Paludariums (or Plaudaria) are the latest trend in the fish hobby circle and aquarists.

Imagine if you have frogs, crocodiles, turtles, fishes, snails, Lizards, etc. (both land and water animals) in the same tank.

Besides, the tank also has the scenic beauty of both land and water. If that is not enough, a natural waterfall inside the tank is a show stealer!

That is what a Paludarium brings into your sitting room.

How is this possible? What does it take to set it up? Can you have it in your home? This article attempts to answer these questions.

A Paludarium, like aquarium, is a Vivarium. Confusing. Right?

Let us begin with understanding the concept of a Vivarium, the types of Vivariums, and their purpose.

Types of Vivariums

The word Vivarium originates from the Latin words Vivus (living thing) and Arium (a place for). It translates into a place for living.

Various Vivariums described below provide an enclosed place (generally made of glass) for different living forms.

Aquariums

Image Credit: britannica.com

Derived from the Latin words Aqua (water) + Arium (place for), they consist of water.

Hence, they are aquatic.

They house aquatic animals (fishes, fish-eels, shrimp, snails, etc.) with aquatic plants, weeds, rocks, caves, etc. structures to replicate the natural habitats of the tank-dwellers.

Terrariums

Image Credit: wikipedia

Derived from the Latin words Terra (land) + Arium (place for), they have no water.

Hence, they are non–aquatic.

They house terrestrial plants in a glass tank.

Some believe that a Terrarium with a live animal becomes a Vivarium.

However, some suggest that a Terrarium is a type of Vivarium. It sounds correct, as even trees have life in them.

They may have animals in them or be miniature indoor greenhouses.

Paludariums

Image Credit: wikipedia

Derived from the Latin words Palus (swamp) + Arium (place for), they use forest or swamp biotopes.

The water and the land portions are separated creatively in the same tank.

Hence they are semi-aquatic.

The proportion of water and land can vary (anywhere from 10:90), depending on the theme.

They may have all – aquatic, terrestrial, and amphibian animals, or any of them, or no animals at all.

Ripariums

Riparium tanks are primarily aquatic representations of areas where land meets water (like shores of rivers, streams, coastal environment, etc.).

They have minimal or no land portion in them.

They house plants that grow above the water level (semi-aquatic and terrestrial) and aquatic plants (that grow submerged in the water).

Their plants have large leaves. They may house aquatic animals.

The focus is on plants and shoreline biotopes with little or no land mass.

Other types of Vivariums

Besides the above, there are many other types listed below.

  • Insectarium – Used to breed Insects.
  • Mossarium – To grow Moss with or without water or of both types (Moss Aquarium, Moss. Terrarium, or Moss Paludarium).
  • Formicarium – Houses Ant colonies.
  • Serpentarium – Houses Snakes.
  • Orchidarium – Grows Orchids.
  • Kinocorium – Houses Mushrooms.
  • Carnivarium – Grows Carnivorous Plants.
  • Succularium – For Succulents and plants growing in arid regions (like Cacti).

Paludarium Vs. Riparium

Paludarium Riparium
Replicates a forest or swamp environment Replicates river banks, shores, and coastal areas
Aquatic and Terrestrial biotopes are separated Biotope is majorly aquatic
Consists of a separate land portion May/May not consist of a land portion
The land portion is relatively larger The land portion (if any) is small/nominal
May house aquatic, terrestrial, or semi-aquatic animals May house aquatic animals
Requires high humidity Requires moderate humidity

Paludarium Tank Setup

It has three parts/layers.

  • The Canopy – Is the topmost layer of the tank, which provides shelter and shade to the land animals. It is the part above the land mass where the land plants grow tall.
  • The Land – It is the landmass of the tank. This biotope consists of rocks, waterfalls, trees, mosses, land animals, etc.
  • The Water – This layer consists of the water portion, aquatic plants, and animals (if any).
  • The semi-aquatic animals can move between the water and land layers randomly.
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Appropriate Tank Size for a Paludarium

It can be set up in any size, beginning from a 5-gallon tank.

However, it is advisable to use a 15 to 20-gallon tank to ensure enough space for the animals to move and the plants to thrive.

Small tanks might not have enough space for landscaping, aquascaping, and filtration.

It will need frequent cleaning for the ecological system to thrive.

For example, below is a simple 5-gallon tank (to start with).

