Transporting Reptiles


Introduction:  There is very little information available for people who need to move their livestock from one place to another.  Although most herpers are responsible, many make mistakes, which can lead to problems.  Of the countless shipments we have received over the years there have been a few real howlers, such as the Royal Python owner who turned up at the old Serpentarium in Walsall with his snake wrapped around his wrist, having travelled there by bus!!!  Obviously this would be stressful for the Python, but also very distressing for many members of the public. Also noteworthy was the package we received with a selection of dead hatchlings that were packed on top of a consignment of frozen foods. Hopefully this article will help get our animals from A to B with a little less fuss.

Transportation containers:  It is always best to pack all livestock individually in their own container, be that a bag or a tub.  Transportation is always stressful to some degree; therefore the less crowded the journey the better.  If this is not possible, for example if you are transporting a number of specimens, then try to pack only animals of the same species and size in any one container. A good tip if you have to pack multiple specimens in one tub is to cut a small “V” in the lid.  You can then deposit the animals in through the cut and avoid them climbing out as often happens if you remove the entire lid.

Small lizards (up to the size of an adult Leopard Gecko) and small snakes (hatchlings to medium sized Garters) are best packed in Cricket tubs.  This should be furnished simply with a piece of kitchen roll or shredded newspaper for the animal to either hide in or hold onto.  The tub can then be secured at both ends with tape, making sure not to cover any air holes.  Similarly, any other container that you chose to use instead must also have air holes.
The above method is also good for transporting Spiders, small Turtles and also Amphibians, although these animals will obviously have some humidity or moisture requirements.  This can be achieved by simply dampening the kitchen roll, although in the case of Turtles and Amphibs I prefer to use wet, shredded newspaper.

Larger Snakes and Lizards are best housed in appropriately sized cloth bags, such as a pillowcase or similar.  (Large Pythons are often transported in quilt covers!).  The bags should contain just a few sheets of crumpled newspaper, again for the animal to hold onto.  To secure the open end, twist the top of the bag (as if wringing it out), fold the twist in two and then tape round the twist tightly.  Please make sure that the inhabitant does not have its head/leg/tail in the neck of the bag before you twist.  This may sound like common sense, but I have seen it done many times.  This “twist and tape” method is a very effective way of sealing Snake bags.  Draw string bags are ridiculously easy for Snakes to escape from. It is advisable that when moving large boids that the animal should be not only bagged but also put inside a large wooden box in order that the snake cannot effect an escape by simply ‘flexing’ and splitting it’s bag and poly box.

The best thing to do with your tub or bag is to put it inside a polystyrene box (the same used to transport Tropical Fish).  This will help prevent any crushing in transit.  Pack any space inside the poly box with crumpled newspaper to stop the animal bumping around inside.  Again, make sure the poly box has air holes and then secure the lid with tape.

If you intend to deliver or collect your animals personally you may wish to invest in one of the commercially produced heated transportation boxes that are available from some Herpetological suppliers.  These usually consist of an attractive plastic lined poly box with a thermostatically controlled heater, which can be plugged into your car cigarette lighter.  These are probably useful for long journeys in cold weather.

Reptiles in public:  When taking your Reptile out of doors it is not a good idea for them to be visible to the general public.  Many people have genuine phobias about Reptiles and Spiders and will certainly be distressed at the sight of your beloved pet.

Recent television programmes have set out to give Herpers a bad image, portraying us as irresponsible and our hobby as dangerous. Incidents of public distress simply add to the problem and fuels the argument of those who would like to ban us all from pursuing our hobby.  This is a very real threat to Herpetoculture today.  Taking your dog to the pub is accepted by most of society; meeting your Iguana in the park may be some people’s nightmare, so please be responsible.  DO  NOT TERRORISE THE PUBLIC WITH YOUR PET.

Escapes:  Another issue to raise along similar lines is that of escapes in transit.  The media love to hype up stories of “Thirty Foot Pythons” that escape in their owner’s cars only to be found wrapped around the engine.  Again, the “antis” are bursting for an opportunity to point out how irresponsible Reptile keepers are, and again, incidents of escape simply fan the fire.  More to the point, these types of escapes can be extremely bad (possibly fatal) for your animal.

Always ensure that all containers, particularly stitched cloth bags are free of escape holes.  Any air holes should be very small.  Holes that seem “just small enough” to you or I, are invariably just big enough for a Snake to squeeze through.  Lastly, make sure any tape, ties and the like are very secure.  These types of cock-ups are largely avoidable but could prove extremely costly, both in terms of financial costs and the freedom to pursue our hobby.  Avoid unnecessary over-legislation.  Be careful. This is not an over reaction.

Health prior to transportation:  It is wise to ensure that your Herps are in A1 condition before moving them.  (Obviously, trips to the Vet are an exception).  If not, then you should ask yourself why you are buying or selling a sick animal and realise that the resulting stress of the journey will likely debilitate it further.  You should check for good body weight and that it is free of ticks and mites, so as not to introduce the little buggers into another collection.

Many imported specimens also harbour internal parasites, which take advantage of stressed animals in transit.  When stress reduces the Reptiles immune system, parasites can multiply and overwhelm the host.  Although this scenario is mostly true of the long journeys from country of origin, as I have mentioned previously, all journeys are a source of stress.

