Building The Perfect Paludarium (Animals, Plants, And Waterfalls)
The average person on the street will not know what a paludarium is. They’ll probably think you made the word up!
But among the aquarist community, paludaria are quickly building a rabid fan base.
Many traditional aquarium owners have been making the switch or adding a paludarium to their collection.
But why? What makes them so special?
Lucky for you, that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this information guide. We’ll take a look at what they are, why people like them, what you can put in them (there are plenty of options), and how you can build a paludarium yourself.
Oh yeah, and we also do some tank and kit recommendations.
Let us begin!
WHAT IS A PAUDARY?
Paludaria are a growing trend in the tank/aquarium keeping community. We are familiar with aquariums, but these are a bit different. The Latin word “palus” means swamp or swamp, and “arium” means a place.
This is a semi-aquatic habitat that can support a wide range of terrestrial, aquatic and semi-aquatic plants and animals. What semi-aquatic means is that there is a mixture of terrestrial and aquatic habitats in the same tank. This means that paludaria can host many more types of species than most other typical setups you see.
To better understand what exactly a paludarium is, here are some definitions that explain a few different types of tanks:
- Terrariums: A habitat or vivarium for species that live solely on land, meaning they are not water-dwelling creatures at all.
- Nurseries: These are captive spaces in which animals/plants are kept that mimic the conditions of nature. Whether a tank is a paludarium, an aquarium, or a terrarium, it is also a vivarium. Over the years, it has become common to refer to reptile tanks as vivariums.
- Riparium: An area that is designed to be like the waterline at the edge of a river, pond, lake, or stream.
A common phrase that people use to describe these unique settings is “a terrarium with fish”, which we think is pretty accurate. This is a phrase you may need to use yourself when talking to people outside of this community.
What is the attraction?
Paludariums are popular because they have elements of each type of tank combined into one. They allow more species to be kept in a space due to the diversity of habitats, resulting in greater visual pleasure and variety for hobbyists and enthusiasts.
They have a very manicured rainforest feel that is fun to watch. Even in a smaller tank, a paludarium gives off the feeling of a very rich ecosystem that many people enjoy.
These types of environments can also be quite self-sufficient and are worth some extra maintenance due to the extra variety and range of options they provide. When you compare them to a 100% aquascaping setup, the amount of time and effort required is much less.
PAUDARIO KITS AND TANKS RECOMMENDATIONS
Choosing the right paludarium tank is something a lot of people give too much thought to when they begin to consider building it.
To help keep things simple, the main factors to consider when looking for the right tank are:
- The number of inhabitants.
- The general layout you want to have.
- Whether you want a waterfall or not.
- A tank at least 10 gallons in size (you can get away with 5, but only if there aren’t many critters living inside)
These will serve as guidelines to help you decide which paludarium tank is right for you.
If you don’t want to start the buying process from scratch, here’s one of our favorite paludarium tank recommendations to help you get started.
There are several reasons why we like this tank for a paludarium and recommend it to so many people.
The products that SeaClear manufactures are of very high quality and durable. We’ve sang their praises in previous buyers’ guides and continue to hear fantastic feedback from their customers.
The 40 gallon option is great because it allows for a large number of inhabitants and plant life. You also have room to build a waterfall if you wish.
If this tank is a bit on the large side, they also have some smaller options in their line of acrylic tanks that should fit what you’re looking for.
While this is not something we personally have experience with, there are paludarium kits that come equipped with many of the basics to save you building time.
Usually this means plant life and design are taken care of, and it’s up to you to add whatever animals you want.
We believe that the building process is part of the fun, so we recommend it if you can find the time. It will also give you a better understanding of life in your paludarium and how to care for them.
IDEAS FOR ANIMALS TO INCLUDE
Due to their semi-aquatic environment, paludariums can house a much greater variety of plants and animals than a normal aquarium or terrarium. Here is a list of potential species that can be used to improve the atmosphere and ecosystem in your tank, starting with the aquatic part:
Popular fish choices include a variety of killifish, cichlids, angelfish, mollies, danios, gouramis, common mollies, guppies, and others. Some paludarium owners choose just a couple of these species for a more “tidy” look, while others like the appearance of many different types of fish in their ecosystem.
Just be sure to consider, when selecting species, that each fish should have similar requirements for water conditions (hardness, temperature, pH) should they be in the same water.
Species such as Cherry, Ghost, or Amano Shrimp can enhance the appearance of the paludarium while providing a natural cleaning crew. Shrimp graze and eat plant matter and debris floating in the water while producing little waste.
SNAILS / OTHERS
Freshwater snails can provide a subtle variety in case some species other than fish are desired in the water. Popular choices include nerite or mystery snails. Springtails and fiddler crabs are also a different option, and will also keep your tank cleaner.
Semi-aquatic animal options consist of:
- Turtles – Painted sliders work best in this environment.
- Frogs and Toads: Green frogs are a common choice at all stages of development. Dart frogs can be another great option.
- Salamanders: The American tiger salamander is a common choice, with a carnivorous diet of small fish, earthworms, and other meaty foods.
- Newts: Newts are active animals that frequently switch between land and water, making them interesting to watch in a tank. Popular species include the Pacific and fire-bellied newts. Like salamanders, their diet consists of small fish, meaty foods, and pellet diets.
- Mudskippers – These funny little critters are extremely entertaining and will thrive in this type of environment.
- Water Dragons – This is a great reptile option that can do very well and looks right at home.
Note: Many tank keepers enjoy introducing tadpoles to their tank. This allows them to grow and go through their metamorphosis stages (making their way from water to land), which can be an exciting process to watch.
