animal because you are under their account. Otherwise, you will have to go through a certification process. I can elaborate a little more on this if you'd like.

    Also - as I mentioned in the first post, take the package to a hub, a staffed FedEx Express Shipping Center. I prefer not to drop them off at places like Staples, or a small store within a chain simply because they can set their own regulations on accepting live, nonvenomous reptiles. A main FedEx facility will not (should not) deny your package.

    If you haven't noticed, I'm a huge advocate for Ship Your Reptiles (SYR). They are a fantastic resource... you can cover all the bases for shipping with them, get supplies, save on cost, skip becoming certified, AND they have options to insure packages to the value of the animal. I would highly recommend browsing their site thoroughly, they also have a nice FAQ section.

    And finally, I wanted to note something else. Heat kills more than cold - if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to ship on either a 95 degree day or a 35 degree day, I would pick the 35 degree day a million times over. If the truck has a delay, and its a hot day in the back, it can kill. Excess heat can also cause neurological problems in reptiles if it doesn't kill them... cold simply slows their metabolism down excesively and symptoms can often be reversed when allowed to heat back up and recover. Be responsible when shipping, the life of the animal is in your hands. Temperature variation can also vary species to species for me as well - EX: Geckos in the Rhacodactylus genus don't tolerate warm temperatures very well, and for that reason I only ship them in a window of 40-75 degrees F.

    Hope this helps!
    Eme Demiri and supernova like this.
  5. яowan.ω

    яowan.ω Member

    If I ever ship a reptile for any reason, I'll write:
    Live HARMFUL Reptile
    Handle with care (or suffer the consequences) >:3
    Cherin and Eme Demiri like this.
  6. StikyPaws312

    StikyPaws312 Moderator Staff Member

    Wow, awesome tutorial Jeff!!!! I was going through old photobucket pics and found this one of my 1st hatchling I ever sent out :)


    "Little 5" went down to Florida actually... I believe I actually sent him out DHL overnight at the time... obviously DHL isn't in business for "local" shipping anymore (they're only worldwide)... I'd go with FedEx now. And that ship your reptiles website is fantastic!!! I really wish that was around when I was mass shipping out leos! Lol.

    Also just a little tip for the heat packs and shipping in the "winter".... (I was a pro - I lived in New England at the time, lol). When you put the heat packs in the box, since heat rises you would think that you should put it on the bottom (in the middle) of the box... DON'T! Like Jeff said, the heat pack needs oxygen, and since boxes usually get stacked on top of each other when shipped it is best to put the heat pack on the bottom but on one of the SIDES of the box, then poke a hole through the SIDE of the box right next to the heat pack, do not poke the hole on the bottom, it will be useless. Just to be safe I used to poke one more hole on the opposite side just in case. I would then tape down the heat pack right next to, if not on top of, one of the side holes, then cover it with crumpled newspaper (try not to use plastic bubble-wrap because it does not allow air through, therefor it doesn't allow for even heat distribution). I also always tried to have my geckos closer to the top of the box than the bottom (both for the heat and just in case the box gets dropped).

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents on shipping geckos :) Oh! I always go the "hold at nearest hub" option... so much safer that way :)
    supernova and JEFFREH like this.
  7. StikyPaws312

    StikyPaws312 Moderator Staff Member

    Lol I just realized that pic is from 2006... and it looks exactly like your pics from the other day... crazy how things haven't changed at all.
  8. karan

    karan New Member

    Should I do Same With Beardies????

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Yep - You'll want to employ the same strategy for beardies as you would for geckos and other lizards. Use appropriately sized deli cups for the animals if possible.

    Larger dragons can be shipped in the cloth bags that are typically made for snakes - you can use the exact same method I described for shipping snakes for very large dragons where finding a good sized deli cup is impractical.

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Added Gecko pics as promised, although this was thoroughly covered by Lauren already in Post#6 = )

    Cammy and яowan.ω like this.
  11. яowan.ω

    яowan.ω Member

    Beautiful~ <33
    JEFFREH likes this.
  12. StikyPaws312

    StikyPaws312 Moderator Staff Member

    So pretty :)

    Oh! When finding "appropriately sized deli cups"... by appropriately we mean not TOO much bigger than the reptile... you don't want them squished and not able to stand up or at least turn around, but you also don't want so much room that they can get bounced around inside the deli cup and get hurt...

