Stomatopod Care and Rearing

Shipping Mantis Shrimps Part 2

- by Dr. Roy Caldwell

You are fighting four major problems when shipping: oxygen, metabolic wastes, temperature, and mechanical damage. You also need a safe container. Let me comment briefly on each.


Obviously the longer the animal is sealed in a container, the greater this problem becomes. The volume of gas in the container, the partial pressure of oxygen, the amount of water and the size and species of stomatopod are also important variables. Temperature as influencing respiration is probably not that important. First, if the animal is going to be sealed up for over 48 hours, I would definitely consider using oxygen rather than ordinary air. In fact, oxygen is always a good idea, but availability and regulations on shipping oxygen can cause problems. (You should really know what you are doing, however. Working with 100% oxygen is potentially hazardous (watch the stogie hanging out of your mouth) and I have seen people kill animals by using welding equipment and introducing acetylene with the oxygen.

Probably the biggest mistake people make when shipping stomatopods is using too much seawater and too little air space. As a rule of thumb, I usually fill a little under 1/4 of the volume of the container with water, the rest with air or oxygen enriched air. A 6 cm gonodactylid can live in a sealed 500 cc bottle 1/5 full of water and just air for over 24 hours. When completely full of water, the animal will die in a few hours. The bottom line is use as little water as possible, usually just enough to cover the animal, and lots of gas. The animal will have a greater chance of surviving and you will safe on shipping costs.

Also, unless your container is absolutely air-tight and strong, it will lose volume (hopefully just air if it remains upright) if it experiences reduced atmospheric pressure, i.e. the plane is only pressurized to 1800 m. Since you can't always predict whether the container will travel in a pressurized compartment, it is wise to not fill the bag or bottle 100 full (and try to keep it upright so if it does leak, gas will be forced out, not water).

Metabolic wastes

The flip side of this is that the less water you use and the more biomass, the faster the build-up of nitrogenous and other wastes in the shipping water. This is not as big a problem as it might seem, particularly if you don't feed the stomatopods for a couple of days prior to shipping. As rules of thumb, a 5 cm gonodactylid requires about 200 ml of water for an over-night shipment. A 12 cm Odontodactylus scyllarus would need a lot more, probably a liter or so - but remember, they also need four or five times this amount of air, a bit less if you can use oxygen.


This will depend entirely on the species, but in general it is always advisable to use an insulated shipping container to avoid rapid temperature fluctuations. For all but temperate water species such as Hemisquilla, you are aiming at temperatures of 22-23 C, a bit cooler than you would keep the animals in a tank. Temperatures over 25 or under 20 will cause problems. If you are shipping a tropical species that will be exposed to cold temperatures for more than a few hours, consider using a commercially available heat pack. (Do not use a hand-warmer sold in ski shops. They get way too hot.) Actually, I try to avoid using heat packs since getting the temperature right is tricky. Still, on a 24 hour trip in winter, it may be a good idea. Even if you hand carry your animals, be careful. The overhead baggage compartments of most planes are close to the air-conditioning and on a 6 hour flight, I have seen water temperatures drop to below 15 C. More than once I've flown back to Berkeley with my animals on my lap under a blanket trying to keep them warm.

Mechanical damage

We typically ship gonodactylids and other small species in plastic vials with holes drilled in them. I also use these holy vials when collecting. Up to a 6 cm gonodactylid can go into a standard 30 ml plastic vial. We also use these vials when shipping several animals in one container. For example, I will place four 35 mm Haptosquilla glyptocercus in one, 1 liter container. (This is risky, however, because on long trips, if one animal dies it will rot and kill the others. Still, if I have 50 animals, it is the only way I can transport them all.) The holy bottles also keep particularly nasty species such as G. chiragra from punching holes in the shipping container. For larger species, I often use 1 or 2 l drinking water bottles with the top cut off and then reattached with twist tie or string. Again, the major reason is to prevent puncture of the container, not mechanical damage to the animal. If you don't use a plastic bottle to contain the animal, be sure to separate bags with opaque material so that the animals won't attack one another and cause a leak.


It is absolutely essential that the container holding the water be clean and free of toxic materials. Assuming that you will usually be using plastic, special precautions are needed since many chemicals adhere to common plastics and are not easily cleaned. Also, always rinse new containers and bags since some have coatings (molt release compounds, etc.) that are toxic. We never use soap on our containers. You can't get the containers completely soap free and it is also toxic. Typically, we use heavy, new, rinsed plastic bags (doubled or tripled), plastic water bottles, other plastic bottles sold for use with food, and my favorite, "Cubitainers". If you are using a water bottle, use only bottles that contained just water. You can never get a soft drink bottle sufficiently clean to be safe. If you buy food containers, make sure you do not use one that has an anti-bacterial treatment. They are becoming more common and kill stomatopods. In general, screw-top lids are better than pressure snaps. At altitude, a Tupperware container can pop open. "Cubitainers" come in 1 and 4 liter sizes. They are tough, almost never leak, and are just about the right size for shipping smaller stomatopods. They will not work for larger species since the opening is only 2 cm. After using one, simple rinse it out with fresh water, let it dry, collapse it, and use it again. I have some that we have used for 10 years or more.

- Dr. Roy Caldwell

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