Shipping Caudates

By Jennifer Macke

One requirement for the long-term success of captive breeding is the ability to transport animals among breeders. Fortunately, shipping adult newts and salamanders is relatively easy. They can live for several days, even up to a week, in transport, as long as their temperature requirements are met.

Before you even think about shipping. Find out what the laws are in your country/state and the receiving country/state. Many states prohibit the sale or trade of any native species, and this may even apply to captive bred offspring. Several US states have very strict policies, and it is essential to know those policies before you even consider shipping an animal.

Before you ship. Call your local carriers to make sure that they offer the service you want. For example, the USPS cannot do overnight delivery to certain zip codes. Ask about restrictions on shipping live animals. Ask what time of day you need to bring in the package to get it sent out that day. In most cases, packages are shipped out in the evening, regardless of what time of day you bring it to the office, but cutoff times vary from one post office to another. You may also want to inquire about "Hold and Call" service, which holds the package at the office until the recipient comes to pick it up. In some cases this is desirable because it avoids having the package in a delivery truck on a hot or cold day. The sender and recipient should be sure to work out all details, including how to deal with any delays or disasters in the shipping process.

U.S. shipping policies on animals. The US Post Office and other carriers may change their rules about shipping animals at any time, so this article doesn't try to give specifics about policies. It is very important to ask questions at your local shipping office before you pack up the critters to ship! As of 2016, the US post office will accept harmless live animals including salamanders. FedEx requires pre-approval, which may take several weeks to obtain.

US Priority Mail. Costs US$6-10 and takes 2-3 days. For most of the US, it is only safe to ship by this method during the spring and fall (above freezing, but below 75F). Get a plastic container (deli-cup, margerine tub, Kool-whip tub, etc.) and punch holes in it. Punch the holes with a nail or awl, going from inside toward the outside so that the rough part of the hole faces the outside. Fill the container with damp sphagnum moss, crumpled paper towels, polyester filter fiber, or wet styrofoam peanuts. Pack the animals in the plastic tub with enough wet moss/towels to prevent them from bumping around when the box gets tumbled. Pack the deli cup in a cardboard box with padding material. You may want to mark the package "Perishable" and "Protect from Heat" or "Protect from Freezing", depending on the weather.

shipping containers
Containers for shipping.
shipping moss
Moss soaking in preparation for padding inside of shipping container.

Overnight Mail. Costs $25-100. For cost, the US Postal Service is the shipper of choice, because they are less expensive and most likely to keep parcels in temperature-controlled environments. This method has the advantage of working most of the year. Pack the animals in a deli cup of damp substrate, as described above. Put the deli cup inside an insulated container. (You can get used styrofoam boxes from Freecycle or from medical/veterinary offices.) In summer, add a frozen cold-pack, but be sure to put a layer of insulation between the deli cup and the ice pack so that the animals don't get too cold next to the ice pack. Pack securely with newspaper. If the styrofoam box is very small, make some air holes in it.

shipping containers
Container ready for shipping.
shipping containers
In hot weather, place container in insulated box with cold pack.

Shipping eggs. Eggs can be shipped, and are able to survive up to a week in shipment. Cut off small pieces of plant leaves or plastic strips containing the eggs. Eggs laid on rocks can be carefully removed with a razor blade.

Method 1: Place the eggs into a tightly-sealed plastic bottle (approximately 8 oz / 250 ml) filled to the top with tank water. Don't leave air-space, as the sloshing may damage the eggs. There will be enough oxygen in the water to keep them alive for several days.

Method 2: Place eggs on a piece of wet paper towel inside a plastic audio cassette box, VHS box, or similar small firm box. Ship in an envelope lined with bubble wrap or inside a zip-close plastic bag.

Method 3: Place eggs and a small amount of water in a small breather bag, with no air. Breather bags can be purchased online, and they are made of plastic that allows air to transpire. Seal the bag with a firm knot and place it inside something crush-proof, such as a deli cup or other small container.

shipping eggs
Eggs ready for shipment in bottle (Method 1).
shipping eggs
Eggs ready for shipment in plastic CD box (Method 2).
shipping eggs
Eggs ready for shipment in breather bags (Method 3).

Shipping larvae (or axolotls). This is the hardest stage to ship because they need to be shipped in water.

Method 1 (for small larvae only): Put the larvae in a plastic soda bottle filled completely to the top with tank water. Pack in a box and ship as quickly as possible. The larvae can die from lack of oxygen if they are too crowded, so it is better to err on the side of sending fewer. Do not include plants, because in darkness plants consume, rather than produce oxygen. Do not include air, as the sloshing may do damage. For a small number of larvae, there will be enough oxygen to survive 1-2 days.

Method 2: Place water and an equal volume of air into a 1-gallon zipper-seal bag. Seal shut, then seal it again with packaging tape. Place into one or two addition bags, again sealing them doubly with packaging tape, in addition to the zipper seal. Pack snugly in a box.

Method 3: Use breather bags, which allow air to transpire. Do NOT include any air in the bag. Breather bags are probably the BEST way to ship, but the bags usually cost about $1 each and must be purchased online ahead of time.

Forum. has a Shipping Forum for discussion of reptile and amphibian shipping issues.

Published January 2010. Revised March 2016.


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