Today I am going to talk about the paludarium and how to set it up. A paludarium is a type of vivarium that incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic elements. To simply further, it is basically a terrarium with a body of water. Paludarium comes from the Latin words ‘palus’ which means swamp or mash and ‘-arium’ which refers to an enclosed container.
This biotope is a fusion of both terrestrial and aquatic features, and it is popular among aquatic enthusiasts. Paludarium is a semi-aquatic habitat that can house a broad range of terrestrial, aquatic, and sometimes semi-aquatic plants and animals. In this case, semi-aquatic means the mixture of land and water in the same tank.
More hobbyists are now opting for paludariums because they possess elements from different types of vivariums combined into one. This is good because it allows for a variety of species to be kept in one space comprising of diverse habitats, this results in added viewing pleasure and variety for both hobbyists and enthusiasts.
The paludarium environment is tropical (simulates wetlands or rainforest zones) and the humidity level is high, it gives off the feeling of a rich ecosystem that many people enjoy.
Choosing the Paludarium Tank:
Most people have a problem with making the right choice of a tank for their paludarium. This can be made easy once you put the following factors into due consideration:
- Potential number of tank inhabitants and the species.
- The general layout you wish to have.
- If you want a waterfall or not.
- Available resources.
- Whether small or large scale. A large tank of 40 – 50 gallons (150 – 200 liters) is better if you would like to house many inhabitants and incorporate fancy designs while a smaller tank of 10 gallons (40 liters) will be just fine if you are a novice and want few species.
Ensure that you get a tank from a reputable brand (a brand that makes high-quality and durable tanks). Check out the price of the full setup on Amazon.
Lighting for the Paludarium Tank
The type of lighting depends highly on the lighting requirement of your plants. Fluorescent and LED lights are perfect choices for plant growth and highlighting the overall display. Full spectrum lights (5000 – 6700 k) provide a balanced natural outlook and PAR.
However, most paludarium setups with basking creatures use a basking bulb that is bright enough to reach the surface for non-climbers. The wattage of these books lbs depends on the distance from the basking zone to the bulb as well as the area covered.
Note: Reptiles and amphibians need UVB lighting to produce vitamin D3 while semi-terrestrial freshwater crabs usually do not need it at all.
Filtration for the Paludarium Tank
When it comes to filtration for paludariums, filters specifically made for paludariums (check out the price on Amazon) and Canister filters are the best choice. These filters are efficient and quiet and the filter media can be endlessly customized. The canister filter will let you configure the inputs and outputs however you want them in a paludarium which can be really hard impossible to do with a sponge or hang on the back filters.
The outflow of Canister filters is easier to set up with a line to direct water into the upper regions of the environment. This filter also functions as a water pump as well.
Plants for the Paludarium Tank
There are a large variety of plants you can introduce to your paludarium. You are at liberty to make selections from terrestrial, aquatic, and semi-aquatic species. At this point, your motive has to be clear and defined already.
The choice of plants hugely depends on form, function, how much time you want to dedicate to your tank, and how much maintenance you want to carry out on a regular basis.
For instance, some aquarists will prefer plants that grow slower in order to reduce the need for constant trimming and maintenance while some choose plants according to the function or provides to the tank (shade, forage ground, oxygenation, etc). The plants you will choose can also depend on the purpose and what you want to achieve from your paludarium.
Also, if you are keen on aesthetics then your choice of plants has to include plants of varying colors and forms so as to create an amazing display in the tank. Here are different kinds of plants to choose from:
Plants like Java moss, Frogbit, Duckweed are low-maintenance species that thrive in water. This group of plants is essential to shy and nocturnal fish who need hiding places during the day. Salvinia auriculata is a popular choice as well.
You can also read the article “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”.
Ferns like Boston fern, Lemon button fern, and Holly fern grow fast and are great for filling up the tank.
Paludarium setups allow the creation of the most amazing and exotic environment. So, if you are looking for something unusual and extraordinary, this is another great choice. Orchids are beautiful, smaller species are best to have as they can tolerate humidity. This is a great addition to paludariums because of its colors, however; maintaining it is difficult. Therefore, if you are a beginner, it should not be your first choice.
Other aquatic plants:
These consist of a lot of popular plants in the hobby (foreground, midground, and background plants). Java fern, Anubias, Bucephalandra, Dwarf baby tears, Cryptocoryne parva, Contortion vals, etc. They are commonly used in aquariums.
These consist of creeping plants and vines (Creeping figs and Devil’s Ivy). They are essential for creating a natural backdrop in the paludarium (they cover the walls of the tank). Their stems also provide shelter for small animal species, thereby making it a good semi-aquatic option.
Crotons, Dracaena, Peace lilies, Bromeliads. They all have wonderful forms and add significant color to the tank for aesthetics.
|There are so many beautiful plants in the world that it is absolutely not possible to list all possible options here. Basically, we are limited only by our imagination.|
Animal Species For Your Paludarium
The main feature of paludariums is that we can keep a mix of both terrestrial and aquatic animals in the tank. Therefore, choosing an animal species is not a big problem. For example, depending on the paludarium set up, most freshwater species that are commonly found in aquariums can be kept in a paludarium as well.
When considering fish species to have in the tank, it would be a good idea to stick to just a few small species. The presence of too many types of fish can make your tank look disjointed and messy. It can also affect the way they interact with each other, in some cases resulting in cannibalism.
You can never go wrong with common freshwater species like tetras, guppies, mollies, discuss, celestial pearl danios. These fish are relatively easy-going and as such, they are unlikely to harass other tank inhabitants. They are easy to care for and feeding requirements are minimal. They are well adapted to life in most kinds of aquatic habitats and are able to tolerate a wide range of water temperature, pH, and hardness conditions.
Shrimp species like Amano shrimp, Red cherry shrimp, and Ghost shrimp are good options as well. They are the hardiest species in the hobby and can survive in a wide range of water parameters.
Most snail and shrimp species co-exist with each other as they are less likely to be aggressive and because they are both scavengers- they will aid in cleaning the tank by feeding on tiny bits of food particles, debris, and plant waste.
In addition, the introduction of invertebrates is a great way of keeping your tank clean. You should consider stocking snail species like Mystery snails, Nerite snails, Japanese Trapdoor Snails, and some other beautiful ornamental snails.
Check out my article “List of Freshwater Aquarium Snails. Pros and Cons”.
Terrestrial, Semi-terrestrial, and Freshwater crabs
Crabs are great additions and make the paludarium more interesting because of the variety they bring in. In addition, they are relatively easy to keep in proper setups.
There are different types of crabs but all of them we can divide into 3 main categories:
2. semi-terrestrial, and
3. fully-freshwater type.
Terrestrial and semi-terrestrial crabs make the perfect choice for paludariums. You can include these popular species: Vampire crabs, Tangerine-head crabs, Rainbow crabs, Fiddler crabs, Red claw crabs, Marble crabs, etc.
These animal species can be introduced as well: Frogs like Green frogs and Dart frogs are great choices for paludariums. Mudskippers, Newts, Lizards, Land snails, Praying mantises, spiders, scorpions, ants, etc. can be kept in the land portion of the paludarium, given that they can co-exist with the others.
Setting Up a Paludarium
Setting up a paludarium can be quite challenging and tedious if you are not used to building a tank set-up. The main idea is to create a natural environment in which your animals and plants will thrive and co-exist peacefully.
To do so you have to do extensive research on the species you are planning to keep. Once you understand their needs, you will know what you should or should not do.
If you are a beginner in the hobby, you will find this part difficult because it takes a bit of skill to set up a paludarium and get it to look appealing and impressive as well as ensure it’s safe for the inhabitants.
Ensure that you have made a good choice regarding the proper tank size to be used. Furthermore, you should have done proper research to make sure that the chosen plant and animal species will live peacefully with each other and thrive in the conditions of your tank.
As I said earlier, setting up a paludarium is not what you easily engage in if you are a first-timer. Tip: It will be quite helpful to seek the necessary knowledge by watching videos on how to set up a paludarium. The idea is to observe a skilled builder or experienced professional at work before you replicate such a feat or use some of their ideas in your paludarium setup. This way, you will gain the necessary knowledge and experience before starting out.
Important: At the same time, DO NOT trust everything you see on Youtube, there are many videos that contain a lot of mistakes! The only problem is that in their paludarium setups, many things were sacrificed to please Youtube viewers, they do not put animals’ interests in the first place.
Cleaning and Testing the Tank
Surprisingly but this step is often simply skipped by most hobbyists. Well, this is wrong and it can cause you a lot of problems in the future. So, don’t be like them. We must be absolutely sure that our tank for the paludarium setup is clean and safe.
Cleaning is pretty simple. For example, you can use hydrogen peroxide (this is a cheap and handy household supply that is used for cleaning, healing, hygiene, etc.).
Apply it with a rag or a spray bottle, and let it sit for 10 – 20 minutes. Then, come back and clean the tank. Wash it off properly (do it at least twice to remove hydrogen peroxide).
Note: Do not forget to use rubber gloves when handling hydrogen peroxide.
The next step is to test the tank for leaks. It can be absolutely spirit breaking after setting up your paludarium, putting the substrate in, adding the plants, installing the filter, and … find out that the tank is leaking!
Therefore, I strongly advise you to take the extra time and get this test done.
To be sure that the tank is not damaged, I usually put some paper underneath it. Next, fill the tank with water and leave it for 1 day. If you do not see any wet spots on the paper you are good to go.
Principles of Paludarium
At first, you can try creating a small paludarium before upgrading to a larger one when you have gained the required experience. A paludarium is constructed in two main layers: land and water.
Land vs Water Ratio
Although there are no strict rules here, in most cases, the land takes more space in paludariums. This ratio mostly depends on what kind of living creatures you are planning to have.
For example, if you are creating a paludarium for freshwater crabs (like Vampire crabs, Rainbow Crabs, Tangerine-head crabs, etc.), it will be better to have up to 80% of land and 20% of water.
These crabs do not need a lot of water. As long as water pools can completely cover their entire bodies, they will be fine. However, if you are making paludarium for the fish, obviously, the ratio should be vice versa.
Therefore, understanding the proper requirements will already predefine your choice.
The type of substrate mostly depends on the animals you are planning to keep. So, do your research beforehand.
Generally, you can use coconut fiber, peat, soil, sand, gravel rocks, sandstones, and even driftwood to build the land area of your paludarium. After creating the land area, next up is the water section.
The water section is home to aquatic animals and plants. It should be set up in such a way that it increases the humidity level of your tank.
While constructing your paludarium, it is of utmost importance that you separate the land from the water section. This can be done in quite a number of ways:
One of them is to divide the land and water areas with a divider (which can be purchased at aquarium stores, link to check the price on Amazon). This is made of plexiglass, thereby it is completely safe for tank usage. The divider should be secured with a thin deal of aquarium silicone to make it leak-proof.
2. Natural design
In aquascaping, aquarists usually do a slant to give the aquarium a little more depth. This trick can be used in paludariums even with better results. Build the land area up until it is well above the water level.
You have to do this before adding water to the tank, determine where you want your land barriers to be, and build it to the desired height.
3. Water Bowls
Depending on the animals in the paludarium, the last option is to use water bowls instead of filling the tank with water. Sure, it might not be appealing to everyone but if efficacy is your priority then you should consider it.
- Stupidly easy. You do not have to create a complex paludarium setup. The only thing that you need to keep in mind – the bowl should be big enough to completely submerge your crabs, frogs, lizards, etc.
- There will be no need to use any filters to maintain cleanliness and prevent toxicity! You can simply do water changes which will be very easy and simple as well.
Note: If you use tap water, add Seachem Prime (link to check the price on Amazon) to remove chlorine, and chloramine. This water conditioner will also bind to heavy metals, any ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates present for up to 48 hours. Consider Prime as your additional safety net
- It does not look great.
Note: Make sure that all the materials you use are aquarium-safe.
An additional feature commonly found in paludariums is a waterfall. A waterfall creates a beautiful natural effect and significantly improves the overall appearance of the tank. This can be created using a filter placed on a high point or elevated surface consisting of rocks and driftwood for the water to flow downwards.
The canopy lies at the top of your tank and it includes taller plants, large rocks, and branches. Canopy helps to give shade to both land and water animals.
Unfortunately, many hobbyists often forget about the humidity. Lots of animals that require paludarium setups need an adequate humidity level. In dry tanks, they can essentially suffocate.
However, keep in mind that a high level of humidity cannot be desirable as well because it will cause condensation and encourage the growth of bacteria and fungus in the tank. Therefore, keeping the humidity level in the optimal range becomes a very important task in paludarium setups.
Examples of Paludarium.
Just take a look at this beautiful paludarium. Isn’t it amazing? Yes, it is a really good job.
However, ideally, I would still make some slight changes.
- There is no lid and we can see cables. One day Vampire crabs can escape and die somewhere in this house.
- Vampire crabs require high humidity (at least 75%). Unless the author lives in a country where high humidity is normal, I do not see how it is possible to reach this level here without the lid.
- I would add more soil or something similar (like coconut fiber, sand, etc.). In nature, Vampire crabs need a mixture of it to nibble at and excavate in.
- In my opinion, there is a little bit too much water for such a small setup. Vampire crabs prefer to stay on land.
Although this paludarium is truly magnificent for its size, we should never forget that our job is to replicate its natural environment. DO NOT ever sacrifice anything just to please your aesthetic look.
Another example can show you what you can get if you are not restricted by the size of the tank. I am pretty sure that the WOW effect is guaranteed not just by your friends but the crabs themselves if they could talk. J
Paludarium is an interesting variety for those that might want to try out something different from the usual (aquarium set-ups). Some hobbyists assume it is too challenging since they are already used to only aquatic environments. However, creating a paludarium may not be so easy-going, but you can seek the help of an experienced aquarist to aid in setting it up.
Try it out someday and get acquainted with a whole new ecosystem, you can start small and step up once you are familiar with how it totally works.
2 thoughts on “How to Set up Paludarium”
Thanks for the post. I’ve seen some vampire crab paludariums that use expanding foam to build things up. But I’ve also read that vampire crabs need to dig, so is the foam a bad idea?
I’d also been reading that vampire crabs are escape artists and so you need a lid–and that the babies can even climb of the silicone in the corners. But do you also need some airflow into the tank?
I have a Fluval Vista 23g tank that I’ve kept corys and tetras in; it’s past 7 years old, so I can’t imagine them living much longer. I was thinking about converting the tank to (perhaps) a paludarium. But I’ve had my fill of regular water changes and so want to go as low-maintenance as I can. But the lid is an odd shape (and built-on), so I’d have to custom-make something.
No, expanding foam is not a bad idea because it serves a different purpose. It is used to create a terrascape – nothing more.
Of course, you will need to use a substrate where your Vampire crabs can dig in.
Yes, they are pretty good at climbing. Thus, you need to cover the top of their enclosure.
As for the airflow, it is needed to keep humidity at a certain level.