Welcome to Paludariums!

A beautiful example of a paludarium. Paludariums do not have to be planted, but can be very attractive when they are

What is a paludarium?

The word paludarium comes from the Latin words "paludal" meaning marshes or swamps and "arium" meaning a closed enclosure. These environments can represent numerous habitats including tropical rainforests, jungles, riverbanks, bogs, or even the beach. The Paludarium is like a mix between an aquarium (solely aquatic) and a vivarium, or terrarium (solely terrestrial), encompassing both water and land environments into one tank. Sometime it is called an aquaterrarium. There is no rule defining the proportion of water to land, but most paludaria have sufficient water to allow fish or amphibians to exhibit their natural behaviour, and enough land to grow some form of vegetation. The exception to this 'rule' would be a shoreline paludarium, which would most likely remain unplanted.

It is, in essence, a biome for housing plants and animals that live in a specific waterside environment. The range of animals pet keepers may house in a paludarium include insects, crustaceans, frogs (arrow poison frogs are a favourite), tropical fish, especially killifish, small lizards, and shrimps, whilst for plant breeders the possibilities are even greater: mosses, ferns, epiphytes, orchids, and numerous fully or semi aquatic species - all combined to create a living biosphere. Of course, the addition of animals is not essential, a paludarium may be a simple terrarium (planted, but without animals) for semi-aquatic marsh plants.

A Rainforest biome

A well planted paludarium can be incredibly beautiful, but the level of effort and commitment required setting up a paludarium and keeping it at its most impressive is significant. However, just like any garden, a slightly less manicured tank (even overgrown and wild) can actually be more relaxing for the inhabitants within. Read the article on paludarium plants to see which species thrive in the paludarium.

Paludarium design

The specific design of the tank will depend on its inhabitants, both in terms of animals and plants. One made primarily for plants may well represent a tropical river bank, with semi-submerged bogwood (mopani), and a living wall of vegetation. These tanks are often tall, allowing wetter and dryer zones, suitable for planting different species in different places. Numerous animal types will also be at home in such a tank, of course! Small rainforest fish and frogs will thrive in such a tank, and depending on their needs may also reproduce. A tank for non climbing animals, perhaps crabs or mudskippers will require a larger surface area and less height, but created with a sloped substrate allowing the inhabitants to get easily in and out of the water.

Many plants grow well in shallow water
Killifish, like this Aphyosemion australe, make great Paludarium inhabitants
Poison Dart Frogs also thrive in a well set-up Paludarium

Small fish and amphibians make excellent paludarium dwellers. Shown here are a killifish, Aphyosemion australe and a poison dart frog, Dendrobates tinctorius

The start-up time for a planted paludarium is typically longer than when setting up an aquarium or vivarium, as it takes time for plants to settle in, and therefore the animals to feel at home. Some preparation can be performed in advance, of course, cuttings of epiphytic plants can be attached to small sections of cork bark, likewise Java moss and Anubias can be attached to wood or stones. But in a newly set up system it may not be immediately obvious which plants will do well in which locations; something that may thrive in one part of the tank, may not do so well in another. Buying sensitive animals without first preparing a suitable enclosure is certainly a mistake. Many typical terrestrial paludarium dwellers are shy and will not thrive in a bare tank.

Setting up a paludarium is a significant project but a greatly fulfilling one, and one that may be enjoyed for many years. Having a slice of tropical rainforest to admire whenever you want is quite something. Typically these set-ups will look their best several years in, once plants and mosses have become established. Read more about preparing for, setting up and maintaining a paludarium here.

The majority of paludariums are installed solely for aesthetic reasons, but in some cases they may be specifically aimed at accelerating reproduction and enhancing growth of certain (usually aquarium) plants. In the wet atmosphere or shallow water, plants often bloom, grow and reproduce better than when maintained in completely terrestrial or completely submerged conditions. Modern technology allows some very complex paludariums with automated systems that maintain moisture, temperature, fertilizer treatment and management of light. This is not necessary, but will reduce the amount of effort required from the keeper, whilst offering a level of environmental stability not always possible without them.

The aim of this site is to give information on setting up and maintaining a paludarium, and caring for potential inhabitants. See our sections on paludarium maintenance, animals and plants - or be inspired by some photographs of truly beautiful set ups in the paludarium gallery.

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Featured product: Exo Terra glass Terrarium

This wonderful 3 foot wide tank has a waterproof glass bottom, and adequate front window ventilation to keep the front glass clear. Although marketed as a Terrarium, it works as the perfect Paludarium. Front-opening doors, and removeable top for easy access and effective maintenance. Available in a wide range of sizes: with a larger surface area for ground/water dwelling species, or taller for leaf dwellers. Suitable for just about any paludarium inhabitant.

The top is equipped with closable inlets on both sides - this allows access for wires and tubing without offering an escape route for paludarium animals or the tiny invertebrates with which they are being fed. Suitable for powering Heat Wave rocks, waterfalls, filters and sensors, or injecting water through misting systems, external canister filters, etc.

All in all a great enclosure, providing a perfect environment for plants and animals, yet easy maintenance for the paludarium keeper. Available from Amazon and other good pet stores.