Terrestrial species such as snakes and lizards can use the terrestrial portion of the paludarium, since they can coexist with other aquatic and semi-aquatic species.
The most important thing to remember when placing animals and plants in your tank is the conflicts between species. Some plants may be toxic if ingested by some species.
Also, some animals may not get along with others. Keep these relationships in mind when creating the habitat in your tank to avoid unwanted victims. Another important step is that the water in each paludarium, just like a normal aquarium, must be recycled before placing the animals.
IDEAS FOR PLANTS TO INCLUDE
There is a wide variety of terrestrial, aquatic, and semi-aquatic plants to choose from when selecting species for a paludarium. Some tank guardians prefer the form, while others work.
For example, some people prefer paludarium plants that grow more slowly to reduce the need for pruning and maintenance. Here is a broad list of different plants to choose from that can thrive in a tank environment:
- Floating plants can thrive in the aquatic part of a paludarium. Java moss, for example, can be a low-maintenance species that thrives in water and can improve the health of other species that reside with it. Floating plants are a good choice for shy, nocturnal fish that need hiding places during the day. Salvinia, a floating fern, is also a popular choice.
- Ferns, such as button, Boston, or lemon ferns, grow quickly and can provide dense undergrowth.
- Vine plants, such as creeping fig or devil’s ivy, can cover the walls of a paludarium and create a natural “curtain” or backdrop, should that be the desired effect. Over time, their stems can take root in the water and provide shelter for aquatic animals, making them a good semi-aquatic choice.
- Bromeliads, a hardy variety of flowering plants that can add significant color in a tank for aesthetics.
- Carnivorous plants like Butterworts or Bladderworts are an exciting option that feed on insects/small aquatic creatures and are interesting to look at. However, be careful because they can feed on small species in the tank that are not designed to be used for food.
- Any aquatic plant. Anubias and cryptocoryne are commonly found in paludariums.
- Orchids can be pretty, but they tend to be more difficult to care for. They should be planted on the land side of the tank, away from water, because they have limited moisture tolerance.
- Flowering plants like crotons, peace lilies and dracaena – the deciding factor is which plants look the way you want. There are many options.
- Lucky bamboo can grow on the ground or in water and is popular for its appearance.
- Pothos plants are another option that can add a neat look and feel to the tank.
If space is not an issue, some tank keepers house semi-aquatic dwarf trees and mangroves. People have also gone so far as to grow herbs, vegetables, and fruits in their paludariums! It all depends on the tolerance of the plant to water.
The choice is yours!
THE PROCESS OF CONSTRUCTION AND CONFIGURATION
The easiest way to set up your paludarium, especially if you are a beginner, is to do it in stages.
Most beginning tank keepers start small, about five gallons, and work their way up as they feel more comfortable. Most people use a regular glass aquarium for optimal viewing.
Materials used MUST be aquarium grade. Here are some steps to follow that will make the construction easier:
1. INITIAL PLANNING
Make a map of where the land area and water portions of your paludarium will be. It makes sense to add the terrain first and the water last. One of the most important elements needed for a healthy tank is a tight seal between soil and water. Flood prevention will help later located terrestrial and semi-aquatic species to thrive.
Plexiglass is a common material used for the divider, but any aquarium-safe, waterproof material will do. Silicone can be used to seal to ensure no leaks. Once these two areas are laid out, you can start building your piece of land.
2. BUILD THE LAND PIECE
The land portion can be built with many different materials: wood, sand, rocks. You can even use upside down bowls/pots to create rises on the ground. The key is to remember what will be difficult to remove for cleaning and what will trap debris.
Foam sealant can help hold things together and can be carved into the desired shape. The land portion MUST have a drain at the bottom to prevent flooding if the water level rises too high.
3. SUBSTRATE AND PLANTS
Now it’s time to add the soil/other substrates and plants. Consider which plant species can tolerate proximity to the water patch. The top layer of the paludarium (the canopy) can also be added. This can consist of rocks, hanging plants, branches, shelter for land animals.
4. CONFIGURATION OF THE WATER AREA
The last step is to add the portion of water. This will help maintain humidity and should have all the elements of a normal aquarium (correct water conditions, filtration, etc.). Some people rely solely on plants for water filtration, while others use small filters that can be submerged. Water MUST be cycled before animals are added.
5. AN INTERMEDIATE AREA
It’s a good idea to have places where land animals can be around the water without having to be completely inside. This can be achieved with a floating platform. Common materials for this are cork, driftwood, or PVC.
Moss can be grown on the floating shelf as additional food/substrate for the animals in the tank. Peat moss can also be added in shallow water patches to create a swamp-like environment for semi-aquatic plants.
6. OPTIONAL CASCADE CONFIGURATION
An additional feature commonly found on paludariums is waterfalls. This is not crucial, but it can have a beautiful effect on the overall appearance of the tank. This can be done with a filter to move the water and a raised surface for the water to flow down, such as wood or rocks.
After proper cycling of the water portion, everything is finally ready for its new inhabitants and animals can be added at this time.
7. HAVE FUN!
Now that all the hard work has been done, it’s time to enjoy watching your little ecosystem come to life!
GET your palurdarium!
Paludariums are a unique and rewarding activity if you are interested in trying something new. The variety and distinctive atmosphere they can add to a room is truly unlike anything else.
Many new owners assume that putting one together is a challenge (since they’re used to 100% aquatic environments), but it really isn’t.
Just stick to the basics and keep in mind what each of the living things in your tank needs to thrive and you’ll be fine.
The paludarium community is growing rapidly and we can’t wait to see the unique builds and innovation that will inevitably come in the near future.
If you have a build or configuration you’d like to share, we’d love to see it. We might even want to share it on our site!