Riparium: Everything You Need To Know

So many of you are interested in pushing the limits with your aquarium but aren’t quite ready for the responsibilities of a full blown paludarium. A riparium might just be the perfect in between! This edition of Arium will explore the intimate details of riparia as well as demonstrate how to put on together.

Everything you need to know about ripariums

What Is A Riparium?

A riparium, also commonly referred to as “riparia”, is a type of vivarium that consists of water with some land features.

The ripa part of the word comes from the Latin word riparius, meaning “bank” or “shore.” The word itself translates to “a shore-like place.” The plural form of riparium is riparia.

what is a riparium?

Like paludaria, this planted tank also consist of both water and land. The aesthetic goal of a riparium is to mimic a shore line or riverbank. Think of this vivarium as more of an aquarium with a  portion of its plants and hardscape above water.

Riparium vs. Paludarium: 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 land mass to provide habitable living space for semi-aquatic animals. A riparium has limited land mass but usually cannot support life that depends on “Terra-amenities” (yes – I made up that word).

If ripariums are thought to resemble a riverbank, think of a paludarium as an island on water or lake within a jungle. I go more into depth about paludaria here.

Designing A Simple Riparium

Building a basic riparium is a very straight forward process. You have two key elements that make up the planted tank, the water and the canopy. Unlike the paludarium build, there will not be a solid land portion to focus on with this design. let’s start with the basic elements necessary for our setup:

Key Elements

The Water part of the vivarium is the cornerstone of this ecosystem. Animals living within this tank will be mostly aquatic. Therefore, the enclosure will consist of a good percentage of this section. This area will not only provide housing to all plants and animals but also serve as the base support to the plants that stem into the canopy section.

The Canopy part of the tank is what makes ripariums unique to all the other vivariums. Very few semi aquatic inhabitants will fine use with this area of the enclosure. Plants on the other hand, will thrive off the endless amounts of CO2 available here. The very aspect that makes this area possible is the emerging objects divulging from the water portion. Rocks, wood and plants are commonly used to bridge the aerial and aquatic features together within this setup.

Types Of Riparia

Initially, there are two types of riparia setups.. The open enclosure and the closed enclosure. They both have their advantages but for the most part, The decision on which setup you will proceed with will come down to cosmetic and tank location. Riparia should be design with intentions of catering to tall plants. Vertical space should be the priority with these types of vivaria.

Different types of riparium

Open Enclosure

With aquariums being made to view from the sides, open top ripariums look great from all angles including the top. The advantages you will have here is more vertical space to grow plants taller. You will also be able to fill a higher percentage of the enclosure with water. The water could go all the way up to the brim of the enclosure if you choose to. The disadvantage to having an open container vivarium is the speed of evaporation. You will have to add water more frequently with this type of riparium.

Closed Enclosure

A closed riparium is more ideal for keeping inhabitants from escaping and won’t lose water quite as fast. With this type of vivarium requiring less water added there are some down sides to this setup. For one, the vertical space is limited to the lid of the enclosure. This type of setup will not have the same aesthetic privileges of being viewed from the top either.

Aquarium Conversion

The easiest way to build a riparium is to convert an existing aquarium. Simply adding floating logs, or stacking rocks up to the water line would be a enough to get the conversion going. Certain aquatic plants will grow past the water line and into the aerial section of the vivarium. One way of scaping an aquarium into a riparium is to think of the river or coast you’re trying to mimic and build according to that thought. Draining a large portion of the water until plants and hardscape begin to reveal itself at the surface is another way to instigate the conversation.

Best Types Of Plants & Animals

When deciding on what types of plants and animals are best for your vivarium, it would be best use river shores as reference. Riparian life are animals that will more than likely thrive in marshy, wet environments. Anything you choose to go with will need to pretty much depend on aquatic features more so than terrestrial.

Recommended Fauna

Any aquatic or semi-aquatic animal should do well in a riparium. Regardless if it’s a freshwater river bank in the deep forest of West Virginia or the brackish shorelines of the Everglades you’re reproducing, make sure all animals can coexist together, stress-free!

Best types of riparium animals

Aquatic Animals– If the riparium will more than likely be a freshwater river setup, various communities of freshwater fish will thrive in this enclosure. Scavengers like catfish and pleco do really well in the lower depths of the tank. The archer fish are perfect for riparia.. They like to prey on insects above ground by shooting water at them and knocking them into bites reach! Crustaceans like crayfish are another good animal to pair with this environment.

Semi-Aquatic Animals – With the lack of land in this type of setup, you won’t find much able to thrive above water. similarly some inhabitants like amphibians will still do pretty well in riparia. Canyon tree frogs as well as some toads thrive in these swampy types of environments. Salamanders as well as water-dogs also thrive in riparia. If you are looking along the brackish water lines, fiddler crabs and various types of shrimp do really well here as well!

Recommended Flora

Riparium plants are going to be flora that are completely submerged or partially within water. Aim for plants that will do well in extreme humidity and at the very least content with being water bogged.

Best types of riparium plants


Floating Plants – Before diving under water to reveal the riparia vegetation, there are a number of really cool plants you can place right on the surface of water. Duckweed are among the most common and easiest to care for. Frogbit, water lettuce and salvinia are not as common and come in various looks and sizes. These types of plants are your planted tank go to’s and provide shade and security to the inhabitants that like to live close to the surface like arowana or pikes.

Submersed Plants – This type of plant is completely submerged underwater. Everything from their roots to their leaves are completely under the water. Amazon sword, Christmas moss and java fern are all good examples of a submersed plant.

Emersed Plants – These plants are rooted underwater but sprout stems and leaves above water. As a result, they are 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.


Ripariums can be a really good step up for anybody looking to reinvent their aquarium. Rather making a visually interesting vivarium from all directions, especially above. More than likely, this will be the next type of vivarium I add to my collection!

The ultimate riparium guide

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