Li Jing was shocked when she opened the parcel.
"I'll never forget the miserable scene when I opened the parcel and saw the small plastic bottle broken and bodies of fireflies falling on the floor," said the 27-year-old woman from Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, adding that the scattered bodies scared and disgusted her.
She said she bought the fireflies online in August from a shop in Jiangxi province, tempted by the widespread advertisements and romantic pictures on the shops at taobao.com, a major domestic online service provider.
"It's never right to deliver cute animals through parcels," she said.
But each day, online shop owners send out thousands of parcels containing live animals.
Though fast-delivery companies have a strict ban on transporting live animals in normal parcels, some owners still do it by paying extra money to couriers.
An online shop selling ornamental fish, shrimp and crabs shows piles of records for express delivery, a sign that business is booming.
"We could send about 100 parcels with living animals every day," the owner said in an Aug 29 report in Chongqing Economic Times.
The sellers usually pay extra for the couriers, and then the special parcels can be mixed with regular ones.
However, "based on my experience with the whole express industry, few of the domestic companies have the ability to deliver live animals safely," said Shao Zhonglin, deputy secretary-general of the China Express Association.
To guarantee the safety of animals during delivery, the animals should be in a strong cage with free-flowing air, with the temperature neither too hot nor too cold. The animals also should have access to water and food.
"This is beyond the capacity of regular delivery companies," Shao said, adding that professional animal-transportation companies should play the dominant role in animal delivery.
Bodies, limbs of animals or other items that can affect public health may not be delivered through parcels, according to the law.
"Based on the practice, the delivery of live animals in parcels can be interpreted as forbidden," Shao said.
Li, who received the dead fireflies, said she did not get her money back because the seller did not admit that the fireflies were dead when she received them, and even insisted that the deaths were Li's fault.
An Xiang, a public interest lawyer, said it is obviously inhumane to pack animals in a small parcel.
"But what needs more attention is not the domestic chaos in delivering live animals in parcels, but the foreign deals on live animals," the lawyer said.
The purchases of some dangerous and exotic animals, especially reptiles, have become popular among many young people, and many reports have surfaced about released poisonous animals showing up in communities and other public venues.
"The purchases across borders usually involve smuggling, since the animals are hidden in parcels to pass the necessary quarantine," An said. "Both the buyers and sellers are lawbreakers and would face punishment."
Besides, some foreign species arriving in China inside parcels have no natural enemies, making them damage the local environment and food chain, he said.