Setting up a Paludarium



    As many of you may know I have been involved in the tropical fish hobby for almost thirty years. Throughout these years I have kept just about every type of fish out there and have seen many advances in the hobby. I built and ran my own wet dry filtration system, tried the micro reef set ups and am currently running a salt water set up. In addition to my wet friends I have kept many amphibians and reptiles as well as various other small pets. Recently I have been reading about the Paludarium and once again something new has caught my interest. The following section will chronicle my trials and triumphs (I hope!) in my new undertaking. I will post pictures and text as I progress in my quest.

First I think we should have a definition of what a Paludarium is:
The term paludarium comes from the Latin words paludal (pertaining to marshes), and arium (a place of or connected to). In simple terms , a paludarium is an aquarium that is set up with land and water portions, just as a real marsh would be in nature.

Construction Methods

From my research I have determined there seems to be four ways in which you can set up your habitat. I will list them here with a brief description.

  • Shelf or slope
    • In this setup, the dry portion is built up and rises out of the water. You can use many materials to accomplish this. Styrofoam blocks can be carved into different shapes and then rocks or gravel can be glued onto the surface to give a natural looking appearance. Another way to do this is to stack rocks up and out of the water, which makes a shelf. The rocks can be glued together to aid in stability. You can even form your design out of a cement & sand mixture, although I bet it will be impossible to move.. These paludariums are said to look very natural, but may be difficult to maintain and to construct.
  • Emergent driftwood or rocks
    • This is said to be the easiest to construct and in many ways the most natural. It can easily resemble the flooded forest of the Amazon. Pieces of driftwood are arranged so they are in and out of the water. This will allow different plant species to be placed in the dry areas. Make sure you place them so that their roots grow into the water. You can see many examples of this in most any river system. Many plants benefit and grow quite well in this manner, including, Pothos vine, dwarf palms, dwarf bamboo and Anubias. Rocks can also be used in this manner make sure they are stacked or glued to rise out of the water.
  • Rock and land wall
    • In this set up the emphasis is mostly on the aquatic. You build or buy a aquarium backing that is either made of rocks or resembles rocks. Into the crevices you may place your plantings. In the open areas or where there is no soil you may use the air plants called Epiphytes.
  • Divided land and water areas
    • In this type of set up you actually divide the aquarium into two separate distinct zones, The land area and the water area. This is done by sealing off the portion of the tank from the other. You can use glass, Plexiglas or even properly treated wood. You must use an aquarium safe sealant. The land portion should have a base of coarse stones or gravel to aid in drainage. The rest can be filled with a good potting soil supplemented with fertilizer. Rocks and driftwood can be placed to give a natural look. Some say that this is not a true Paludarium, because it lacks the true mixing of land and water.

    Recently my family and I went visited the  EcoTarium  in Worcester, MA. It is a very nice museum that focus on the environment. It fits in with the theme of this page with set up for various aquatic habitats. It even has the only working forest canopy walk in the Northeast. Please click on the thumbnail to see some pictures of the visit and the environments..

    My plan!

    I have decided to got with the Divided land and water area set up. I have experience with glass and Plexiglas as well as the proper sealing techniques. I plan on using a 40 gallon long or the standard 55 gallon aquarium for the housing of the Paludarium. Here is a drawing of the proposed set up with the land and water areas defined. It also shows my filtration and heating plan. While this is not set in stone I hope to stick to this as close as I can. In the pages that follow I will give a step by step progress report complete with pictures and text. So follow along with me and don’t forget that you always send me your comments and suggestions by filling out the FORM.

    The four foot diagram

    Next: The Equipment

    Due to a move in I am no longer running this setup. It was really starting to take off, with lush plant growth. The animals were settling in nicely as well. I hope to have it up and running in the future.

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