What Is a Paludarium?
A paludarium, also commonly referred to as “paludaria”, is a type of vivarium that consists of both water and land. The paludal part of the word comes from the Latin word palus, meaning “swamp” or “land near water.” The word itself translates to “a place of swamp or land near water.” The plural form of paludarium is paludaria.
In general, it’s an aquarium with dry terrestrial features. There’s no set law as to how much of it needs to be either aquatic or terrestrial in order to qualify… The enclosure just needs to consist of both in order to be considered a paludarium.
Paludarium vs. Riparium: What’s the Difference?
Paludaria and riparia are very similar in the sense that they both consist of aquatic and terrestrial features. There is, however, a difference in life sustainability. A paludarium has enough landmass to provide a habitable living space for semi-aquatic animals. A riparium has limited landmass but usually cannot support life that depends on “Terra-amenities” (yes – I made up that word).
When discussing ripariums, think of a river bank-type aquarium. More than likely, there won’t be any completely dry areas in this enclosure. The flora will be submersible plants. The animals living in this type of vivarium will be fully aquatic. I go more in-depth about riparia here.
Building A Simple Paludarium
Today, I will demonstrate the basic setup of a paludarium. There are three main areas to consider when building this type of vivarium: the canopy, the land, and the water. No matter how complex your design is, it should consist of these areas.
The Canopy is the topmost area of a paludarium. It’s formed from the planted flora that grows out into the top part of the enclosure. It can consist of hardscape material like branches or rocks. This area provides shade and security for inhabitants living in the land area. This area can also provide a home for animals that prefer to be higher. The higher areas in a vivarium usually provide better basking spots, lower humidity, and better airflow.
In the Land portion of the paludarium, the terrestrial features are established. The water portion of the tank is separated by a dry piece of hardscape. The hardscape is essential to a vivarium. It is the foundation of the tank and will regulate the overall ecosystem depending on the type of material it is. Rocks, soil, driftwood or even sand are all earthy elements that can form the land part of the enclosure. In some cases, a paludarium may not have a canopy section. Instead, this portion must contain proper basking spots and low humidity levels to allow animals to fully dry off. Semi-aquatic animals thrive in this section of the vivarium. I go further into detail about hardscapes in this article here if you need help deciding which material would be appropriate for your paludarium.
The Water part of the setup is just that: water! It’s simple yet essential to the thriving ecosystem of a paludarium. This part of the enclosure not only provides living space for aquatic inhabitants but also the condensation needed to hydrate the top two areas of the tank. This part can also aid in elevating humidity levels within the vivarium.
Setting up a paludarium can be simple. Try adding a large piece of floating wood to an aquarium to support an inhabitant. Step it up a notch and separate your tank with acrylic glass, filling the bottom with water and the top with soil. It comes down to the amount of detail and creativity you are willing to put into your enclosure.
Edens.Bow is a great example of a complex “Floater” paludarium because of the way I chose to layer it and the materials I used to set it up. With this build, you must understand the importance of the key elements working together. Without the proper landmass for inhabitants on which they can establish themselves, this becomes a riparium. If the water section is not equipped to sustain life, this setup is more recognizable as a terrarium.
Converting Aquariums & Terrariums
Many hobbyists often start out with some other type of vivarium before later deciding to include additional features that make up a paludarium. Deciding to convert an existing enclosure into a different type of vivarium is a common practice. In most cases, modifying the enclosure means adding water to existing land, or vice versa!
Aquariums are typically the most common vivaria to convert into a paludarium. The pro with using an existing aquarium is simply adding land to your setup. Start by removing water from the tank, allowing more enclosure real-estate to become available for terrestrial features. You can also grow flora out of the top of the enclosure, which will classify your aquarium as a paludarium. The con with using an aquarium: water changes become a bit challenging to do, depending on the setup.
