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Everything You Need To Know About The Paludarium

The name sounds like something out of a Star Trek movie, but the reality is that a paludarium is anything but science fiction. These structures are essentially aquariums that have aquatic life like fish and invertebrates, but also house terrestrial plants, aquatic plants, and a whole host of other organisms.

This may sound complex, but the truth of the matter is that paludariums are actually very easy to build, and even easier to maintain. If you are careful about choosing the right species, you can include a wide range of animals and plants. You can introduce creatures that ordinarily would not survive in an aquarium, such as turtles, crabs, and even newts.

Interested in learning more? Continue reading to find out more about how a paludarium works – and how you can easily create one at home.

Paludarium 4


The Basics Of Paludariums

Paludariums offer a bridge between aquatic and terrestrial (sea and land) environments. Just as they would in the wild, paludariums include many types of species and offer an artistic way to display life in your own living room.

You can replicate a wide variety of environments in your paludarium. Many people create rainforest paludariums, but you could also build streams, wetlands, and other areas in order to keep a diverse array of plants and animals.

The word paludarium is derived from the Latin term “palus.” This simply means swamp. The latter part of the word, “arium,” refers to a specific location. Essentially, paludariums combine vivariums (habitats for animals, like reptile homes) and terrariums (which are dry and intended to house mostly plant life).

What Size Tank Do I Need For A Paludarium?

Paludarium 1
Photo by Scott Wilson

You can build a paludarium that is just about any size, which is a great feature in considering that you can fit these structures into any space, large or small. Determining the size of you paludarium will come down to two factors: one, where do you want to place your paludarium, and two, what kind of species do you want to keep in your tank?

Many – though not all – paludariums have waterfalls. You will therefore need a tank that is tall as well as wide so that you have the depth necessary to create a waterfall. In general, you will need a tank that is at least 10 gallons in volume, although it is not unheard of to create small paludariums in five-gallon tanks, either.

A common misconception about building paludarium is that you need to purchase a specific type of tank. This is not true. You can use an aquarium, terrarium, or any other kind of tank to house your paludarium.

What Kinds Of Plants Should I Choose For My Paludarium?

Paludarium 2
Photo by Olteanu Florin

Don’t feel as though you will be limited or restricted in any way when you are selecting the best plants for your paludarium. While you will want to choose a wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic species, know that you can choose both low- and higher- maintenance plants. Consider how much time you plan on devoting to your tank when you are considering the type and quantity of plants that you will grow.

You can choose a few aquatic and a few terrestrial species. You could also implement some semi-aquatic plant species. A good rule of thumb is to select plants that are relatively slow-growing. This way, you won’t have to prune, trim, fertilize, or otherwise maintain your plants every week just to make sure your tank looks neat and tidy.

The plants that you choose will help contribute to the appearance and overall purpose of your tank. For example, if you are hoping to replicate a certain environment, like a rainforest, you will want to try to use plants that are native to that environment and incorporate them as such. On the flip side, if you just want an attractive display of plants and don’t actually care about the biology of them, then you can grow just about anything you want.

The most important thing is to consider the types of animals that will be coexisting with your plants. While most plants are safe around most animals, there are some that can be harmful or toxic to your animal inhabitants. In addition, some plants may be used as food by your animals, and will need to be frequently replanted or moved in order to prevent damage or a plant-less paludarium.

There are so many types of plants you can choose to include in your paludarium but here are some suggestions. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it should help you get started on your quest to create the perfect paludarium environment.

Plants or vines that have a tendency to climb (such as devils ivy and creeping fig) are awesome choices because they will provide ornamentation as well as hiding places for your animals. They have a tendency to sprawl and can cover the back wall of the tank, giving it a more wholesome appearance.

You might also consider colorful bromeliads. These serve as habitat for certain frog species, like dart frogs, and you can find them in a number of colors, shapes, and sizes. Mosses, too, can help provide your tank with a verdant and full appearance. Java moss is popular because it grows rapidly and doesn’t require much maintenance.

You can also grow orchids. Like bromeliads, you can find orchids in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors. Generally, orchids that are smaller will be better suited to life in a paludarium. This is because they tolerate humidity and, though more difficult to maintain than some other types of plants, ofer a gorgeous splash of color to the tank. Keep in mind that orchids, despite being able to tolerate some moisture, should be kept away from any water spray produced by your waterfalls.

Aquatic plants that you may be familiar with from growing them in your aquarium are also popular choices. Consider species like anubias, cryptocoryne, and java fern. Floating plants like salvinia offer valuable shade to the rest of the tank, while ferns can fill up a lot of empty space. You might want to consider ferns like boston ferns, holly ferns, and lemon button ferns, but remember that ferns grow quickly and may need to be trimmed.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even grow carnivorous plants in your paludarium. Things like utricularia and pinguicula are popular choices. The main thing to remember when growing carnivorous plants in your paludarium is that they can eat some animals, so you’ll want to pay attention to this when you are selecting your plants and animals.

What Kinds Of Animals Should I Choose For My Paludarium?

Now here comes the fun part – choosing the animals you will keep inside your paladium! In general, you should keep a broad and diverse mix of both terrestrial and aquatic animals in your tank. Most freshwater species that are commonly found in aquariums can be kept in a paludarium. There are some brackish species that can survive in a paludarium, too, just pay attention to the specific needs of the creatures you choose to include.