Here’s a video of a small Paludarium tank

Different Tank Types for a Paludarium

  • Whether the tank is tall or broad depends on the theme.
  • An open-lid tank has no upper lid. It allows the plants to grow outside the tank, whereas a closed-lid tank is advisable to house animal(s) that might venture out.

This setup is feasible when there are no animals. Or the animals you add will not jump out of the tank.

You may add fish to the water portion underneath.

Below is an example of an open-lid Paludarium.

Preparing a Paludarium (Land and Water Aquarium)

You can

  • Make it from scratch using DIY (Do It Yourself). We will cover some basics about it in the coming sections.

If you plan to do this, watch out for materials available locally/when you travel, which can be creatively used (plants, rocks, substrate, mosses, etc.). Start collecting them.

Locally collected plants have better sustainability in the same geographical location, making it easier to care for them.

Ensure you do not poach any forest trees. It is illegal. Gather them creatively without uprooting/destroying them.

  • Buy a readymade Paludarium Kit from the market.
  • Go hybrid – You can buy some materials you need from the market and add them to your DIY tank.
  • Convert your aquarium – add broad driftwood with a semi-aquatic animal and moss/plants on the top.

The simple 5-gallon tank shared earlier depicts a similar tank.

Add a partition (optional) between the water and the upper portion. You will need some restructuring to ensure humidity throughout the tank.

Ideas for Paludarium Setup

Be clear about what you wish to create in the tank theme. That would impact everything in the tank.

Remember, a Paludarium tank takes time to develop.

The plants and mosses need time to grow and establish themselves in the new ecosystem with the water, land, and animals therein.

Generally, the tank organization can be such that:

  • A part of the tank has a hardscape (rocks/plants), while the portion after the partition is occupied by water horizontally.
  • Both portions are on the front side.
  • Horizontal separation is preferred, as it gives enough scope to develop both biotopes in detail. Plus, animals also get more space to move freely.
  • Island look, where the land mass is at the center.
  • Front/back arrangement – Where land is in the background of a water body.
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Once you decide on the theme, you can buy a tank with two to three small step-like structures (inside the tank) to create different layers (viz. canopy, land, and water) at different heights.

Alternatively, you can use a plain fish tank and create layers using rocks to create heights (levels).

Finally, everything that enters the tank should be high quality (parasite/bacteria-free), sterilized, and rinsed thoroughly.

Rainforest Theme

You will need more plants and thick plant coverage in the hardscape.

Alternatively, it might be rocky with some moss on the rocks and a waterfall from the height to complete the natural look.

Paludarium waterfall is a popular feature. It also helps filtration within the tank. Water keeps moving and supporting plant and animal growth.

You can merge the two (rocks and plants) with a waterfall or rainfall within the tank.

Everything is possible.

A shallow water portion with small aquatic or semi-aquatic animals can make it more natural and bring it to life.

If there is no canopy, there should be a land portion on the top where the animals can dry themselves.

Especially the amphibian animals. They occupy land and water biotopes equally. 

If you only have aquatic animals, this is not necessary.

This video shows a Paludarium tank with a waterfall.

Island Theme

In this, water surrounds the hardscape from all sides. Here, you can be creative with the land and aquascapes you wish to recreate.

Below are a few ideas for an island theme.

The first image represents an island made from locally sourced plants and materials used creatively to make a brilliant Island tank.

The last image is a Twin Island biotope, which has the scope to evolve with unlimited creative ideas as and when feasible.

Image Credit: reddit user: SoCalJer
Image Credit: reddit user: Liloff99
Image Credit: reddit user: Atlantic90
Image Credit: reddit user: darthnoodles_

Thus, you can get as creative as you want. Start with a certain basic concept and keep evolving it over time.

Selecting Paludarium Plants

The number and types of plants you add should be proportionate to the land/water areas in the tank and the number of animals you add.

They should add to the landscape and decor without interfering with the free space for the animals to move.

It is easier to use aquatic soil for all plants. Terrestrial plants will also grow in this soil.

Alternatively, you can use different soils for aquatic and terrestrial plants.

You can add soluble fertilizers to the water.

Inserting a fertilizer tablet in the substrate can help the carpeting plants to grow.

You can use the following plants in Paludarium tanks:

Aquatic Plants

These grow submerged in the water. You can use

  • Carpeting plants (like Pygmy Chain Sword, etc.) can cover the ground surface.
    Use plants that grow under most conditions (like the Java Moss and Dwarf Hairgrass).
    You will need a CO2 injection for the aquatic plants.
    Marsilea Hirsuta does not need a CO2 injection. That can make it a better choice for some.
  • Floating plants – like Common Duckweed, Mosquito Fern, Banana Lily, Lotus, Floating Fern, Anubias, etc. can be used.

