Tired of keeping fish tanks? Need to get away from water for a bit?
Why not try something like a paludarium that combines the best of both worlds?
Paludariums combine a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial environments, usually used to house fish, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about paludariums, what you can keep in a paludarium, and how to set one up today!
What is a paludarium?
If you were to imagine a section of land where the river meets the bank, you would imagine a paludarium ecosystem.
These setups are meant to capture the interaction between an aquatic environment and terrestrial life. If done correctly, they can become perfectly balanced ecosystems that are sometimes easier to maintain than some planted aquariums!
Paludarium vs. vivarium
You may have heard these two words interchanged with each other. However, they are two very different things.
The main difference between a paludarium and a vivarium is that a paludarium features a water element that heavily influences the rest of the environment.
A vivarium type of enclosure will primarily focus on featured plant species and reptiles or amphibians.
What animals can be kept in a paludarium?
Paludariums can be used to house a wide array of fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and other aquatic and semi-aquatic animals.
The trick to making any of these ecosystems work is planning out exactly which species you want to keep and replicating their natural environment as best as possible.
Though this doesn’t necessarily need to be a biotope setting, it will help to keep plants and animals that work together to create a balanced ecosystem.
Keeping this in mind, pick the animals you would like to build your paludarium around. Some common options are:
What plants can be kept in a paludarium?
Many different terrestrial, aquatic and semi-aquatic plants may be kept in a paludarium. If you want to replicate a biotope ecosystem, more research will be needed to ensure that you use only endemic species.
The ideal setup will include vines, mosses, ferns, Bucephalandra, and larger statement plants, like orchids and bromeliads.
You may even include carnivorous plants. Just make sure that they don’t have an appetite for whatever you plan on adding to the aquarium!
Here is a list of some of the aquatic paludarium plants that you can use:
- Anubias barteri
- Anubias ‘Golden Coin’
- Anubias lancifolia
- Anubias nana ‘Petite’
- Java fern (Microsorum pteropus)
- Java moss (Taxiphyllum barieri)
- Water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Here is a list of some of the terrestrial plants that you can add to your paludarium:
- Cryptanthus nubicola
- Cryptanthus ‘Red Star’
- Ficus pumila ‘Quecifolia’
- Fittonia ‘Red Vein’
- Kangaroo fern (Microsorum pustulatum)
- Rabbit’s foot fern (Phlebodium aureum)
- Rattlesnake fern (Botrypus virginianum)
- Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.)
- Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
If you plan to use other species, always make sure that they are safe for the animal inhabitants you plan to keep.
Also, make sure that environmental conditions required match between species, namely regarding temperature and humidity.
How to set up a paludarium
The hardest part about setting up a paludarium is getting the balance between water and earth right. If you keep aquatic life, you want enough swimming space, and you want enough land space if you keep terrestrial life.
The next factor you will have to worry about is creating depth. Paludariums are different from other aquarium setups as they have unique levels within them. For example, you have the substrate, the waterline, and the land.
The setup requires a lot of planning and structure to get right, so it’s crucial to have a layout of what you want to do first.
When choosing to set up a paludarium, you want to consider the species you plan on having.
If keeping animals that spend most of their time below the water level, you will want to allow for plenty of swimming space. In this case, longer, larger tanks would be better.
If keeping animals that spend most of their time out of the water, you will want to allow for plenty of walking and crawling space. Depending on the species, you can achieve this by creating more land portions throughout a longer tank or giving height with a taller tank.
You want to give as much space as you can wherever you can. It can be very easy to underestimate how much space land formations and branches can take, taking away from the amount of water in the tank.
Because of this, we recommend you use a 10-20 gallon (37.9-75.7 L) aquarium; some hobbyists have success with a 5 gallon tank (18.9 L) and under, but this is only recommended for expert paludarium-makers.
When picking out a tank for your paludarium, you will have to choose between a regular glass tank or a terrarium type of tank.
Glass aquariums are much more affordable and work perfectly fine for most enclosures. However, terrariums usually have multiple doors on the front and top of the tank, making maintenance and accessing the inside much easier.
In addition, terrariums have been designed for adequate moisture control and ventilation, which can become a problem in regular aquarium designs.
Building the layout
Once you have the tank, you will want to make a blueprint with exact measurements for where you want to build. It might even be worth it to create a model with cardboard and see how it fits in the aquarium.
1. Build the foundation.
Once you’ve figured out the layout, you need to build it. Many hobbyists use a base foundation to build on, which can be made out of egg crate or another durable aquarium-safe plastic.
This foundation can be attached to the sides of the aquarium with silicone and glued together with superglue (cyanoacrylate).
Remember, all foundation material needs to be cut to accommodate aquarium equipment!
2. Build the terrain.
After the foundation has been installed, it’s time to make it come alive. Some of the best ways to do this are using rigid foam pieces covered in pond lining or aquarium-safe expanding foam sealant.
Both materials can be cut and carved for a more natural appearance.
At this point, you will want to allow for any waterfall features and to place primary rocks and driftwood.
3. Cover the base foundation.
You can do this step simultaneously with step two. You want to create a natural-looking base layer that you can build upon later.
You can do this by using coconut fiber, orchid bark, and other natural substrates, like Eco-Complete.
4. Fill in the spaces.
Now that the foundation has been laid, it is time to start filling in some of those empty spaces. You can install smaller vines, branches, slate stones, and the primary substrates.
During this step, focus on creating depth and interest.
Next, introduce your live plant selection. Note that some submersed plant species might have difficulty acclimating if used as emersed plants instead.
6. Adding cleanup crew.
Keep in mind that your paludarium will need a cleanup crew below and above water. Include snails and shrimp as well as isopods and springtails.
These organisms will help break down waste and convert it into more usable forms for terrestrial species, aquatic plants, and other microbes.
7. Add the animal population.
At last, you may add all aquatic and terrestrial animal species to the tank.
Acclimation periods should be allowed when needed.
Maintaining a paludarium
Depending on the type of semi-aquatic habitat you plan on setting up, you will have to consider the different parameters needed to keep your plants and animals happy, just as you would with a traditional fish tank.
Aquatic care and maintenance
Most likely, you will be keeping tropical aquatic species that need warmer water temperatures. Because of this, you will probably need an aquarium heater that can be tucked away in the back of the tank.
This tank should be fully cycled, with 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite, and minimal nitrate. An aquarium filter will help provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration while maintaining water circulation.
Even though there is much less water in a paludarium than in a regular tank, regular water changes and substrate vacuuming are good ideas.
Terrestrial care and maintenance
The main concern you will run into with paludariums is moisture. If you don’t have enough water, then your plants and animals will suffer. If you have too much moisture, you run the risk of inviting mold and mildew.
It’s possible to control humidity levels throughout various areas of the tank to create different zones within the ecosystem.
If you need to keep a more humid environment, you will need to maintain heat and moisture.
Some of the best ways to do this are using a heat lamp or heat pad and a misting system. You may maintain humidity by manually spraying the inside of the enclosure a few times a week or installing a humidifier/misting system.
For the best care possible, use an accurate thermometer and humidity gauge (hygrometer) to ensure perfect conditions for your tank inhabitants.
Paludariums might seem like a huge step up from aquascaping a freshwater aquarium, but they use the same techniques with different applications.
The hardest part about setting up a paludarium is choosing which species you want to keep and building the environment around them! Otherwise, keep humidity levels up and heat at ideal temperatures.
If you have any questions about paludariums, other types of -ariums, or have had experience keeping one of the species listed, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!