When considering fish to include, try to stick to just one or two species. If you have too many types of fish, it can cause your tank to look disjointed and messy. It can also affect the way that they interact with each other and your other tank inhabitants.

Some good fish species to include are gouramis, guppies, angel fish, mollies, and celestial pearl danios. All of these fish are relatively easy going and won’t harass each other or other tank inhabitants. They have minimal feeding requirements and can tolerate a similar range when it comes to temperature, pH, and water hardness.

Adding invertebrates is a great way to keep your tank clean and to add greater interest to your tank. Consider species like mystery or nerite snails, or even shrimp like amano shrimp, cherry shrimp, and ghost shrimp. Snails and shrimps generally coexist with each other very well, and can help keep your tank clean as they scavenge for leftover bits of food and plant waste.

You can even include crabs, such as fiddler crabs, or springtails. These semi-aquatic creatures have the ability to truly bring a paludarium together – they offer a bridge between the land and the water. You can use crabs, turtles like yellow bellied sliders, water dragons, skink lizards, mudskippers, frogs, and more.

Just make sure that whichever invertebrates or other small species you choose, your land animals don’t view them as food. It can be quite disappointing to invest a ton of time and money into setting up your paludarium, only to find out that your snails have already become a snack for one of your reptile species.

One of the most enjoyable parts of filling a paludarium is determining which land animals you will keep. Most people stick to traditional amphibian and reptile choices, such as frogs, snakes, and lizards. Just keep in mind that some land animals cannot swim, so you will need to ensure that there is plenty of dry land for these animals to live in. you may even need to use a net to restrict the areas in which your land animals can walk.

How Do I Set Up A Paludarium?

Setting up your paludarium is almost just as much fun as choosing the species that you will keep inside it! You can now bring your ideas to life and develop a natural environment in which your animals can thrive.

In general, it takes a bit of skill to set up your paludarium for the first time – particularly in getting it to look lush and attractive as well as being a healthy environment for your animals and plants. Make sure you’ve chosen the proper sized tank before beginning, and also ensure that the animals and plants you have chosen will cohabitate well with each other and with the conditions of your tank before you start.

It may be helpful to watch videos of how to set up a paludarium before beginning, or even to observe a more skilled builder at work before you try your own. This way, you can be even more confident in your abilities as you are getting started with your home paludarium.

It’s also not a bad idea to start small. Consider creating just a small paludarium, and then upgrade to a larger one when you are more experienced. Try to build a paludarium that replicates the wild conditions of the animals and plants you are including. You can construct your paludarium in layers, paying attention to the land, the water, and of course, the canopy.

The canopy should be the first area of the tank you build. This will be the top of your tank, and will be comprised of the taller plants, the rocks, and the branches. This area may not seem important, but it performs a crucial role. The canopy helps give your land and water animals both shade and shelter from the harsh light and other conditions.

After building the canopy, you can move on to the land area of your tank. You should build this section before you add any water, because it will be more difficult to work around once you have done this. You can use wood, soil, rocks, or even fine sand to build the land area of your paludarium. Again, just consider the natural environment of your plant and animal species before you build this section.

Finally, you can move on to the fun part of your paludarium – the water section! This tank will be set up much like an aquarium, so if you have experience in creating an aquarium environment, you should already know how to do this. This section of your tank will give a home to all of your aquatic life and can also increase the humidity level of your tank – a must-have item for creatures that need more moisture.

When building your tank, you should separate the land and water. You can do this in a number of ways. One of the most popular is to divide the land and water with a divider. You can purchase these at aquarium stores. Most are made out of plexiglass and totally safe for use in takes. Secure the divider with a thin seal of aquarium silicone. This will give you a leak proof barrier to make things easier.

You can also create a shelf that floats over the water. This is usually built through the use of PVC plastic that is affixed with silicone or aquarium glue to the side of the tank. Driftwood or cork can also be used in this way.

Paludarium 3
Photo by Laurent Lebois ©

The last way to separate your tank (and arguably the most common) is to build the land up until it is above the water level. Obviously, you must do this before you have added any water, but you can then use rocks, woods, pots, sand, or even plastic to create structure. Before you begin, simply determine where you want your land barriers to be, and then build to the desired height. Just make sure you secure it well so that it can’t fall and hurt any of your animals.

Everything you use to build your paludarium, and particularly the land in your paludarium, should be covered. You can use foam sealant to hide pots or tubes, as it will expand and you can then arrange or chisel it out to develop a more natural look.

Remember, you should always include a waterfall in your paludarium. Build it before you introduce your creatures. Simply pump aquarium water to the very top of the waterfall, using a filter. Place the inlet of the filter at the highest point of the waterfall. The waterfall can flow down rocks or wood.

Your paludarium should also have a substrate, at least in the areas where it is covered in water. You can use just about any kind of substrate, but if you plan on growing terrestrial plants in the substrate, then you need to make sure it contains plenty of nutrients.

Once your tank is built and organized, you can position your plants. It is easiest to do this when the tank is dry, as you will be able to position things more easily. Cycle the tank before you add any fish or other animals, as you want to make sure there are bacteria in place who will help break down nitrogen components like nitrites and ammonia – which can harm your fish and other animals.

That’s all there is to it!

Is A Paludarium Right For Me?

If you’re interested in maintaining a diverse ecosystem right within your very own living room, you should consider building a paludarium. These structures are fun to setup and even more enjoyable to watch. Easy to maintain and fun to care for, a paludarium could be the bridge between an aquarium and a terrarium that you have been searching for.

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