Terrariums are another common type of enclosure used for conversion. The pro with using a terrarium is that most come with some type of drainage valve at the bottom. Therefore, changing water is made easier. The con with using terraria is that they’re limited to how much water they can hold. Many are not designed to hold more than a few inches of water without leaks. If a low volume of water is what you have in mind for your terrarium, then this type of conversion will work perfectly.
Best Types Of Plants & Animals
A paludarium is a wet and marshy environment, so keep that in mind when shopping for inhabitants. Stocking proper flora and fauna is ideal if you want a thriving ecosystem. This setup will resemble the shorelines of a rainforest, woodlands or swamp, so plan your livestock accordingly.
Best Animals For A Paludarium
You’ll want to stock this enclosure with fully aquatic and/or semi-aquatic species. They should all be animals that can swim!
Aquatic Animals – Any type of freshwater fish will do well in this enclosure. You can even consider a brackish water type of vivarium if you want to go for a unique setup. Pufferfish and fiddler crabs are interesting picks to consider! Invertebrates like shrimp or crayfish will also thrive in these types of vivariums.
Semi-Aquatic Animals – Crustaceans like crabs, springtails and pillbugs are excellent for the ecosystem and thrive in the marshy conditions of a paludarium. Mud-skippers are cool fish that can actually come out of the water and do well in this setup. Amphibians like frogs, salamanders or newts are the most common species of animals for DIY-ers.
A few honorable mentions that would do well in paludaria are reptiles like turtles, lizards, and skinks. Many turtles like sliders and soft shells need both water and land in order to survive. Lizards like iguanas and water dragons love basking after a nice swim. When it’s safe to come out and roam, crocodile skinks are known to come out and fish for food.
For a more in-depth list of animals, I go much further into detail on my own build Edens.Bow you can find here: Paludarium Animals
Best Plants For A Paludarium
When it comes to plants, aim for flora that thrives in humid and wet environments. This enclosure typically resembles a tropical domain, so keep that in mind when planting. For the water part of your paludaria, choose from immersed or submerged plants.
Terrestrial Plants – These guys can easily be water-bogged if not rooted in a dry enough place above water. The planted area should allow access water to completely drain out during watering and should have a fairly dry or moist top layer of the substrate. Common plants used to furnish the land area are Carnivorous Plants, various Moss, and Mini Ferns.
Submersed Plants – This type of plant is completely submerged underwater. Everything from their roots to their leaves is completely under the water. Amazon Sword, Christmas Moss, and Java Fern are all good examples of a submerged plant.
Emersed Plants – These plants are rooted underwater but sprout stems and leaves above water. They are both pretty straightforward in terms of setup and care. Your only limit here is the creative vision you have in mind for your theme. Pothos, Hygrophila, and Ammania are common examples of an emersed plant.
Best Paludarium Tanks
Paludarium kits are great for those looking for a complete set to kick start their hobby. In most cases, a paludarium kit will come with everything needed to start a paludarium tank. Depending on the size and type of animals inhabiting your future vivarium… You might wonder where to go from here in regards to shopping for a paludarium tank. Here are a few editors picks we recommend taking a look at:
Nano paludarium kits are great for beginners and very affordable. A good species to keep in these include dart frogs, various tetra species and most crustaceans.
Tall paludarium kits are great for those looking to invest in most terrestrial plants. One could easily experiment with a wide variety of animals as well as plants with this setup.
Wide paludarium kits are going to be for the ultimate enthusiast. This type of setup will allow for optimum lighting availability throughout the tank and a wide variety of animal species large and small will do well in a vivarium this size.
Choosing a theme is a good place to start when deciding to construct this type of vivarium. The possibilities are endless for an aesthetically-pleasing paludarium tank. I personally have a hard time trying to not make every aquarium or terrarium I build into some type of paludarium.
Vivariums Similar To A Paludariums
The many other types of vivariums you will see out there are more than likely based on one of these core designs. If you are building a vivarium with the intention of housing a specific type of plant or animal, be sure to go with a design that closely fits their needs. If you enjoyed this type of content, be sure to check out some of the other popular types of enclosures we’ve covered in the past: