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HomeBlogWhat is a Paludarium? A brief introduction to two habitats in one

What is a Paludarium? A brief introduction to two habitats in one

While some fish, reptile, invert, and amphibian keepers will be happy with a full aquarium or full terrarium, a paludarium offers the best of both worlds for many hobbyists.

Simply put, a paludarium can be described as a vivarium that incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic habitats, creatures, and plants; land and water work together in this space to create a more natural environment. In nature, streams, ponds, wetlands, estuaries, and swamps all encompass areas where there are natural transitions between land and water. Often, paludarium ecosystems are created to mimic these environments.

This type of setup can be useful for many semi-aquatic creatures and for those who may want to put different species together that need either one – or both - of these environments. For example, some people will setup a paludarium with fish in the water and newts or frogs that can go between the land and water areas as desired. That's just one example, though; since these incorporate land, water, and air, a plethora of possible combinations exist, which is one more reason these are fascinating habitats.

Some common animals placed in paludariums:

  • Frogs
  • Newts
  • Salamanders
  • Crabs
  • Fish
  • Turtles
  • Shrimps
  • Occasionally, snakes and other reptiles that spend part of their time in the water, such as water dragons or Sulawesi water skinks, will be housed in large paludariums.
  • If you want to try something a little different, a mudskipper is a unique and interesting fish that would need a brackish paludarium. What's rare about mudskippers is they are often found outside of the water, often in mudflats, estuaries, or swamps. They're known for their ability to climb, walk, and skip around. Out of water, they breathe with air trapped in their gill chambers as well as through the skin. (Plant choice may be a bit more complicated, but enjoyable nevertheless).

An added bonus to paludariums is that they typically include both aquatic and terrestrial plants. There are numerous options available for plant choices and will come down to the needs of the inhabitants, as well as your personal preferences.

Terrestrial plants

Your best option here is to choose plants that do well in humid environments. Various ferns (such as lemon fern or button fern), moss, bromeliads, and creeping plants and vines (such as creeping fig) are popular paludarium choices.

Orchids also will generally do well in paludariums, though some may require a little more care than other plants.

This is also a great opportunity to ""get your feet wet"" if you want to try emergent plants. (This is where the roots are in water, but the leaves are not). Hygrophila, pothos, and wandering dudes are popular choices and typically do well in these setups.

Recommended aquatic plants

  • Anubias
  • Amazon Sword
  • Java Fern
  • Cryptocorine

Our list of the Top 10 easy aquarium plants can be found here.

Keep in mind the plants mentioned above are by no means limited to these species; it is provided as a potential starting point.

Ways to build a paludarium

Creating this type of enclosure can go from simple to complicated, and will vary due to personal preferences, the amount of work and detail you wish to put into your enclosure, and the species you plan to include; your imagination is really the limit. We look at some basic steps and elements of paludariums here.

When planning how you want to make your paludarium, keep in mind there are 3 areas you will need to consider: water, land, and canopy. The water section will be similar to an aquarium; the land is generally where you will place terrestrial plants, and the canopy is often used for climbing materials and will leave space for taller plant growth.

Frogs on a log
  • One easy method for creating a paludarium is to place a piece of driftwood that will float on the water's surface. This will provide an area that your semiaquatic pets can crawl onto if needed. If you want to add a little decoration to it, many types of moss will become attached to the wood and grow over it; java moss is a popular choice for this purpose.

Some pieces of driftwood may have a large enough crevice on top – or you can create one – to put some other types of plants inside that space if you choose. If there is a hole all the way through one spot of driftwood, you could also add some plants whose roots could remain in the water, while the leaves stay above water. Plants such as pothos and wandering dude are, once again, good options. The roots dangling in the water will provide an additional benefit by taking up some of the nitrites in the water, thus improving water quality and providing nutrients to the plants.

Alternatively, you may also use items such as turtle docks and turtle banks or other decorations that will protrude from the surface. Again, the choice is really up to you as to how you want to set up the enclosure.

Some hobbyists will attach air plants or bromeliads to driftwood, or find creative ways to place them inside the aquarium above the water level.

Twistable, flexible vines are used in this paludarium
  • Another common strategy is to partition the tank with aquarium-safe silicone and glue a pre-cut piece of plexiglass to divide the water and land areas. The water and land can be divided vertically or horizontally. For a horizontal partition, you'll want to be sure the seal is leak proof; it's also recommended that the land portion of this type of setup have a drainage hole in case of water overflow from the water portion. For vertical partitions, you can silicone a piece of plexiglass, or another suitable structure, to the side or back of your tank. You would need to decide your water level, and place it at that height. Then you can build the land area up from there.
Paludarium top view - partition between land and waterTop view of a paludarium with a partition siliconed between the land and water areas... the piece of driftwood allows newts in this tank to more easily traverse between both areas. There is no fancy background with this setup - an airplant is held is held in place against the back wall with a suction cup.
  • Probably the most popular technique used to make a paludarium, however, is to build the land up before adding any water. This can be done with creating a slope from sand or rocks, by piling up pieces of slate, using pots, wood, or any other aquarium-safe material. You need to decide where in the tank you want your land area to be and continue building until you reach the desired water height.

Building a shelf out of PVC egg crate is often frequently performed as well. This can be cut to the desired shape and size and glued to the side of your tank with aquarium-safe sealant, or it can be supported with other material. A substrate barrier screen mesh is often placed over the eggcrate to keep particles from falling into the water.

Many paludariums built this way also incorporate a foam sealant to create a background wall. More about this process - and building a waterfall - can be seen here . Of course, it will likely need to be modified a bit for paludarium use, but the concept is the same.

A rock background is made with Universal Rocks; a waterfall flows over them

If you're interested in including a waterfall in your enclosure, you can use a water pump to move the aquarium water to the top of your waterfall; you could also purchase a waterfall kit. Wood, branches, slate, and rocks all make ideal surfaces for your waterfall to flow down.

For your terrestrial plants, you'll want to use a nutrient-rich substrate.

Generally, you'll want the land area tobe finished and your plants in place before adding the water.

Just as with a regular aquarium, you'll want to be sure your water stays clean and is cycled before adding your pets to ensure the nitrogen cycle is completed. You can read our blog about the Nitrogen Cycle here.

Several companies also manufacture their own paludariums.

Basically, there are limitless ways to create this type of ecosystem. It's fun, and can be as simple or sophisticated as you like.

Benefits of paludariums

These enclosures are often easier tomaintain than aquariums.

You can include a much wider range ofinhabitants than in other types of setups.

Provides the ability to add both terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals in the same enclosure .

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