Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Friday, October 15, 2010

Live Shipping Freshwater Snails

Earlier last month a question was posed to the MOLLUSCA list server on a topic that would seem to be of special interest to our group. Here's the initial query from Dr. Russell Wyeth of St. Francis Xavier University up in Nova Scotia, together with my reply:

I'm curious what advice people have for shipping live Lymnaea stagnalis and their eggs. I've heard that damp paper towels in a plastic box with plenty of holes in the top, and placed inside a cardboard box with little tape is good. Any other suggestions for what has worked (or hasn't worked)?


Dear Russell,

Yes, the general approach you suggest works very well to ship freshwater snails of all species.

Rather than a "plastic box with plenty of holes in the top," I'd suggest an unbreakable container with a tight-fitting lid. You really don't want water leaking from your paper towels and seeping out of your package. The best containers I've found are those wide-mouthed plastic peanut butter jars.

I admit to being a little bit paranoid about possible leaching from commercial paper towels. So I pre-soak a big wad of paper towels in pond water, wring that out, and then transfer the paper towels in a second (fresh) bucket of pond water, and wring them out a second time.

Stuff a bunch of wet paper towels in the bottom of your peanut butter jar, then the snails, then a bunch more wet paper towels, and then screw the lid on tightly. But be careful with the stuffing! Lymnaeids, as I'm sure you are aware, have very fragile shells. Ideally, you want the snails immobilized, but not crushed.

Yes, pack that peanut butter jar in a larger cardboard box for shipment, with some bubble wrap or packing "peanuts." But no, don't use "little" tape - use "plenty of" tape. You seem concerned that not enough air will get into your snails. Really, just the opposite is the problem - it's drying you need to worry about. Tape that box up well! And spend the extra money for overnight shipment.

Good luck!


Dr. Wyeth's question seemed more directed toward the packing, not toward the actual process of shipment, once packed. But some of you may remember my essay on the travails of importing live freshwater snails into the United States back on 17Dec08. I also have a nightmare story about exporting American Helisoma live to a colleague in Italy a couple years ago that I might share one day, if the mood strikes.

In subsequent correspondence, Dr. Wyeth shared with me private replies from of two other colleagues, both offering slight variations on our same theme. One suggested snails -> wet paper towels -> box with holes -> heavy plastic bag with knot. Another offered snails -> wet newspapers -> two layers of plastic bags -> Styrofoam cooler with ice packs.

I agree that the idea of shipping in a Styrofoam cooler has some attraction, depending on the time of year, but might increase the cost substantially.

I also agree with Dr. Wyeth that data on failures might be as useful as data on successes in addressing his question. If anybody has any experience regarding shipments of freshwater snails cooked by excessive heat or dehydrated by leaking containers, feel free to share below!

And keep in touch,