The Autonomous Paludarium

I’m really excited to finally show the world this project! It has been several months of trial and error, but this DIY paludarium is finally complete and currently housing over 14 unique species of animals. I would like to present to you.. **drum roll** Edens.Bow!!

Edens.Bow” is a self-monitoring, smart, multi-layered Paludarium. When paired with the Bantam.Earth app, it replicates the rainforest and various conditions in which its inhabitants are found. From ambient sounds of insects chirping during a foggy morning to simulated lightning & rolling thunder during evening storms, this vivarium feels like a corner of the Amazon!

The DIY Paludarium

During this series of BEHINDtheBUILD, my goal is to give you all a well-documented, step-by-step guide to how I put this enclosure together.. Hopefully, this guide inspires you to pursue your own paludarium DIY! I list all of its inhabitants and how they all work together to keep this small kingdom healthy and thriving… Even though this project is far from a beginner’s guide, I think that everyone will take something useful away from this build. This chapter will serve as an overview of the following chapters in this edition of BEHINDtheBUILD.

self sustaining terrarium with animals edens bow

In no way, do I consider myself an expert on any of this. I’m just a herp/fish enthusiast that takes pride in the things I design for my animals. I welcome any and all feedback on this project. I hope to use this blog as a tool to inspire those thinking about starting a project like this… Possibly even grow a community full of like-minded individuals we can bounce ideas off and improve on these bantam-ecosystems!

What Is A Paludarium

Ok, so before I break down what I built… Let’s start with what is exactly. A paludarium is a type of vivarium that consists of both water and land. It’s basically is like having an aquarium and a terrarium on top of one another. I don’t think there is a set law as to how much of it needs to be either in order to qualify as a paludarium. I just know it needs to consist of both aquatic and terrestrial features.

I go more into detail about paludaria here for those interested… If you find that this build is a bit too complicated but you’d still like to build a more simplified type of paludarium, I have some really great insight there for you!!

Building The Paludarium

I won’t go too far into detail since this is just an overview. I will provide links to each category below for those interested in that specific part of the build. As I put Edens.Bow together, I was very meticulous with how I broke down the entire project into categories. I would only move on to the next category once each particular category was 100% complete. This allowed me to not get overwhelmed by the sheer size of the project… It also allowed me to not skip around to easier parts if I hit roadblocks or got bored with a category.

Design: Converting An Aquarium To A Paludarium

It all started with a 55-gallon bow front aquarium. It was a used system that came with everything needed to function correctly. The filtration system was a simple overflow set up that channeled water into an under-tank sump, where the water was filtered and then pumped back out into the aquarium. I wanted to design something that would eventually work as an aquaponics set up allowing the sump filtered water to run thru the terrarium media and back out into the aquarium tank.

After sketching up a few designs, I decided to keep the aquarium portion water-based and build a styrofoam enclosure that would rest directly on top of the bow front. I redirected 25% of the water flow up to the terrarium part of the paludarium and created a sort of waterfall for the overflow to pour back into the aquarium.

**I go further into detail about how to construct a paludarium here.

Arduino: Controlling A Paludarium

Arduino boards are micro-controllers many people use to do simple tasks. I felt an Arduino Mega 2560 board would perfectly handle the task of monitoring the tanks statistics… As well as allow me to toggle through a few settings whenever I wanted to do something.

I mapped out all of the things I wanted to be able to do to the vivarium from a joystick and an LCD monitor:

  • Continuously monitor humidity, as well as air and water temperature
  • Control things like a fan, basking light, rain irrigation system and toggle through the various day/night settings using LED’s
  • Enable Bluetooth compatibility for remote “app” control with any mobile device

**I go further into detail about how to control a paludarium with an Arduino here.

Skylights: Illuminating A Paludarium

The lighting portion of the project had to be very strategic. I had to figure out a number of challenges… How to properly light the terrarium plants as well as the aquatic plants… How to pretty much mimic the sun with healthy measurements of heat as well as UV lighting for the animals that needed it like the reptiles & amphibians… Most importantly I wanted to still portray the natural look of the sky in a safe and inaccessible way to the inhabitants!

