Guppies can live in 100cc of water in a bag for several months, something that several breeders have discovered by accident, when they packed and then forgot to ship guppies. That’s because there is a small amount of air exchange through the natural porosity of plastic bags. Also guppies use a lot less oxygen and energy when they are immobile. They can lose 30 or 40% of their body weight without dying. Most of the trauma that guppies experience is rough handling and the rapid changes in temperature they must endure. The guppy will also experience trauma if you do not unpack them and introduce them to your tank properly. Finally, if you are shipping the guppies internationally, packaging them wrong and filling out the customs declaration incorrectly can expose them to delay and additional stress.
This checklist should help you minimize the factors that contribute to guppy death during shipment or death in the days following shipment. If you are shipping fish using an overnight service, many of these steps can be skipped. However, our advice is to follow all of them, as minimizing guppy stress will greatly increase the chances of the fish arriving alive, fit and healthy enough to adapt to alien tank conditions.
Materials you will need:
- Fish bags 4″ x 10″
- Rubber bands.
- Tape for sealing a box.
- A small cardboard box.
- Foam inserts to line the box.
- Handful of foam chips.
- Bag Buddies or other water treatment.
- Indelible pen.
- Heat packs if shipping in colder months
- Do not feed the guppies for two days prior to the shipping day. This empties the guppy’s gut so that they do not foul the water in the shipping bag.
- Two days before shipping, in the tank where the guppies are housed, do a thirty percent water change so that the shipping water is as clean as possible. This is optional; however you need to give the guppies the best water possible for the long journey in the fish bags.
- Add Vitamin C to your guppies food and feed extra rations of Spirulina. (Note that adding Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid will cause the pH to drop. See the Vitamin C article in the Disease and Treatment Library.) “Research has indicated that the use of diets containing vitamin C and certain immunostimulants improved the stress resistance of guppy. Such techniques would have important application in the fish transport, an important aspect in the ornamental fish industry.” Dhert, P.; Lim, L.C.; Candreva, P.; Van Duffel, H.; Sorgeloos, P. (1997). Possible applications of modern fish larviculture technology to ornamental fish production. Aquarium Sciences and Conservation 1: 119-128
- Use 4″ x 10″ plastic bags of good quality. (See the Supplies links section of this site.)
- Fill the bag with a very small amount of water (100cc) from the tank where the fish are housed. Water is heavy (about 8lbs per gallon or 1kg/L). To save money, minimize the amount of water you ship.
- Add a water treatment that neutralizes ammonia, protects the guppy’s slime coat and buffers the water against pH drop. The Jungle product “Bag Buddies” does all this, plus it releases oxygen into the bag and adds a slight fish tranquilizer. The tranquilizer means your guppies will breathe less rapidly and use less oxygen and will be a little less likely to injure themselves when startled. Do not use medications. Many medications destroy the biological cycle and others lose their effectiveness during travel before they can do the guppies much good.
- If you do not use salt in your tanks, add salt to the shipping bag at the rate 1 gram /L (1 tablespoon / gallon). (Consider salting the tank they are in two days before shipping.) Freshwater fish excrete a lot of water to stay internally “dry.” Raising the osmotic gradient between the guppy and the surrounding water means they drink less and urinate less. Salting the water also provides the guppy with some protection against bacteria and parasites.
- Place one guppy in the bag. Handle the guppy with a soft net. Minimize damage to the slime coat.
- Fill the bag with air (oxygen if you have it). Do not blow into the bag, as you are filling it with carbon dioxide. Use the air from a pump. If shipping by air, allow some room for expansion of the air during flight. Use two rubber bands to close the bag. Put them on one at a time.
- Place the bag upside down in another bag. This helps ensure that the guppy does not get stuck in a corner of the bag. It also provides insurance against a leak in the first bag. Use two rubber bands for the second bag. Write on the outside bag with an indelible pen the name of the guppies, and the pH and water hardness of the tank from which they came.
- Ship the guppies in a small cardboard box lined with foam. If you are an occasional shipper, you can probably purchase the foam inexpensively from the LFS, which often discards foam after receipt of its own live fish shipments. At hardware stores you can buy an insulation product that has foam on one side and thin foil on another. Turning the foil to the inside of the box helps insulate shipping box. Small foam shipping containers can also be used, but they are expensive and hard to find. Fill the empty spaces between the bags with foam chips.
- In colder months, use heating pads. Heating pads have life spans of 20 hours, 35 hours, and 60 hours. Wrapping them in newspaper prolongs their lifespan and insulates the guppies against some of the high temperatures the heat pad can generate. Tape the heat pad on the inside of the cover, facing into the area where the guppies are stored. Sprinkle a few foam chips over the bags to insulate them a bit from the heating pad. See the Supplies links on this site.
- In warmer months, ship with ice packs.
You can use direct airport-to-airport services. This minimizes the exposure of the fish to the trauma of delivery services (sudden changes in temperature, jolts and delays). However, most guppy breeders are reluctant to drive to the airport if the shipment is small and relatively inexpensive. It’s just not worth their while. Despite the effort you undertake to ensure that the guppies arrive at their destination in the best possible condition, the person at the other end can make your shipping efforts a waste of time by not introducing the guppies properly to their new environment. Guppies are particularly sensitive to sudden changes in their environment. While the most widespread philosophy is to adjust the guppies to the tank gradually over several hours by floating the bag and adding small amounts of water to it, this will probably seriously damage the guppies. It should be done the other way around. The water in the receiving tank should be adjusted to the water that the guppies came from. In particular, if you use salt in your aquariums, the receiving tank should have salt, as the drop in osmotic pressure when a guppy is moved from salty to fresh water is stressful. And the guppies should be dumped into this new water, not slowly acclimatized to it.
Additional Tips We found this in an archive of the newsgroup, bionet.organisms.zebrafish.
Subject:Re: International shipping From:”Dallas Weaver, Ph.D.” Newsgroups:bionet.organisms.zebrafish Date:Thu, 01 Aug 2002 18:36:04 GMT
Shipping is always a risky venture. There should be no problems with FedEx, if the fish are properly packed and FedEx doesn’t make a mistake and leave the box in the sun (overheat them) or have an heating system failure in the airplane (freeze them). There are monitors (data loggers) available that you can put in the box, which will give the temperature history of the shipment. With highly valuable fish, that may be a good idea.
In general, we have very good luck with our shipments by any of the major carriers, but thing sometimes happen. We just had an order for 10,000 embryos show up in bad shape and have no idea what went wrong. We will just replace the embryos. We had about 40 shipments of similar numbers of embryos before, without problems.
Using a standard fish transport styrofoam in cardboard of about 19X17X15 inches and about 7 liters of water with a square bottom bag (double bagged) and up to about 200 gm of adult fish with high alkalinity water ( alk > 1.5 meq/l) and pure O2 in the gas space, you should be good for 48+ hrs without problems. With only about 100 fish in the box, there should be no problems at all for several days.
The fish should not be fed before shipment. Ice packs are good in the summer to keep down the max. Temperature and heat packs in the winter are standard. Some anti-biotic in the water can keep down bacterial explosions.
If you are shipping near the maximum load, the fish will arrive with a pH down in the mid to high 6 range. You must decrease the pH of the receiving water to match the incoming bag.
Remember: the rate of temperature change for constant insulation thickness is a function of surface area to water volume ratio. Using smaller packages will go against you on shipping — increasing surface/volume ratio. Good Luck,