    For example, the deli cup in mine is just the tiniest bit too big for my little guy... but the next smaller size wouldn't allow him to stand up so I went with the just a bit too big one, Jeff's pic is a bit more appropriately sized for that crestie :)
  13. Cookie17

    Cookie17 HOTM Winner June

    So when you ship a lizard, you want to leave room in the deli? I kn ow for tarantulas, we make as little room available as possible, so we put cushion on the bottom, and sides, make is really thick so if the box gets dropped or thrown, the T will hit the paper towel and it'll be soft. The more room you leave, the more chance the animal has of getting hurt. Even with the arrows on the box, not all people pay attention to them. So wouldn't it be safer to pack them in closely and snugly?

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Hey cookie,

    You want to leave some room in the deli; it shouldn't be soo crammed in there that movement is completely restricted. That being said, you also need to find a happy median... there defnitely needs to be some kind of material in there to absorb any excrement during the trip and add some cushion. I try to add plenty of shredded paper towel for the gecko to kind of hide in and around during transit that also acts as a slight buffer.

    The packing material in the box will handle most of the stress and keep the gecko and deli cup fairly stable during transit.

    Also: new little note that I'll be editing into the main post. Robyn from SYR and Pro Exotics has informed us that even on the planes, the animals are exposed to comfortable temperature range.

    "As for planes and altitudes, all airplane shipping compartments that ShipYourReptiles FedEx Overnight packages travel in are both pressurized and temperature controlled (55-75F). " -Robyn
  15. StikyPaws312

    StikyPaws312 Moderator Staff Member

    Yup, it's a law now :) Any live animal (as labeled on the box or crate) MUST be in a temperature controlled and pressurized cabin. This law came into effect after a number of years ago a large amount of dogs/animals were dying while being transported... Keep in mind, this is only for US flights... there aren't currently any global regulations... (I don't think)
  16. WingedWolf

    WingedWolf Member

    I always package reptiles as though the package is going to be thrown down a flight of stairs at some point, and I recommend the following modifications:

    1) When packing animals in deli cups, add crumpled paper towel to minimize the free space. The animals will be able to hide under it and within it, and grip it. It will help cushion them if the package falls.

    2) The Lacey Act requires the package to be marked on the outside. It must say 'Live Harmless Reptile' (at least) on the OUTSIDE of the package, CLEARLY. I write 'additional information under shipping label'. Within the plastic pouch under the label, I place a note with the species name, common name, and number of animals in the box. This note is accessible WITHOUT opening the box up, and this is important, because the requirements specify that this information has to be accessible and prominent. Putting this information inside the sealed box only, is of questionable legality. Placing it under the shipping label prevents workers from freaking out that they're handling snakes, but allows legitimate people to simply open the pouch and check which species are in the box. The Lacey Act requirements are confusing, because the different parts aren't in the same document, but once you have them all together, they are clear.

    3) Place your heat packs (or cool packs) off center. If they become too hot or cool, the animal will be able to move away or toward the heat, slightly.
    JEFFREH likes this.
  17. Cookie17

    Cookie17 HOTM Winner June

    I might be shipping out a couple of male geckos soon... I still feel like the way you show to pack lizards isn't safe because the box will get thrown around and the lizard will hit the sides and top of the deli which could cause injury or even death, couldn't it? *sigh* I'm nervous...

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Hey Cookie,

    Its hard to tell by the photos, but perhaps this one depicts it a little better. The white of the shredded/crumbled paper towel is hard to distinguish in the cup, so its hard to judge just how much is actually in there:

    I add a few layers to the bottom, and a handful or so of shredded paper towel that the gecko can hide within and buffer it some. I assure you, I've shipped out a fairly hefty number of geckos in precisely this manner and all made it to their destination alive and well. I've also received quite a few that were packaged similarly and in less-than-ideal packaging ( an extremely large deli cup with absolutely nothing but the gecko inside for example) with no injury.

    I encourage you and anyone else shipping reptiles to utilize as many resources as possible. Check out youtube videos, other how-to's, etc... they "should" be incredibly similar, but safely packing reptiles is vitally important for the well-being of the animal and our hobby, so the more research you can do, and the more prepared you can be, the better.

    WingedWolf - Thank you for the tidbit on the Lacey Act, I do believe I will be adding more information with future shipments below the label as you suggest. I did actually cover the outside labeling and heat pack placement in the primary posts; though I admit I have a tendency of writing novels that make it easy to miss some important details for readers... thank you for the additions.

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