Semi-Aquatic Plants

These have roots inside the water but grow above the water level. American Waterweed, Crystalwort, Indian Toothcup, etc., can be used.

Terrestrial Plants

Purple Waffle, Lucky Bamboo, Prayer Plant, Dragons Tongue, Peace Lily, Aloe Vera, etc., are some terrestrial plants you can use.

Use driftwood creatively in both the biotopes.

You can also use creeping plants like Creeping Fig, Asparagus Fern, Wandering Jew, English Ivy, etc.

Adding some moss to the rocks can lend a natural appearance.

Epiphytes

These are the plants that grow on other plants or rocks. However, they are not like parasites.

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Plant them on driftwood, terrestrial plants, or on the rocks in the tank.

There are epiphytes in aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial varieties.

Varieties of Moss, Dwarf Ferns, Bromeliads, Small Orchids, etc., are some of the epiphytes you can use.

Substrate for a Paludarium Tank

If you use a carpeting aquatic plant, you can go without any additional substrate.

However, a soft sand and gravel substrate can go with floating plants. The aquatic animals you add also influence the substrate.

Ensure it is proportionate to the water in the tank.

Lighting Up a Paludarium

The lighting depends on the plants you select and where you keep the tank.

Certain plants need less lighting than others.

In case it is an open-lid tank or a closed-lid tank placed in a naturally well-lit area on the terrace/indoors, you will not need any special lighting except subdued lighting to highlight the beauty of the entire setup.

Otherwise, you can use LED lights with third-party dimmers or UV lighting atop the hardscape with adjustable lighting.

Use an aquarium lighting strip for the water area.

A Paludarium requires high humidity. Use a fogging machine to maintain even moisture throughout the tank.

The fogging machine need not be on continuously. Use it need-based. It also enhances the beauty of the waterfall and hard scape in a mystical way.

Alternatively, use a water spraying bottle to moisten the hardscape regularly. It will add to your manual work.

You may need a heater for the land animals to replicate the habitat they need, depending on where the tank is kept (in the open or in a warm room) and your geographical location.

Choosing a Filtration for Paludarium Tank

It is required for aquatic animals to ensure water oxygenation, circulation, and removal of debris.

Use the filtration outlet to source the fountain/waterfall in the hardscape.

Alternatively, insert two-three smaller pipes in the filtration outlet end to direct the water outflow to the plants in the land mass.

Use biological and mechanical filters according to the size of the tank and its water level. You might need extenders if the water level is low.

Plants along the waterfall path can also keep filtering the falling water.

Choosing the Paludarium Dwellers (Animals)

As discussed earlier, they house the following types of animals.

Alternatively, you may have no animals or any combination of these.

While choosing them, remember their predatory relationship and temperaments. They should be able to co-exist peacefully.

They will bring your tank to life, besides adding color and action.

The number of animals you add should be proportionate to the land and water biotopes. It will make it easier to manage them and provide a neat look.

They need sufficient space to grow. Some may even reproduce.

Aquatic Animals

Small to medium community fishes with peaceful demeanor will do good. You may add 2-3 fish of the same variety.

Fishes and invertebrates like Cichlids, Mollies, Gouramis, Guppies, Danios, Angelfish, Neon Tetras, Freshwater Snails, Shrimps, etc., are apt.

Semi-Aquatic Animals

Paludariums are the best place to house amphibians.

Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, and Crabs make a great choice.

Provide space for these animals to move freely and safely between the water and hardscape without disturbing the tank setup.

Terrestrial Animals

While adding a terrestrial animal, remember that the semi-aquatic animals will also move to the hardscape. Avoid overcrowding.

Reptiles like Turtles, Red-eyed Crocodile Skinks, Lizards, Chameleons, Chinese Water Dragons, Worm Snakes, etc., make a great choice.

Now that you have a fair idea about them, the below videos will take your imagination a notch above.

Conclusion

Paludariums bring a piece of mother nature into your house in a very creative way.

They can be very relaxing and fulfilling to have.

A completed tank setup is equivalent to an artistic masterpiece by a painter. In fact, a step ahead. It’s alive and real!

So, when are you making or getting one?

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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