Crested geckos, and other New Caledonian gecko species, are considered some of the most hardy reptiles in the hobby and can be shipped overnight for next day delivery in the right conditions rather safely. When shipping these geckos, their health and safety should always be the top priority. There are several factors to consider before shipping a crested gecko, which include: outside temperatures on both the shipper’s and the recipient's end, delivery time, total time in transit, and potential for delays. This article will cover what we believe to be the best practices when shipping live geckos.
Both UPS and FedEx will handle “live harmless reptile” shipments. FedEx tends to be more popularly used given that there are a few third party companies that you can use for purchasing shipping labels, such as Ship Your Reptiles. Here are the packaging guidelines that FedEx requires for all Live Harmless Reptile shipments:
The animal should be placed inside an inner container such as a deli container with a lid secured by tape, rubber bands or staples, or for snakes, a cloth bag tightly sealed using the fold-over method. Fill any voids with packing peanuts, crumpled newspaper or shredded paper on all sides of the inner container. Sturdy outer box (200 lb. burst strength, single-wall) sealed on all non-adhered seams in an ‘H’ pattern with minimum 2" wide pressure-sensitive packing tape. Clearly label the outer packaging “Live Harmless Reptile” on 2 sides of the box. Place shipping label on the top of the box (this will help dictate the appropriate orientation of the package In addition to these requirements, packaging must be approved and tested by the carrier for structural integrity. You can bypass the testing by ordering pre approved foam insulated boxes HERE.
The outside temperatures should be the biggest deciding factor when choosing a safe shipping and delivery day. Crested, and other Rhacodactylus related species, are unique in that they thrive in cooler temperatures compared to other reptiles. We consider 35-80 F a suitable range for either the origin or destination. If the temperature range happens to be colder than 35 F or hotter than 80 F, particularly on the recipient’s end, then consider holding off until better weather. If the weather isn’t favorable in your area, consider dropping the package off directly at the FedEx Ship Center that serves your area to reduce the amount of time the package on a truck and subjected to the hot or cold temps.
It is important to understand that not all FedEx locations will accept reptile shipments. In fact, most FedEx Office, Authorized Ship Centers, or other privately owned (not owned and operated by FedEx) shipping supplies store/drop off sites can refuse live animal shipments. This applies to UPS as well. UPS Customer Centers are owned by UPS. These locations, FedEx Ship Centers and UPS Customer Centers, are where packages are sorted and loaded onto delivery vehicles. Reptile shipments can also be held for pick up at these locations, which greatly reduces the time the animal is in transit and potentially subjected to less than ideal temperatures while on a delivery vehicle. The delivery time for these locations is typically very early in the morning, and often guaranteed by 10:30am.
Checking what time the package will arrive at the destination address is a good idea. The delivery time can be calculated before a label is created by going to the FedEx or UPS website. For most of the US, FedEx Priority Overnight packages are delivered by 10:30am. Rural areas may get deliveries guaranteed by 12pm or by 4:30pm. For example: If the delivery time happens to be by 4:30pm, and temperatures are expected to reach 90 F, it would not be safe to ship.
There is always going to be the possibility of a delayed delivery. It is rare and unfortunate, but delays happen. It is a good idea to keep an eye on the weather forecast for an additional 24 hours after a guaranteed delivery time just to be on the safe side. Weekend deliveries on Fridays and Saturdays have a greater potential for delays since there is almost always an increase in the volume of packages being delivered on those days. Certain times of the year are notorious for delayed shipments. There is an incredible number of packages being handled about a week before and after Christmas, so avoid shipping your gecko near that time if you can. Natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes etc. will affect whether or not packages get delivered in certain areas. Do a quick search to see that the area you are shipping to is cleared by FedEx or other couriers when scheduling your gecko shipment.
Packing Geckos For Shipping
Once you have determined the best day to ship and understand the temperatures the gecko may be subjected to, packing a gecko for shipping is pretty straight forward. There are a few options for maintaining comfortable temperatures inside the box for you gecko that include cold packs, heat packs and Phase 22 gel packs. Heat packs come in 20, 40, 60 and 72 hour options. The less time the heat pack is guaranteed to stay active also means that it will get hotter than the longer lasting options. Cold packs are, well, frozen gel packs. Cold packs with more volume will cool the inside of the box for longer than smaller cold packs. Phase 22 packs are made with a phase changing material that maintains a surface temperature of 72 F. These can be used in moderate temperatures and work more effectively when more than one are used.
Crested geckos tolerate surprisingly cool temperatures with minimal stress. High temperatures (80+) are extremely stressful and even fatal for these animals. These are the average temperature ranges that we follow when packing geckos with temperature controls:
32-50 - 40 hour heat pack
50-70 - Phase 22
70-80 - Cold pack
The gecko should be well fed and watered before being packed for shipping. Pack each gecko in a paper towel lined plastic container with ventilation holes, such as pre punched deli containers. The paper towel should be dry. Damp paper towel is not necessary and can cause additional stress for the gecko. The container should be taped shut, but make sure not to tape over all of the air holes. Reptile Shipping Containers
The shipping box should be lined with ½” or ¾” insulating foam panels. A 7x7x6” insulated box is the most common size for shipping one crested gecko. For more than two geckos, or big leachianus geckos, a bigger box would be needed. If you choose to punch air holes in the box, they must be no larger than ¼” in diameter. Air holes can compromise the insulation and internal temperatures of the package. There is plenty of air inside the box for the gecko to breathe for a very long time. Add a layer of crumpled packing paper at the bottom of the insulated box. If you are using Phase 22 packs or cold packs, set one on top of this layer. The container that the gecko is in will be placed directly above this. Cold packs should be wrapped and insulated in paper before being added to the box. If you are using multiple Phase 22 packs or cold packs, you can surround the plastic container with them to ensure that the temperatures for the gecko are as comfortable as possible. Heat packs should be placed towards the upper area within the box with 1-2” of space filled with packing materials to create a barrier so the heat of the heat pack does not come in direct contact with the plastic container. Finish packing the box with paper to keep the container towards the center of the box. The paper should be firm but not overly packed to keep a bit of a shock absorbing layer on all sides of the container. You don’t want to void the box of too much air with packing materials. Add the last foam panel that will insulate the top side of the box, close it and tape with an H pattern so that all non-adhered seams are taped. Place the shipping label on the top side of the box, write “Live Harmless Reptile” on 2 sides of the box, and you’re done!