As far as feeding goes, be aware that many Snakes are willing to regurgitate their last meal several days after being fed, and it is not wise to feed a Lizard in the 24 hours prior to transportation.  As long as the Reptile is generally well nourished, then food and water should not be necessary for most trips.  Any water bowl will certainly be spilt in transit.

Weather:  Probably the most obvious consideration of Reptile husbandry is temperature.  This is still true when moving Herps.  The weather is not usually much of a problem when making short trips, but some precautions are advisable.  In particularly cold weather, ensure that the animal is well insulated, (i.e., use a poly box).
As a guide, it should not be necessary to provide any heat for journeys of two or three hours.  I think I should mention here the woman who bought her Iguana into our facility on a red hot water bottle.  Unfortunately the Iguana was cooked to death, much to the distress of the owners.

On the other hand, very hot weather can bring it’s own problems.  Containers left in direct sunlight, such as in a car, can quickly over-heat the inhabitants.  I personally had a problem keeping a tub of Tree Frogs cool whilst stuck in traffic on a particularly hot day.  Be aware that cold will take some time to kill a reptile but excess heat can kill in minutes!

Longer journeys and when sending Reptiles by courier need careful consideration again.  When accompanying your Herps on their journey, it is advisable to check on them every few hours, possibly at service stops.  Take thermometers with you and check temperatures.  It may be of benefit to make journeys on cold days, wearing short sleeves.  It is possible that you will then be more aware of the temperature.  Although I have never used the heated transport boxes myself, I suspect it is on journeys such as these that they would be of the most benefit.

Courier delivery:  It is always preferable to deliver or collect Reptiles personally.  However careful livestock couriers try to be, one must remember the huge volume of packages the drivers handle every day.  Shipments DO get left for days in cold warehouses and boxes DO get bounced around in the back of delivery vans, albeit accidentally.  Make sure the shipment box is sturdy enough to take a battering and that the inhabitants are well cushioned.
A useful hint when shipping on cold days is to use “hand warmers” taped to the inside of the poly box.  These are like small bean bags a chemical powder, which, when exposed to air, will give off a gentle heat for several hours.  These can be bought from fishing tackle and outdoor pursuits shops.  The final word about weather must be “if in doubt, do not ship!”
NB  It is never acceptable to send Herps by post.

Medium and large-scale transportation:  Shipping becomes almost an art form when sending large numbers of specimens.  There are many corners that can be cut, which are unfortunately often at the expense of the animals health.  It is often the large-scale importers and exporters who have more regard for the financial worth and profit of the animal than its health.  Obviously, the intricacies of large-scale shipping are difficult to explain on paper without practical examples, but I can offer a few hints and tips to the hobbyist.

Firstly, beware of crushing.  Packing Pythons on top of Anolis Lizards is plain dumb!  Many shippers overcome this problem by hanging bags from dowel rods secured across the box, whereas others partition the box into sections with wood.  It is still more advisable to pack specimens individually, but you can usually get away with packing numerous specimens into one bag if they have enough shredded paper to hide in.  Still, try not to over-crowd the bags and remember the stress problem.  Be aware that some species will fight to the death if packaged together and some simply will not tolerate communal shipping.  Again, pay regard to the oxygen needs of a large shipment.  The more specimens the box contains, the greater the oxygen needs, so be sure to take this into consideration when providing ventilation. Lastly, here’s a quick tip for anyone who has ever tried to pack several animals into a bag only to have them keep climbing out.  Hold the neck of the bag around a smooth sided tube, (see photo,) and drop the animals down the tube into the bag.  It works a treat!

Labelling:  Correct labelling of transportation containers is essential.  This is particularly true when sending Herps by courier.  The receiver’s address should be the most prominent notice on the box.  It should be clear and easy to read, preferably pasted on two or three sides.  Also clearly visible should be a notice reading “HARMLESS      NON-VENOMOUS       REPTILES”
(The transportation of  D.W.A. and venomous animals warrants a separate article and will not be covered here).
Also noted on the box should be the exact contents (species and head counts etc), the senders’ address and contact telephone numbers in case of emergency.  It may be worthwhile to put a “safe temperature” range on the box, although it is only an outstanding courier that will pay any attention to it.
It is also useful to the receiver if individual bags and boxes within the package are labelled too. It is always nice to know if the box you are opening contains Cobras or  Kingsnakes!!

Conclusion:   Obviously there will be details and variables that have not been included in this article   e.g., the species-specific requirements that would need to be taken into consideration.
Turtles like to be wet.  King Snakes eat each other and Horned Frogs do both.  The list is endless.  Ultimately, you are responsible for the well being of your animals whilst in transit.  However, with the help of this article and maybe a little fore thought (and luck) it may be possible to avoid the transportation nightmare.

Published: International Herpetological Journal.


~ by Tony's Desk on February 23, 2009.

4 Responses to “Transporting Reptiles”

  1. Hello Tony
    Excellent, comprehensive article, thank you. Can you recommend any reptile couriers in the US? We want to ship a ball python from Washington DC to Tucson Arizona. Thank you.

  2. Hello Jennie,

    I’m based in the UK so I’m afraid I can’t advise, but it you speak to the good folk over at I’m sure they will be able to help.


  3. That was extremley informative, the only thing I am unsure of now, is where is a good place to buy poly boxes?

  4. You can usually pick up poly boxes from tropical fish suppliers, frozen fish/food suppliers and sometimes from frozen meat suppliers. Remember to punch breathe holes! Glad you though the feature was useful.


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