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Shedding Light on Paludariums: The Best of Both Worlds

  • Marine Depot
  • Dec 11, 2020
Illustration of a paludarium example that includes tank, lighting, filter, rock work, wood, plants, substrate and fish.

The word paludarium comes from the latin word “palus” meaning marsh or swamp. A paludarium combines animal and plant life from above and below the water line. This unique and fascinating combination allows fish, aquatic plants, terrestrial plants, amphibians, crustaceans, and even reptiles to cohabit in one unique display. It’s a true piece of nature in your home! If you have ever considered one, but are hesitant, here are some setup tips, shedding light on paludariums.

Getting Started: Tank and Structures

All in one paludarium including a small tank, stand and lighting
Indoor Garden Kit with LED Light and Planter Box – Lifegard Aquatics

For setup it can be as simple as an aquarium that half-filled with water, and decorative structures of aesthetically placed rocks and/or some large bogwood sticking out of the water – voila, a paludarium. Another option is a 3D DIY background that fits to the dimensions of your tank that allows plants to grow in the background. The tank can also be a tall aquarium filled a third of the way up or even a purpose-built glass terrarium like Lifegard’s Indoor Garden Kit. Whichever is chosen an amazing habitat can be created. Any size aquarium or terrarium can be converted into a paludarium, but larger ones enable more variety of animals to be kept as oppose to very small jar or vase paludaria which should be fish and critter free.


example of a type of submersible filter for paludariums
Dennerle Corner Filter

If you want to keep fish, amphibians, or invertebrates in the water portion of the paludarium, you’ll need a filter. This can be a simple submersible power filter that it can run in water only a few inches deep. Allow it to mature as the water cycles, running 24 hours per day, just like in a normal fish tank. For large systems external canister filters are a good choice. A heater will also be needed to keep stable temperatures.


Shedding light on waterfalls: a pump can be used to create a waterfall inside the tank
Lifegard Aquatics Quiet One Pump 400 can be plumbed to create a water fall in the paludarium with adjustable flow.

For more aesthetics, a waterfall can be made by plumbing the outlet of external filter or may be run by a separate hose and pump to trickle over rockwork back to the water section of the paludarium. Waterfalls create a visually appealing display, increase humidity, promote gas exchange, and provide an excellent area to grow ferns and mosses. Run a hose up to a spray bar at the top of a 3D background and water will trickle down the wall, enabling ferns, mosses, Bromeliads and orchids to be attached, gaining moisture straight through their roots via the constant trickle of water down the back wall.

Shedding Light on Paludariums: Plant Requirements

Fake plants can definitely be used and would require less maintenance, but if you want to grow live plants, they will require an optimal freshwater light fixture. A spectrum around the 6500-9000K range from any T5 fluorescent or freshwater LED lights will be sufficient enough to keep the plants alive. Just like aquariums, the taller the tank, the more lighting you need. Terrestrial plants may also need a good quality liquid aquarium plant fertilizer, while aquatic plants will need a CO2 system.

Above the Water Line

Land areas can vary in size from just a few rocks poking out of the water to a large soil section with the water section appearing as just a small pond at one end. Add soil and you can plant true marginal plants which will root in the wet soil and grow up into the open air space above. To do this you could bank up aquascaping soil or add a layer of Hydrolecea balls (used in house plants), then put a layer of coconut husk substrate (used in reptile enclosures) and sprinkle a few leaves on top. This gives a natural look, provides a soft base for amphibians as well as encouraging a layer of moss to grow on the top. Pumps and filters can be placed in a boxed-off section at the back and water can recirculate from a waterfall, down through the soil and back to the pump in one large, natural filter.


shedding lighti on size appropriate fish for the water section of paludariums

Fish should be sized appropriately to the amount of water space reserved for them. Fish that naturally inhabit shallow water include Danios, White Cloud Mountain minnows, Pygmy rasboras, Killifish, Pencilfish, Betta spp and small livebearers. Add some floating plants and many of the species mentioned will thrive and even breed. Paludariums and planted terrariums are also great for species which would otherwise jump out or for creating natural overhanging vegetation like they would live under in the wild.

Other Animals

Use a glass terrarium with lockable doors and a tight-fitting mesh lid and you can add frogs, newts, crabs, lizards and even snakes (although not altogether). They will also need appropriate nutrition, for example feed fruit-flies to dart frogs and the ones that fall into the water will be taken with relish by your fish – watching fish take small insects from the surface looks so natural. Always ensure that the needs of the amphibian or reptile are also met, which could include dusting food with calcium and using the right UV and/or basking lamp, to keep them healthy. Terrarium thermometers and hygrometers are available to ensure stability.

Final Thoughts

Shedding a little light on paludariums we hope you a get a feel or idea of setting one up. They can be as simple or complicated as you want to make them, housing a vast combination of terrestrial and aquatic animals

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