I broke this bit of the project into two easy to develop parts. The LEDs would supply the needed lighting to the plants and act as the “sky”… The All-In-One reptile lamp would supply the day time heating and necessary UVB/UVA light while simultaneously acting as the sun!

**I go further into detail about how to naturally light a paludarium here.

Audio: Adding Nature Sound FX To A Paludarium

Even though this is a minor and in no way a necessary part of this build… I really wanted to have nature sounds in this paludarium. It was a nice touch of realism that truly sets this tank a part if you ever got to see it in person.

As the day progresses, the sounds within the environment change. From distant birds singing in the morning, to random howling or chirping crickets to compliment the synthetic starry night… You can’t truly portray a stormy afternoon without the introduction of rolling thunder and random crackling when lightning strikes!

Working through different types of mini sub-woofers and amplifiers, I was finally able to make the perfect set up that easily coded into the Mega 2560 board.

**I go further into detail about how to add nature sounds to a paludarium with Arduino here. The sound bits I’m currently using for Edens.Bow will be available for download soon…

App: Remote Controlling A Paludarium

After trying it all together and making sure the tank ran on its own without complications, we move on to the mobile application. This was a very important feature for me to have on this tank. I wanted to build it with an app maker that offered an easy learning curve.

I decided to try out MIT App Inventor and was very pleased with the amount of time it took to fully get this concept up and running.

The main functionality would be the exact same as the main hub on the paludarium with the additional ability to set up a schedule so the tank could cycle through various settings on its own. I think later updates to this app will come with features like:

  • Remote feature accessing from anywhere in the world.
  • Data logging for compared statistics
  • Monitoring water parameters like ammonia levels and PH

**I go further into detail about the remote-controlled paludarium app here.

Plants: Scaping & Stocking A Paludarium

So believe it or not… This is the part I struggled with the most. I know what you’re thinking “this guy built an autonomous paludarium, developed a working app for it, and can’t keep a few plants alive?”.. OK, maybe you weren’t thinking all of that, but plants are hard folks! Lol. I truly take my hat off to gardeners and all of you people out there with green thumbs!

I’m humble enough to admit, I can’t do it all. Plus, I put this info out there with hope’s that we could improve on this idea together.. I got this far on my own, I’m ready to bring you guys in and assist me the rest of the way!

With that being said, I have learned a ton about what works in this environment and what doesn’t! I’m at a point now where I have a pretty solid idea as to what plants do really well near or in the water… AND what does well furthest from it!

**I go further into detail about how to plant scape a paludarium here.

Inhabitants: Choosing Paludarium Animals

Now that the paludarium is cycled and running autonomously… I can add life! I started with the cleanup crew and worked my way to the main attraction.

Springtails, Isopods, and shrimp are the micro inhabitants that work to keep the tank clean… Fiddler crabs do a pretty good job in the terrarium too and actually enjoy being above water more than I first imagined. Catfish help out with the cleaning as well down under.

We originally had two baby chameleons in the terrarium portion but had to separate them as they got older… The males become a bit too much once sexually active lol…

Adding the right assortment of fish is an on going task as most of you may know. So we rotated around with various other tanks in our home until we got a good community beginning to coexist.

**I go further into detail about my choice of animals for a paludarium here.

Maintaining A Paludarium

I will definitely incorporate a few more mods as I progress with this tank. Automatic water changes are at the very top of the list! Overall though, up keeping hasn’t been too hard. The water parameters stay pretty consistent as long as I change the water twice a month. I think as I continue to grow out of the plants in this tank, it will become more and more self-sustaining, and eventually, I can just add water weekly to compensate for the loss during evaporation.

I have had many people ask me if rather or not I would patent this idea and possibly sell it to the public. My answer to that is absolutely not! I think that I enjoy the idea of having a community of people that are passionate about this type of stuff and that is worth a lot more to me. I spent many long nights working on this concept and have been keeping it to myself… I am overwhelmed with joy to finally share it with the world.

If you are considering a DIY paludarium project like this… OR this guide has inspired you to do anything like this in any sort of way… Please share it with me! I would love to see the many other concepts that grow out of this. I’m sure my coding and other parts of this project could easily be reformed or improved on so I’m totally all ears if you find a way to make Edens.Bow better!

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