Stomatopod Care and Rearing

What's the best way to ship a mantis shrimp?

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about shipping stomatopods. We do it all the time and here are a few suggestions that might help.

1. Cold is probably your biggest problem. Most mantis can't survive more than a few hours below 20 Celsius (68 F) and if they drop below 20 they will probably die. (Hemisquilla ensigera from Southern California and other temperate water species are the exception.) This means you need a well-insulated container. We use medical supply shipping containers that have 5 cm of foam all round. The heat packs that commercial shippers use work well, but only if you have the right size pack for the container. If the pack is too large, you will cook the animal. Don't try handwarmers sold for skiing. They get way too hot. Also, pay attention to the weather. In winter, if there is a storm brewing either on your end or at the destination, forget it. Over night express is really the safest way to ship. Anything that takes more than 24 hours is pushing it.

2. Animals will punch holes in the container, but this is not as much of a problem as you might think. We often use heavy, double plastic bags for large animals. The trick is to make sure that animals can't see one another. use black plastic to visually isolate the bags. Commercial shippers use bags that have black bottoms and sides, but but a black garbage bag cut up will do. You need something opaque since animals will strike at shadows.

3. Obviously, place only one animal in a bag unless you confine each animal to a separate container that prevents it from striking other animals. For animals under 7.5 cm, we use 60-90 ml (2 or 3 oz.) plastic bottles with lots of holes (3 mm) drilled in them. This keeps the animals from getting to one another, keeps them from puncturing the bag, and provides them with something to hold on to which reduces stress. They are in fact like the cavities the animals typically live in.

4. Oxygen is far more important than the amount of water used. The bags or containers used to ship should be no more than 1/4 full. If you can get a supply of oxygen, top off the container with it. Don't "borrow" some from an emergency or medical supply. You might need it some day! Many carriers prohibit shipments containing pure oxygen. Check. If they do, simply minimize the amount of time the container is sealed and leave lots of room for air.

5. How big should the container be for an animal? This depends on several factors including how long it will take to get to the destination, how big the animal is, and the species of mantis shrimp. We typically use "cubitaniners", flexible plastic containers that don't puncture easily, can be re-used, and that pack efficiently because they are cubes. They come in 1 and 4 litre sizes. We also use 500 cc and 1 litre plastic water bottles. (Never use a soft drink bottle. Even if you boil it, you can't get it sufficiently clean not to kill a stomatopod!) Here are some minimal size suggestions. Containers are 1/4 full of water, the rest air or oxygen.

Stomatopod Length (cm)Suggested Container
2.5250 ml plastic bottle
5500 ml
6.51 litre
7.52 litre
104 litre or bigger
136 litre
156 litre

If you are using holy bottles like we do, you can put about four 5 cm mantis shrimp in a 4 litre container, but if one animal dies, it will take out the entire container.

6. Don't ship an animal that has just molted. Wait at least a week. Also, don't ship an animal that is about to molt. Since that is difficult to tell if an animal is going to molt without microscopic examination, you will have to use behavioral cues. A good indicatior is when the animal stops eating. Also, if you see an increase in digging, this often suggests an approaching molt. Females with eggs are also difficult to ship and require much more water and air. Females that lay during shipping usually die.

7. Don't feed the animal for a day prior to shiping. It takes a day for a stomatopod to clear its gut.

8. Water quality is critical. If possible, use freshly mixed artificial sea water or sea water taken from off shore. Water from your aquarium contains some nutrients and will foul more quickly.

9. Don't use commercial products frequently used to reduce stress when shipping fish. Stomatopods don't do well with such products.

- Dr. Roy Caldwell

Web Site Author: A. Sunjian
Site Created February 3, 1998
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