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Shipping snails

How to safely ship snails by mail

It has been more than a year now but the dreadful experience that made me write this post is still pretty painful. 2 rare snails (acavus and megalobulimus) were shipped to me in packaging so inappropriate that they arrived with a severe hypothermia. In addition, acavus was so malnourished that he died within a week, megalobulimus followed shortly after.

This is my method, there could be other

I am convinced that the process I am just about to describe it is currently the best and safest method - of course, there may be other opinions and perhaps better solutions. If you know any, I would be happy if you share them with me. What shocks me is that there is a common opinion that even the "art" of packing snails for travel is know-how or a trade secret of breeders. But as it turns out - in some cases, it is indeed a matter of life and death.

"Boxing" the snails

I place the snails in a small plastic box with breathing holes. Ideally, each snail should be packed in its own small plastic box, but that’s not always possible. Additionally, when it is cold however, I usually pack more snails together to save space - because a smaller cardboard box (with styrofoam lining of course) does stay warm longer. Nevertheless, the number and size of snails should be chosen so that in the event of an impact, one snail does not break another snail’s shell. I try to pack as much moss as possible between two snails to cushion any potential contact.

I fill the remaining space with moist moss so that the snails are packed tightly - when you gently shake the box, you shouldn't hear rattling sound. Under no circumstances do I use bunch of dandelion leaves or lettuce as filler because the snails will eat it and/or it will wilt, creating unwanted free space where the snails can move during transport and bump against the walls or each other. You don’t need to use expensive moss you purchased online; any moss from your garden lawn will do. Coconut peat (or regular peat) is also not the best idea - I don't know exactly why, but snails sent in peat always need much more time to recover after the journey (this has been confirmed by many people to whom I’ve sent snails in moss - they praised that the snails were almost immediately active after being taken out of the box). Maybe snails simply rest in moss regularly, but they only burrow into peat as small babies, so being "buried for many hours" is just very stressful for them.

The small plastic boxes must be sealed with tape to prevent them from opening during the journey. Yes, it has happened to me that snails arrived and were freely wandering around in a cardboard box because the small plastic boxes (unsealed) opened during transport.

Food for the trip

As food during the journey, sweet potato is suitable because it does not spoil. If the trip gets complicated, it can last without any problems for a week. I place a few thin slices of sweet potato directly under the snail, so he just sits and eats without having the tendency to move anywhere, thereby increasing the risk of injury. I have heard an opinion that if there is no food at all, the snails will just sleep and stay still. Partially true perhaps but before that happens, snails will be digging and searching the box' content just in case, there is food somewhere to be discovered. So my recommendation is - food, thin slices, close to the snail.

The main shipping box

The cardboard box must be large enough so that after all the plastic boxes are packed inside, there are sufficient deformation zones on all sides. Sure, a courier might throw the box or another heavier box might dent a corner, but if there is enough free space inside, it won’t harm the snails.

The cardboard box must also be sturdy enough. If it isn't, just use two boxes or at least reinforce it at strategic points like the bottom and top, or opposite corners, with another piece of cardboard.

As filler, newspapers can be used, but there must be enough of them and they must be tightly crumpled to prevent the plastic boxes with snails from moving freely inside the cardboard box. Personally, I prefer styrofoam pre-made Flo-pak packing pieces combined with air pillows, which I either buy or recycle just like the cardboard boxes (yes, my whole family and all my friends collect boxes and packing materials for me - it’s cheap and eco-friendly). They perfectly fill any space and also insulate - 2 in 1.

Temperature can kill!

The right temperature is crucial! No decent breeder sends snails when it’s too cold or too hot. Styrofoam lining of all sides of the box is essential to ensure that the environment inside the box remains stable even when there are temperature fluctuations outside the box. You’ve probably noticed that everyone who comes to buy an animal at Ziva Exotika, Terraristika Hamm, Terraria Houten or any another terraristic fair brings a styrofoam box. If it’s still generally cold and the recipient agrees with the breeder to use a heating pack, it’s pointless without completely lining the box with styrofoam because the heat from the heat pack won’t stay inside the box. It is important to cut each piece clean (with a sharp cutter) so when all pieces of styrofoam are assembled inside the cardboard box, they line up perfectly.

If it’s warm during the day but still cool at night, styrofoam ensures that if the package is briefly exposed to temperature changes (when waiting at night next to a vehicle), it won’t significantly affect the temperature inside. Same principle applies when night are mild but temperatures during the day can climb high. Or if a courier's car is park on the sun during the lunch break.

There are moments when it is really hard to decide - to use or not to use a heat pack. Always remember that snails can easily recover from going through a cold period that lasts hours. But even a few minutes of excessive heat will reliably kill them.

A collage that shows how to properly pack snails to travel in mail safely.

Heat pack - good servant but evil master

Yes, we have this proverb in Czech about fire. That is handled properly, it serves people well but if it gets out of your control, it can be very dangerous. Same applies to heatpacks that I honestly do not like (hate?) with all my heart because they can kill and cannot be 100% controlled.

It hurts my business because often I refuse to ship snails when weather is too cold and I am sure heatpack would not "fix it" so the customer goes to someone else, who cares much less. Often because they have written on their website somewhere that "shipping on receiver's responsibility" - snails arrived dead? Not their problem. I share responsibility with my customers. If you listen to me (wait for better weather, use heat pack, not use heatpack, use styrofoam, etc.), I will replace your snails free of charge in case they do not survive the trip and we did maximum to prevent bad things from happening. I provide new snails, you pay the second shipping. You can be sure that I do my best to deliver the snails to you in a good shape.

Heat pack - facts, lies, disadvantages

Heat pack only make sense if it’s not too cold (10°C minimum) and there isn’t a big difference between day and night temperatures. When it’s too cold, the heating pack can’t heat the package enough and the snails still freeze or suffer severe hypothermia that will cause death later.

I found out that the stated 40 operation hours is really an exaggeration - the pack has never arrived at least warm, even when it traveled barely 30 hours. Everyone uses the cheapest heatpacks to save money - guess what: the average temperature stated is 50°C and the maximum temperature even 65°C. That’s really high. Such a temperature can kill a snail within minutes. I’ve seen it happen, not just once.

The heating pack also consumes oxygen, I don’t know exactly how much so how quickly snails will have no oxygen left to breathe. So just in case, ventilation holes must be made so that air comes into the cardboard box. And here is the tricky part - how many or how big whole will allow enough air in but not too much heat out (so the snails don't freeze)?

Don't let the snail touch it!

The pack must be placed so it doesn’t accidentally touch the plastic box with moss and snails (the snail would cook), so ideally, make a barrier out of thin styrofoam with lots of big holes. The heat emitted by the heat pack easily travels to the snails' compartment but the heat pack cannot get in direct contact with plastic box with snails. Direct contact with the heat pack means certain death. This happened with a shipment I received once. The pack moved next to the box with an ovum XXL - the snail was literally cooked when I unpacked him.

In short: getting it right with a heating pack to be useful and not harmful probably requires a diploma in applied physics and perhaps proven experience in meteorology. I am just kidding :) Or am I not?

Yes, I’ve discovered a heating pack designed for transporting fish that promises a stable temperature for 72 hours - I tell everyone about it and recommend it to everyone. But it’s more expensive and not sold by every e-shop, so no one is interested.

My last words

Please be patient. Wait for the right weather. And if the breeders pushes you to ship, consider buying from someone else (not me necessarily, ha ha). No snail deserves to die just because you are too excited to have him at home and the breeder is too excited to get rid of him!

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